What is gerrymandering?
Is Adam Ruins Everything - Why Rigging Elections Is Completely Legal an accurate description of gerrymandering?
What was the original idea behind it?
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Gerrymandering is the act of redefining borders between voting districts in order to gain a political advantage. The practice is named after the US politician Elbridge Gerry, who was the governor of Massachusetts from 1810 to 1812. In 1812 he redefined the voting districts of Massachusetts. After that reform, one voting district had roughly the shape of a salamander, which was nicknamed "the Gerry-mander" by the press.
How can a politician benefit from this?
Some countries have an election system where the country is divided into multiple districts. When the country votes for president/parliament/whatever, every district is counted separately, and whatever option has the most votes in that district wins that district. When counting the election result on the national level, the whole district is considered as voting for the winning option, no matter how close that win actually was.
This system can lead to an interesting side-effect: It is possible to win an election without winning the popular vote. Let's say your country has 5 districts, and two parties (dog party and cat party). These are the vote counts of the election:
District Cat Dog Winner 1 11 1 Cat 2 8 2 Cat 3 3 4 Dog 4 9 10 Dog 5 4 5 Dog -------------------------- Sum 35 22
As you can see, there were far more people who voted the Cat Party than people who voted the Dog Party. But the Dog Party still won the election, because they won three districts while the cats only won two.
How could that happen? It's because the cat lovers are concentrated on two districts while the dog lovers are more evenly distributed, giving them a small majority in the others. If the borders between the districts were redefined, the election result could be completely different. By concentrating all the followers of the other party in few districts, one can greatly increase the chance to win such elections. This gives great power to whoever has the power to define the borders between voting districts.
Another reason to perform gerrymandering is to improve the reelection chance of a specific person. Let's say each district votes for their district representative. Fido of the dog party currently governs district 3 and would like to get re-elected. But unfortunately he recently said something very insulting about the dogs in a city at the eastern border of the district and they hate him now. His re-election is in danger. Fido could now ask his friends in the federal dog party to change district borders to make that problematic city a part of the neighboring district 2. That district is a solid cat district anyway, so some disgruntled dog-voters can't cause much damage over there. In exchange Fido could get another part of another district which is decidedly pro-dog.
In case you wonder "why is this legal?". Because someone must have the authority to define voting districts. Whoever is in power in a country decides who gets that authority. And considering how powerful of a tool Gerrymandering can be to stay in power, they would be stupid to not give that power to themselves.