I read some other posts here that discuss gerrymandering.

It seems to me that I still have a question that these posts don’t answer, but I’m not at all sure that I can make it clear.

But here we go.

There’s some analogy between political districts and the Electoral College. Both of them are political devices that are designed to affect the outcome of the election. It’s no objection to either one of them to say that they might cause an outcome that is different from the popular vote. If we just wanted the popular majority to carry the election, we would need neither districts nor the Electoral College.

My question is not about the Electoral College. I mentioned it there only for the sake of analogy.

My question is, assuming that gerrymandering is improper, what is the proper purpose that is supposed to guide districting? Is it supposed to be "politically neutral"? What would that mean? When can there be any basis at all for complaints – by courts, or journalists, or pundits – to the fairness of political districts? What would districts be like if they were fair? We can (apparently) always say that current political districts will produce Result A, and if we redistrict in a certain way it will produce Result B. But what is there to recommend Result B over Result A, other than a political preference for one result?

  • 5
    This question is very complicated; if you're interested in a brief history of gerrymandering, what redistricting rules are considered "fair" and "unfair", and so on, you might want to listen to the 538 politics podcast series on this topic: fivethirtyeight.com/tag/the-gerrymandering-project Commented May 17, 2018 at 15:29
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    @hszmv: Not so. The number of Representatives (and thus Electoral College votes) a state has is simply determined by its population, which is in turn determined by the census. AFAIK there is no Constitutional requirement for Representatives to be elected by district: conceivably a state might choose elect all from the whole state.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 17:59
  • 1
    Are you asking why have political districts in the first place (as the title of the question seems to ask), or are you asking about what principles should be used to determine where the districts placed (as the body of your question seems to ask). Those are very different questions with distinct answers, and it would help to edit your question to clarify which you want.
    – R.M.
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 18:26
  • 5
    @hszmv: Not the same thing at all. A state can decide to re-draw its Congressional districts pretty much any time it wants, and any way it wants that will survive court challenges. That redistricting has no effect on the number of Electoral College votes unless the census changes the number of Representatives it gets.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 4:43
  • 4
    The short answer: because it's mandatory: "A congressional act passed in 1967, 2 U.S.C. § 2c, dictates that representatives must be elected from geographical districts and that these must be single-member districts, except when the state has a single representative, in which case one at-large representative is elected from the entire state." Commented May 19, 2018 at 0:43

11 Answers 11


The purpose of political districting is to ensure local representation - something that is valued as itself in the US. This decision to have districts immediately leads to a debate on what is the right way to divide an area into smaller bits, as you stated. There is no objective guide or rule to do this fairly or in a right way.

Representative democracy aims to proportional representation; 30% voted for party A and 30% of the representatives are party A. In my opinion large deviations from this would be unfair in a democratic system. So arguably the districts should be carved to fulfill this ideal of proportionality in the area. But since it is impossible to know how people will vote, it is impossible to create districts beforehand that lead to proportionality. And even if the result is proportional in the state level, the results in individual districts would probably not be.

It is very hard, or in some cases impossible, to create districts that satisfy the ideals of both local and proportional representation. In practice districting leads to compromising proportionality.

  • 3
    If 30% voted for party A and 30% of the representatives are party A, the result is the same as if there were no districts. Is that your intention: that fair districts produce the result that would result if the entire state were one district?
    – Chaim
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 13:57
  • 11
    In an ideal democracy the result should be the will of the people. So if 30% vote for A then 30% of the representation should be A. The result would not be the same in my example of 'fair' districting because the second ideal would also be fulfilled: representatives would be from all around the state each district having a local person(s). My point rather is that it is hard or impossible to create a system where these two ideals are fulfilled.
    – Communisty
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 14:06
  • 3
    @SJuan76 - "local" is a relevant term, but so is "district" given that it applies at multiple levels. For example, many cities have multiple districts, each of which elects a representative to the city council for municipal level decisions, but that entire city may reside within one or many state-level districts. Districts are created for different purposes at the city, county, state, and federal level (and I'm not 100% that my list is exhaustive), and these districts are not required to relate to each other, though they are often used as guidance for each other when redrawing districts.
    – LazyGadfly
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 14:57
  • 7
    @Chaim: There are many issues which are non-partisan. Take for instance states (New York, California, Nevada...) which have a large imbalance between urban & rural populations. On local issues, the Representatives from the rural districts tend to agree more with rural Representatives of the other party than with urban ones of their party.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 18:04
  • 12
    Your "fair result" is incompatible with the ideal of local representation. Suppose 10% of the population votes for the Murder Innocent Babies And Kittens party (MIBAK), but these MIBAK supporters are spread evenly across the nation, not concentrated anywhere. In fact, every street in the country has exactly 10% MIBAK supporters. Should 10% of voting districts be forced to have a MIBAK member as their representative, despite 90% of their population being anti-MIBAK? If yes, you've abandoned local representation. If no, you've abandoned proportional representation. You can't have both.
    – Mark Amery
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 12:40

Single member districts are pretty unrepresentative

You are right to question the value of holding several single-member, First-past-the-post elections. FPTP essentially throws away all votes that are not for the winner. Additionally, it throws away excess votes received by the winner. Throwing away all these votes can result in a set of representatives, which does not reflect the desires of the electorate. The Gerrymanderer exploits this mechanic to achieve their political goals.

In this way, gerrymandering is not a distortion of a well designed system. It is an intentional exacerbation of the problems inherent in a deeply flawed voting system.

Why use districts at all?

There is value in having local representatives who are aware of local concerns, and are accessible to their constituents.

Due to the math of population distribution, at-large elections favor candidates in population centers. This can lead to under-representation of rural voters. Using districts helps address this concern.

Districts also reduce voter choices, which can be a positive. California has 53 representatives. Holding one large election to fill all these seats could easily result in 100+ candidates. Expecting voters to research all of these options before heading to the polls places a tremendous burden on them. Limiting voters' choices to just those running in their area simplifies their job.

Is there a better way?

A means of balancing some of these issues is to use fewer, larger, multi-member districts. These ensure better local representation, while reducing the number of wasted votes that results from single-member districts. There are a number of ways to perform a multi-member election. One that is fairly popular is Single-Transferable-Vote.

  • 1
    This excellent interactive guide explores various voting systems, and demonstrates their pros and cons. Although it doesn't mention STV, I think IRV might be the same thing. There have been some mathematical proofs about how a perfect voting system is impossible. "Would you like tea or coffee?" "We'll take tea, please." "Oh, and we also have orange juice." "Oh, in that case we'll take coffee." Commented May 20, 2018 at 15:16
  • @joeytwiddle I am familiar with that guide and think it is well done. It focuses on single-winner elections, so I'm not surprised it does not cover STV. Functionally STV is very similar to IRV, and unfortunately inherits some of its flaws. Both favor polarizing candidates to the detriment of moderate consensus candidates. Arrow's Impossibility Theorem is interesting, but as formulated, it specifically applies to singe winner elections. I'm not aware of a multi-winner version. Also, it's important to note that it only applies to ranked choice systems, not cardinal systems like Score voting.
    – eclipz905
    Commented May 21, 2018 at 13:25

What is the purpose of districts?

The purpose of districts is so that different areas have their own representation. This allows their local concerns to have a voice and gives residents in the district a point-of-contact to whom they may directly voice their concerns. A given member of the U.S. House of Representatives or of the legislature of a state represents (in theory) only the people of their own district, giving the people of that district influence in federal or state-level decision making.

Assuming that gerrymandering is improper, what is the proper purpose that is supposed to guide districting?

Honestly, this is more of a matter of opinion than anything else.

Personally, my opinion is that district lines should strive to lump together areas with similar political and economic interests. For example, city centers, suburbs, and rural areas often have very different interests, so I would argue that, to meet the purpose of districting in the first place, it makes more sense to put the city center, suburbs, and rural areas in their own districts to the maximum extent reasonably possible. This is not about giving one party or another more power, but rather about making sure the often very different concerns of people in these areas have a voice representing them.

Aside from the urban/suburban/rural split, there are also many other different regional interests that can - and probably should, IMO - influence districting. For example, a given region may be dominated by a particular industry or have a particular cultural makeup. Rather than dividing that area between multiple districts of which they make up only a part, it makes more sense (to me, anyway) to have that region have its own district(s) whose representatives can represent its interests.


Whilst different people may have different beliefs as to what is the 'proper purpose', it might be informative to have a look at the opinion of the Australian Electoral Committee (AEC). This is the organisation that draws electoral boundaries in Australia. There are few to no accusations of politicisation of the AEC.

What criteria are used to draw the electoral boundaries?

A Redistribution Committee must develop a set of proposals for dividing each state or territory into a number of electoral divisions equal to its entitlement in the House of Representatives. In developing its proposals, the Redistribution Committee must remain within the numerical quotas for the current and projected enrolment. The Redistribution Committee shall also give due consideration to:

  • community interests within the proposed electoral division, including
  • economic, social and regional interests
  • means of communication and travel within the proposed electoral division
  • physical features and area of the proposed electoral division, and
  • existing boundaries of divisions in the state or territory.

Not stated here is that an electorate may not cross state boundaries, and that no founding State may drop below 5 electorates. These provisions were put in to get all the states to agree to become a country.

Note that the numerical quotas are designed to deliver one vote, one value wherever possible. Projected population comes from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (another body with few to no accusations of politicisation).

When redistributions happen is determined by:

  • When the number of MPs which a state or territory is entitled to changes. This figure is calculated by the Electoral Commissioner a year after every election, taking into account the latest population statistics
  • When the number of voters in a third of seats in a particular state or territory deviates significantly from the average (over 10 per cent for a period of more than two months). But ABC Election Analyst Antony Green said this rarely, if ever, happens
  • And the so-called "seven year rule", when seven years or more has lapsed since the last redistribution

You may also be interested in hearing about the Electoral Commission of South Australia (The independent, non politicised body from a State in Australia), which has a rule stating that if a party wins more than 50% of the two party preferred vote (Australia has preferential voting, so the two party preferred vote is what happens after you force the Libertarians, Greens and Independents to pick between Democrat or Republican), but loses the election, the next redistribution must be calculated such that that party would win the next election if everyone voted the same way. This is a form of Gerrymandering, but one designed to make the system 'more fair' in the eyes of the ECSA.

The EDBC (part of ECSA) defines their criteria for redistributions as

When making a redistribution, the EDBC must ensure that the number of electors in each electoral district does not vary from the electoral quota by more than the permissible tolerance of 10 per cent (Constitution Act 1934 (SA), section 77). The electoral quota is determined by dividing the total number of electors as at the relevant date by the number of electoral districts into which the State is divided. Since 1969 this number has been 47.

The EDBC must also ensure, as far as practicable, that the redistribution is fair to prospective candidates and groups of candidates, so that if candidates of a particular group attract more than 50 per cent of the popular vote, including preferences, they will be elected in sufficient numbers to enable a government to be formed (Constitution Act 1934 (SA) section 83(1)). This “fairness” criterion is unique to South Australia. Only in South Australia is consideration to be given to the political outcome of redistributions.

The EDBC must also have regard to matters which are outlined in section 83(2) of the Constitution Act 1934 (SA), being:

  • The desirability of making the electoral redistribution so as to reflect communities of interest of an economic, social, regional or other kind
  • The population of each proposed electoral district
  • The topography of areas within which new electoral boundaries will be drawn
  • The feasibility of communication between electors affected by the redistribution and their parliamentary representative in the House of Assembly
  • The nature of substantial demographic changes that the EDBC considers likely to take place in proposed electoral districts between the conclusion of its present proceedings and the next State election
  • Any other matter the EDBC thinks relevant.

My explanation for the reasoning behind these criteria is that, in single member electorates, a member of parliament is supposed to represent their constituents. This mostly springs from the British Westminster system, and is an attempt to ensure that parliament does not ignore low population regions. It is easier to represent an electorate if the electorate shares cultural or other characteristics.

  • I think it's worth mentioning that the point of the 50%+ rule is to ensure that a party that wins the popular vote should not lose the next election due to gerrymandering. This is inherently fair, apolitical and democratic.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 6:01

Gerrymandering does not conflict with the popular vote

It’s no objection to either one of them to say that they might cause an outcome that is different from the popular vote.

I don't know that that is true of gerrymandering. It would be more accurate to say that gerrymandering controls the circumstances of the popular vote. There is still a popular vote election in gerrymandered districts and the result determines the winner. There could be different results with different districting plans, but all of them would still be controlled by the popular votes in the districts.

By contrast, the electoral college can produce a different result than the national popular vote. The electoral college thus can differ from the popular vote.


The normal complaint of gerrymandering is that it causes the effect of the vote across all the districts to be different than the sum of the votes. But that's a consequence of how districts work. Iowa, a purportedly "fair" districting, currently has three Republicans and one Democrat in the House. Why? Because the Republicans did better in 2016 than the Democrats in three out of four districts.

It would not have been that hard to divide Iowa into four districts where two were Republican and two were Democrat such that only a huge wave election could have resulted in three Republicans winning. Or three Democrats winning. The northern rural areas and the southern rural areas would get their own districts. The central and eastern urban areas would have gotten their own districts.

Polk county would move from district 3 to district 1, and Story county would move from district 4 to district 1. District 1 would retain Black Hawk county as well as Marshall and Tama. This is enough for a 40,000 vote advantage for the Democrat (using the two party vote between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton as a proxy). The population is about 75,000 low, so it might add Buchanan and part of Linn.

District 2 would get Democratic Linn county and give up Republican counties to district 3 to help replace Polk. So already Democratic district 2 would become more Democratic (and more compact, as it would replace a number of central rural counties with urban Linn towards the east). District 1 would become Democratic. District 3 would replace Polk with more Republican counties. District 4 would give up its only Democratic county (Story), so it would be Republican still (perhaps less Republican as it would have to give some of its counties to 3 and pick up more moderate counties from 1).

The net effect though would be to create two Republican and two Democratic districts. This would be a gerrymander to create proportionality. It would pack the most Democratic counties into two districts and the most Republican counties into two other districts. The effect would be to make Iowa perform more like its nature. Roughly half the voters usually vote Republican and about half usually vote Democrat. In 2016, more than half voted Republican while in 2008 and 2012 more than half voted Democrat for president.

The normal criticism of gerrymandering is that it doesn't usually do this. Instead of trying to match the districts to the proportional vote in the state, gerrymandering tends to try to maximize the number of districts for one party or the other. For example, in Illinois, gerrymandering in 2011 led to the House delegation changing from eleven Republicans and eight Democrats to twelve Democrats and six Republicans. Illinois lost one House seat in apportionment. So a swing of 4.5 seats from Republicans to Democrats.

Illinois is considered one of the worst gerrymanders in the country for producing 67% of one party. Iowa's districting produced a 75% majority for one party and is held up as an exemplar of how districting commissions work. Yet Illinois is more Democratic than Iowa is Republican. Barack Obama won a majority in Iowa, but Republicans still won 75% in 2014.

Claims about gerrymandering are political in nature. What is encouraged in one place is criticized in another. The Iowa districting plan embeds Democratic Polk and Story counties in otherwise Republican districts, preventing those counties from electing the kind of representation that they want. There are six counties in Iowa that voted Democratic for president, but they are spread over the four congressional districts. This is called cracking.

The commission effectively cracked the Democratic urban center to form three districts that voted Republican. If a legislature had done that, we'd be talking about how partisan that was. A commission did it and everyone pretends that it's somehow different.

Why redistrict?

All of the previous was just background about gerrymandering. As I understand your question, you want to know why we redistrict. There are two main reasons:

  1. Apportionment changes. Every ten years the national government takes a census and uses the results to allocate or apportion House seats to each state. Sometimes a state will gain or lose one or more seats. When that happens, the state has to redo their districting plan to include or remove the seats.

  2. Population shifts. Sometimes people shift within the state. This can lead to some districts having more population than others. To counter this, they redistrict people so as to leave districts that are close in size.

So the primary answer to what redistricting is supposed to accomplish is to balance out population. Note that gerrymandering generally includes this as part of its goals, as unbalanced population is a reason to invalidate districts.

There may be secondary goals. Such goals could include

  • Support incumbents, so that most people can still vote for their current representative.
  • Put minority voters together, so they have a better chance of getting a representative from the same ethnic or racial background.
  • Put like-minded people together, so more people can be happy with their representation.
  • Make districts follow existing boundaries as much as possible. So if a city or county is smaller than a congressional district, try to put the whole thing in one district.

Of course, some of those things can be considered gerrymanders. For example, protecting incumbents or putting minority areas or like-minded areas in the same district.

Alternatives to redistricting

If all the districts in a state were lumped into one group and the best performers were selected, then there would be no need for redistricting. Instead of state politicians determining the districts, the voters themselves would choose. One name for this system is Single Transferable Vote or STV. There are different variants of STV, including one that works like Instant-runoff Voting and several Condorcet-compliant ones.

Other systems compensate for the effects of districting. In Germany, they add representatives from the underrepresented parties until they are close to proportionality.

  • 2
    Your first point maybe could be worded clearer. The point of gerrymandering is to achieve a massed result different from the massed popular vote, which is the same criticism leveled at the electoral collage. I might write it as: gerrymandering keeps one person one vote, while the EC violates that through historical weighting and unequal state populations.
    – user9389
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 14:42

Here there be dragons.

Philosophy of politics is politically crafted or conversely political positions are philosophically crafted, either way it is impossible to separate the politics from the philosophy. "Fair" is an objectively undefinable word.

If you accept any certain version of "fair" districting ought to be done a certain way. But when a measure becomes a target it ceases to be a good measure. A clever person can devise a new theory of fairness that "just happens" to lead to result A or B.

It is not an unsolvable problem; but there being multiple stable solutions is practically similar:

Accepting a new definition of fairness is not trivial but impossible to judge from outside. Meta-fairness might be how "fair" it is to adopt the new definition, which is also poorly defined... and when you get tired of putting another turtle under the current one you are left with the original problem.

  • 2
    There was a great article during the UK AV referendum about changing the voting system. In the article they manage to come up with a distribution of voters such that each system of voting would win a referendum if it was conducted under its own voting system.
    – Jontia
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 16:16
  • I think that your point is that (1) as a psychological matter politicians create districts in order to produce certain outcomes, because they respond to incentives, and (2) as another sort of matter this makes the districts fail to work as they ought, although you’re not sure how they ought to work. I buy that. But all the public talk about redistricting as cheating is all just nonsense?
    – Chaim
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 17:59
  • 1
    my point is mostly a version of (1). (2) is pretty far from my thinking and certainly I wouldn't call it nonsense; just because a theory was crafted doesn't make it wrong or even disingenuous. I suggest that knowing how they ought to work is not objective; I know how I'd like things to work and I have an ethical model to support that, but it isn't a unique solution. My notion of fairness being better than anyone else's is a tautology we use judges to work around, but we choose judges fairly...
    – user9389
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 18:19

All border lines are political. Generally, proper districting improves viability, while poor districting vitiates it. Proper districting avoids bad things like:

  • Representatives, Governors, Executives, et al who can't even speak the language of those they represent.

  • Representatives who are too geographically distant to be made aware of various emergencies in their district, so that an emergency passes ungoverned before the representative ever learns of it. Electronic communications lessen this problem, but a natural disaster could disable the region's power grid, etc..

  • Representatives who have too little in common with those they represent to understand them.

  • Regions with shapes that are needlessly difficult to govern. Imagine a 100 mile straight highway contained in two cash-strapped regions that had a sine wave border with a one-mile wavelength, with the highway as the X axis, so that both regions' police would be in constant dispute over who collects speeding tickets.

  • Regions made unfeasible by geography, as with a town split in half by an unbridged canyon which can only be crossed by driving three towns away on either side.

...and so on. Suppose all the towns in the continental USA were arbitrarily redistricted like lines on a TV screen, into about 35,000 separate 239 ft. (from south to north) horizontal strips, (some of which would be 2600 miles long), so that nearly every town had two beaches on its east and west coasts.

Now suppose, in addition to the above, that all the USA's political districts were divided in vertical strips, (some of which would be 1500 miles long, south to north), thus maximizing chaos.

  • 3
    Since the last two paragraphs describe a system objectively worse than the present system, Communisty's answer cannot be wholly correct.
    – agc
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 15:11
  • I don't understand your point 2. Maybe I'm misunderstanding the context of the question, but isn't it talking at least in part about the districts which elect the US House of Representatives, who are necessarily going to spend a lot of their time in Washington DC, which in most cases is further away from their district than the distance from one side of their state to the other? Commented May 21, 2018 at 13:53
  • @PeterTaylor, Thanks, the word "representatives" here is perhaps too narrow, revised to "Representatives, Governors, Executives, et al" -- I had meant all elected political offices as being representatives of the people, rather than just US House Reps alone. As you note, the time lag between public emergency and response is seemingly less immediate for legislative seats, (though some civic emergencies can happen in slow motion that's nonetheless still faster than our collective response/precaution/alleviation reaction time).
    – agc
    Commented May 22, 2018 at 15:44

Here are two good articles on the current state of play w.r.t. gerrymandering in the USA:

As these articles explain, given first-past-the-post and the districting system, a standard of 'overall efficiency gap' has been proposed as the measure to determine whether a given districting is fair or not. It seems like a good test for partisan gerrymanders that are unfair, but there would be a lot of other factors or dimensions (as discussed in the other answers - things like common economic interests) that might also make a district's representation unfair even within the efficiency threshold.

[Every time I look at the US "system" I am more thankful for what we have in Australia. This is what I would say is the real answer:

  • Preferential voting: so I can vote my favourite crackpot but if they aren't a contender my vote flows to whoever I nominated second, then third etc.
  • a non-political electoral commission that manages districting, polling-places, ballot counting etc,
  • weakly compulsory voting so everyone who pays taxes has to at least turn up when the government for the next four years is being chosen. You can vote informal if you want - no one will know, or you can pay a small fine for not turning up. Elections are on Saturdays. Postal ballots and early polling places are freely available.]

First of all, let me restate your assumptions: "districts are useful" and "Gerrymandering is improper". I agree with both, but several people could argue (specially with the first one). So let us take them as axioms for this answer.

The reason why Gerrymandering is possible has to do with two facts:

  • Votes correlate very well with neighborhoods. So it is not hard to draw districts that give you a prescribed percentage of votes: for example, getting 51%, 51% and 0% would be a very good outcome for a party holding 34% of the total votes in a three-districts area.
  • The amount of freedom in drawing district lines is almost unlimited now. Parties have to draw something connected and respect a few other criteria, but that's it.

Since one cannot change the first item above, one could focus on the second. If each district had to be constructed following a limited set of rules, the problem could be solved. An example attempt would be the following:

Each district has to be delimited by either its own natural barriers or by (no more than six) straight lines

This would greatly limit how much leverage the party in power has to distort results and should solve the problem.

This proposal is very much related to the statistical concept of VC-dimension


Just so it's said, the concept of 'districts' — like many features of US politics — is founded in an 18th century context where social and geographical mobility was low, and the population was naturally (generationally) segregated into cultural or community-oriented enclaves. If you look at old cities around the US (Boston, Baltimore, New York City, etc.), you'll find them composed of villages, boroughs, towns, or other small settlements that were eventually mashed together into a city by growing populations, but which still retain distinct flavors or personalities. Compare that with a younger city, like Los Angeles: mainly an undifferentiated (sub)urban sprawl, where segregation occurred as a consequence of economic disparities or racial animus, not community cohesion.

In the 18th century it was meaningful to look at a map and think that the people of any given township or city-section were a long-term coherent and cohesive community that could effectively make group decisions for itself. After all, up until the late 19th or early 20th century most people died within 20 miles of where they were born. The Founders did not anticipate a world in which technology would erase almost all limitations on physical mobility, and thus assumed that political districts would be constructed out of stable, 'natural' communities with their own well-defined political interests.

While there are obviously still some 'natural' communities left in the cultural landscape, districting today almost totally ignores them. Districts have become abstract divisions: artificial communities which have no natural cohesion and thus no natural mechanisms for opinion-formation or decision-making. This has opened the system of districting to all of the political gamesmanship (e.g., gerrymandering and voter suppression) that we currently see. The only effective solution I see to this problem is to give up on geographic districting — which no longer has much meaning in the modern world — and allow voters to create intentionally abstract districts along interest lines. Thus a given state might allow (say) political non-profit groups to create districts based on interests, which would compete to get citizens to join, and then each of these groups which gathers sufficient voters would be considered a legal district for the purposes of elections. That would (at least) eliminate gerrymandering as an effective strategy, and would bring us back to something akin to the 'unified community' model the Founders relied on.

  • I don't really follow you. It seems to me that there are new communities, such as in Silicon Valley, where (I can imagine) people feel some commonality of interests. Would it be proper to draw the lines to include all of these people in one district? I would think that sometimes it's disadvantageous to a group to be concentrated into one district. This page (history.com/news/gerrymandering-origins-voting) suggests that creating one majority-black district and many majority-white districts has sometimes motivated gerrymandering.
    – Chaim
    Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 22:25
  • @Chaim: That's part of the issue. A district in the 18th century view is organic. People have similar worldviews because they grow up in the same region, shop at the same groceries, attend the same churches, theaters, and parties... They have history together, and that shared history translates into a sense of community. The only thing people in (say) Cupertino have in common is an interest in tech. They grew up in different regions, have very different life experiences, and may not even share a common language. There's no sense of group permanence in Cupertino. Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 22:38
  • @Chaim. The creation of racial-majority districts is gerrymandering when it's used against the citizens: effectively lumping a lot of people of one race into a single district (so that almost half their votes are redundant) then dispersing any remaining individuals of that race into other districts so they have no possibility of achieving a majority. That wouldn't happen in the system I outlined, where people self-select their district. Commented Oct 25, 2021 at 22:41

First, gerrymandering is in part a response to the Feds (illegally in my opinion, "The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand") limiting the number of representatives that can be seated in the House of Repesentatives. Districts are a way to divvy up the population, and should be done based upon local populations centers. With each representaive having somewhere between 20 and 30 thousand constituents.

With represnetation based upon population, the "right" way to do it would be a bit flexible, and mainly based upon a rural/urban split. In urban areas it would mainly be simple matter making sure a given area didn't have a larger population than it should.

Because the size of the House has been limited, gerrymandering offers an easy way to effectively disenfranchise a large minority of the population. And whichever side is in control tends to do so whenever they can.

Absent suddenly obeying the law, the next best thing is to have districts based on having the districts be as small as possible and evenly divided in population. Which has about the same chance as congress suddenly deciding they should obey the law....

  • 4
    Where is the answer to the question?
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 22:04
  • @cortammon: The purpose is to divvy up the people and their representation. What should be taken as the guide is to have the repesentaion be as "local" as possible, i.e as small as possible keeping as close to the same number if people as possible.
    – jmoreno
    Commented May 17, 2018 at 22:14
  • 1
    "The Number of Representatives shall not exceed one for every thirty Thousand": having, say, one representative per 100,000 people is entirely consistent with this (it's about 1/3 of a rep per 30,000 people). What do you feel is being done illegally? Commented May 18, 2018 at 12:24
  • 1
    I may be missing the point, but I think gerrymandering works on districts of all sizes; teaching examples normally use districts with less than 20 voters.
    – user9389
    Commented May 18, 2018 at 16:29
  • @notstoreboughtdirt: teaching examples can use whatever numbers make the math work, there are no federal representatives that represent less than 100,000 people.
    – jmoreno
    Commented May 19, 2018 at 18:39

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