What is Gerrymandering

The name gerrymandering originating from two words i.e. ‘Gerry’ and ‘mandering’ from the word salamander. Here is how it came about: In the US, there is a governor by the name Elbridge Gerry who was famous in the American political arena for redrawing of some districts in one of the states, namely Massachusetts. In the process of redrawing, one of the districts looked like a salamander (lizard). This was exaggerated by many political cartoonists of that time which led to the name Gerrymandering. This word started as slang back in the 19th century. It seems this practice became so common such that as time went by, this name caught up and has now become a well known English word.

Gerrymandering can then be defined as the process of trying to alter geographic boundaries in a bid to favour a certain political group so that they can have more representatives. If we take the above example, that district was called a gerrymander i.e. a district whose geographic outline has been altered in order to favour a certain political group or party.

Normally, the US is divided into states. Apart from the two Senators from a certain state, there was need for more representation based on the population of the state. The state would then be divided into congressional districts where the representatives came from.  This meant that a state with 6 districts had 6 representatives where each representative has a tie to a part of the state. The districts were to have an almost equal number of people and were to be drawn along non-partisan lines. However, some districts were drawn and came out having peculiar shapes and in the process favouring a certain political group. Thus, you would find a certain political grouping having more voters from a particular political group as compared to others. Thus, the name gerrymandering came about.

It can also be viewed as a form of manipulation where electoral results for a certain political party are changed in such a way as to favour a certain political grouping or certain demography such as race, religion, tribe or even a social group.

Most of the connotations used for gerrymandering are negative. But there is a positive connotation when it used when determining district boundaries where a certain district has a certain substantial number of people from a certain group like African American or Hispanic.

The issue of gerrymandering has brought about close examination of political districts when they are being drawn. Whatever disputes that come as a result of such a situation, they are taken to court and solved there. In fact, the United States code declared gerrymandering illegal and anyone convicted of it will face the consequences.