Gerrymandering and Reapportionment: An Explanation of Both and How They Work

Gerrymandering, Redistricting, and Reapportionment All Mean the Same Thing

Reapportionment and redistricting mean essentially the same thing. After a Census has been completed, it must be determined if a state’s government as well as that state’s county, and local governments have sufficient representatives for their population. Even the number of school board members in each community may also need to be adjusted.

District boundaries within a state are usually drawn according to the population in each district for starters. If a Census shows there has been considerable growth, or that a lot of people have left a particular state, then the state’s districts will have to be redrawn.

If you read my article/hub on the Census, you will see that as a result of the 2010 Census, 10 states will gain more members in the House of Representatives in Washington D.C., and 12 states have lost House members. To find out which states are affected, read my hub titled: Census and Why It Matters: How Will Reapportionment Affect Your State? Why Do Census Takers Ask Those Nosy Questions? You can access this hub from the link on the right side of this page.

Each member of the House represents a certain number of people. According to the House of Representatives website, that number is currently 600,000 people. So each district in every state should have 600,000 people in it, give or take a few. Unlikely it would be possible to draw the district lines precisely so that exactly 600,000 people would live within a district, true? They get as close as they can.

Currently the total number of House of Representatives members is 435. Congress has the ability to increase that number, but has not done so on a permanent basis since 1911. To avoid increasing the number of representatives in the U.S. House, it is necessary to assign each representative to serve a greater number of citizens as our country’s population expands. The more people a member of the House represents, the less accessible s/he becomes to his or her constituents.

As a result, the boundaries of the districts in each state must change every 10 years to accommodate the new population count from the most recent census. To learn how the 435 representatives are apportioned (divided) to all of the states fairly, click here.

Source
This maps show the different districts in Florida.  Note the odd shapes of the districts, especially in the Northeast corner.
This maps show the different districts in Florida. Note the odd shapes of the districts, especially in the Northeast corner.
Wisconsin District Map.  Compared to some states this one is pretty ordinary.
Wisconsin District Map. Compared to some states this one is pretty ordinary.
Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas.  As stated in the text, the districts for the state of Texas have not yet been drawn for 2012 because the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled.  Note the odd shapes of the districts as they have been up until now.
Dallas/Fort Worth area of Texas. As stated in the text, the districts for the state of Texas have not yet been drawn for 2012 because the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet ruled. Note the odd shapes of the districts as they have been up until now.

Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering also means redrawing district boundaries, but it includes a lot of politics in the process.

Most state legislatures have primary control over both the state and Congressional redistricting process of their states. Once the boundary lines of districts are drawn, they are presented for vote in their state’s legislature like any other bill.

Some states engage an independent commission to redraw district boundaries. Some states forbid state officials from participating in the redrawing while other states allow it. Even when politicians do not participate directly in the redrawing of district boundaries, they do have the ability to vote against proposals they object to. As a result, the majority party, or political party in power, usually has a lot of control over where the new district boundary lines are drawn.

I am including photos of maps from a few states showing district boundaries so that you can see how convoluted some districts are drawn in order to make them advantages to the politicians in that district.

The reason district lines are often drawn the way they are is to favor the political party in power. This is not an exercise in finger pointing because both major Parties in the U.S. do their best to gerrymander district boundaries to their party’s advantage when they can.

Why does it matter where the district boundaries are drawn? If you favor term limits for politicians pay attention here.

If it did not matter where the district boundaries are drawn, a state would simply leave it to a staff member to draw lines as evenly divided throughout the state as possible according to population (not area). If it did not matter where the district boundaries are drawn, there would be no such thing as gerrymandering.

By its definition, gerrymandering is manipulating district boundaries for political gain of one political party or another.

It does matter where the boundaries of districts within each state are drawn. It matters to the politicians in each state, and it is extremely important to the voters and citizens of each state – though most citizens are generally uninformed of this fact.

Where the boundaries of a district are drawn plays a big part in determining which political party is likely to prevail in every election, especially statewide and nationwide elections. Since it is true that a state’s district lines impact the results of national elections, it is also true that district boundaries in every state affect every citizen of this country.

When a particular political party is in power or in the majority, that party naturally wants to give its candidates every advantage so that the party can remain in power. So party politicians do everything they can to make sure every district has a majority of people in it who are likely to vote for themselves and their party’s other candidates.

By making as certain as possible that every district is made up of at least 60% (or a majority at the least) of people who regularly vote for their party’s candidates, currently sitting politicians can keep a member of their party in office indefinitely – that party member is usually themselves.

People who favor term limits should take this to heart. Once a party is in power, especially if they are in power right after a new census has been completed, that party will do everything to assure that the new district boundaries in their state will favor their own reelection as well the election of other politicians of their party. Only the majority party can succeed with this plan, and as I explained earlier, both major U.S. parties take advantage of this current process when they can.

Sometimes the minority party can limit the majority party’s power

Sometimes it is possible for the minority party to block efforts on the part of the majority party to redraw district boundaries entirely to their own advantage. That happens when the majority party does not have that big of a majority.

For example, if the majority party holds or controls 60% or more of the seats in the state legislature and Congressional seats, it is all but assured that that party will control where new district boundaries are drawn. It need not be a full 60%. It could be less depending on the circumstances at the time.

If the majority party holds only a small majority (51% or slightly more), that can give the minority party the opportunity to flummox any plans of patronizing the districts within that particular state. If conditions are right, the minority party may be able to force a filibuster to prevent the majority party from getting their way, at least for the duration of the filibuster. The filibuster has been used many times in the history of this country as well as by individual state legislatures to prevent passage of bills on all kinds of things.

Politicians and political parties rule when it comes to redistricting

In most states the legislature has the last word in where district boundaries are drawn. The majority party, or party in power, determines where those district boundaries will be, and they make every effort to guarantee their own advantage in being reelected and in electing more members of their own party. How do they do that?

They do that by making certain that the majority of voters in each district have a strong history of voting for members of their political party.

We know how most states in the U.S. are likely to vote in a presidential election. The reason a state is referred to as a red state or a blue state is because the majority of districts within that state can be depended on to vote Republican or Democrat. By knowing that, we can often predict which states will vote for a particular presidential candidate.

Even though it is not known which candidate a voter has cast his or her vote for, we still get a total of the results of which candidate(s) the majority of voters in a particular district voted for. If a district votes consistently for candidates of a particular party over a period of time, it is usually safe to predict they will continue to do so.

When district boundaries are redrawn, the party a particular district has consistently favored will attempt to keep that district as much in tact as possible, adding only a small percentage of new people to that district if need be, in order to keep the votes of people added to that district watered down, so to speak.

The opposition party will do exactly the opposite with the district described in the paragraph above. The opposition party will make every effort to divide that district, splitting portions of it up between other districts that have a history of consistently voting for the opposition party. By doing that it is possible to neutralize the votes against them and keep their party in power for a long time.

In addition to knowing which way most districts will vote by their voting history, there are telephone surveys taken on a regular basis around election dates, and in that case, it is possible to know how individual people will vote. They will not ask for your name, but they already have your phone number.

Telephone surveys are fairly expensive so that whoever funds them is likely to keep every piece of information gleaned from them in a file somewhere. It is not my intention to create paranoia here, but to simply point out how things really work as opposed to the way a lot of people seem to imagine they work. Most people look out for themselves first, and it is in the interest of politicians to know where their advantages lie.

Here is an example of an unusual gerrymandering plan that was enacted in California

According to Wikipedia’s California Politics under Bi-Partisan gerrymandering, “After the 2000 census, the legislature was obliged to set new district boundaries, both for the state Assembly and Senate and for federal congressional districts (CDs). The Republican and Democratic parties came to an agreement to gerrymander the boundaries. It was mutually decided that the status quo in terms of balance of power would be preserved. With this goal, districts were assigned to voters in such a way that they were dominated by one or the other party, with few districts that could be considered competitive.

In only a few cases did this require extremely convoluted boundaries, but [nevertheless] resulted in preservation of existing strongholds.” In other words, incumbents of both parties in those districts had no need to be concerned about losing an election for years to come.

Rarely does gerrymandering go the way it did in California in 2001, but it usually does favor the majority party -- the party in power, whether that is the Republicans or the Democrats. In 2000, the parties in power were divided almost evenly in California, including Independents.

The two parties resolved their dilemma by working together to all but guarantee each of them would be reelected in several elections to come. Who says our political parties cannot work together? Even though in this case it was for their own individual benefit and not the voters’ benefit.

Gerrymandering Never Benefits the Voters

The most important thing to remember about who gets the advantage in gerrymandering is that it is NEVER the voters. It is always the Democrat or the Republican Party, as well as the benefit of sitting politicians here in the U.S., except for that one rare occasion in California where politicians of both parties looked out for each other. Even then, they did not concern themselves with what was best for their constituents.

Lots of people have made suggestions about how gerrymandering could be avoided and some states are taking steps to improve the practice to benefit the voters of their states more, but for now things are as described here.

If you would like more information about how specific states do redistricting, click here.

To learn more about how redistricting and gerrymandering work, watch the following short, but entertaining video.

Texas Special Redistricting Problems

Currently, Texas is in the midst of a redistricting war of sorts. The state of Texas is dominated by Republicans. Through gerrymandering, Republicans have attempted to water down minority votes by piecing out their neighborhoods and communities into larger Conservative stronghold districts. A process I described earlier in this document.

If “piecing out” is not clear, think about how thieves part out a vehicle. They do not steal the entire vehicle, but remove parts of it and sell them. So voting districts are treated the same way. In gerrymandering, the majority party will often ‘piece out’ parts of a district that is a stronghold for their opposition, dividing that district and including its parts in various other districts more favorable to themselves, thus watering down the influence of those districts in elections. Divide and conquor.

In the last census, Texas gained 4 million new citizens, mostly minorities that generally vote Democratic. It was necessary to create 4 new districts to accommodate them. However Republicans drew the boundary lines of those districts so that their party would have the overwhelming advantage in 3 of them.

As Aaron Blake, writing for the Washington Post points out, “The problem for Texas Republicans . . . and for the lawmakers in [all] other Southern states, [is that] their maps have to gain what is called “pre-clearance” from either the Justice Department or a Washington, D.C., district court, which verifies that their [redistricting] maps comply with the minority-protection standards in the Voting Rights Act. The reason Texas and other Southern states must get approval from Washing D.C. for their redistricting maps is because of their history of voting discrimination.

According to the New York Times, the Supreme Court of the United States is expected to rule on this case in August 2012.

A Simple Explanation of Redistricting

© 2012 C E Clark

More by this Author


Comments 36 comments

Au fait profile image

Au fait 12 months ago from North Texas Author

Peggy W., thank you for stopping by and commenting and for sharing this article. People definitely need to understand gerrymandering so that they will then understand why a particular party always seems to be the majority in their precinct.

Agree with what you say about security. I don't understand how anyone who believes in any peaceful religion can rationalize violence and why they think forced love is real love? The God of Heaven wants our love, but if not freely given, it isn't truly love. Forcing others to believe and to worship any God makes no sense. Trying to force Sharia law is just as wrong as trying to force Christianity onto everyone.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 12 months ago from Houston, Texas

Sharing this once again so that more people might be informed about what the effect of gerrymandering has on elections. Our coming elections are sure to be impacted by the latest horrific terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere. Security will definitely take center stage! Sad that we live in such a world where some ill intended people value human life so very little. Take care!


Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W for pinning and sharing this hub!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 2 years ago from Houston, Texas

As informative as this hub is, it needs to be given more attention. Sharing it and pinning it to the Awesome Hubpages board.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas Author

Deborah-Diane, thank you for helping to educate people about this important subject. Anyone who truly thinks we should have term limits (which we already have in the form of voting people out if we're unhappy with their performance), should understand gerrymandering. Gerrymandering will keep a particular political party in charge even if there were term limits -- which by the way, were struck down as unConstitutional by the Supreme Court back in 1995. Neither states nor the U.S. Government can pass any laws limiting how many times a person can run for and win a government office. So learn about gerrymandering folks and have a little more control.


Deborah-Diane profile image

Deborah-Diane 2 years ago from Orange County, California

This is the best explanation of gerrymandering I have ever read. I am passing this on because, with a major election year coming up, people need to understand why bad politicians keep getting elected. Only by educating people can we hope to make things change for the better.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you moonlake, for reading, commenting, voting on and sharing this article. Most people don't realize gerrymandering is the reason so many politicians get re-elected year after year. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with their popularity.


moonlake profile image

moonlake 3 years ago from America

Interesting and many things I knew nothing about. Great job on the hub. Voted up and shared.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you DDE for stopping by and trying to make sense of this article -- also for the up votes. Even people here in the U.S. who are affected by gerrymandering often do not understand it, which is why I've tried to explain it here. But for you, it must seem even more complicated since it doesn't affect you or your own government. Hopefully your government doesn't include anything like gerrymandering as it is beneficial to no one except the politicians and their political parties.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Paul Kuehn for reading and commenting on this article! Also for voting on and sharing/pinning it. I believe if more people could wrap their minds around how things work they would better understand why things often remain the same even when the electorate want change. Strangely, sometimes the winner of the election has less to do with how things continue than the mechanics of the process itself.


DDE profile image

DDE 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

Gerrymandering and Reapportionment: An Explanation of Both and How They Work Great knowledge here something I couldn't tackle not in my thought you have tackled this hub with superb thought and mos tinformative voted up, useful, interesting.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 3 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

Au fait,

Thank you very much for sharing such as awesome hub which every citizen should read and understand. I learned about gerrymandering before when I took civics in high school, but you really have refreshed my knowledge and made it so clearer to me. I have bookmarked it for further perusal. Voted up and sharing with followers. Also Pinning and sharing on Facebook.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Peggy W for pinning and tweeting this hub! People who favor term limits really need to understand this so that they understand why some people manage to stay in office for such a long time.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Shyron, for reading and commenting on this hub. It's a complicated subject and it was hard explaining it. Unfortunately we will never get rid of districts because they will always be necessary for making sure there are enough representatives for every so many people.

Getting rid of the Electoral College relates only to the presidency. Nothing else. Districts are still necessary for assigning members of the House, county governments, distribution of school funding and many more things. The only things we could vote for regardless of district would be the president/vice president and Senators.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

This will be another excellent hub to pin to my board titled "Do you know this?" Going to also give it a tweet.


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago

No matter how many times I read this, it is still interesting. I just wish we could go with who gets the most votes and we could do away with districting, where the people are honestly voted in, where our vote counts.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Deborah-Diane for commenting on this hub!


Deborah-Diane profile image

Deborah-Diane 3 years ago from Orange County, California

Fascinating article about gerrymandering and reapportionment. All citizens need to read and understand this better.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for stopping by Shyron. If people better understood how gerrymandering works, they would have a much better idea of how a particular Party stays in power and how gerrymandering benefits the politicians while working against the voters.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 3 years ago from North Texas Author

Peggy W, thank you for reading, commenting, voting, and sharing this hub! Agree that the politicians, and especially the political parties have the upper hand in so many ways that ordinary people often can't win.


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago

I wholeheartedly agree with Peggy W. Everything is not exactly the way the American People want.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

Excellent civics lesson! It looks like Wisconsin has fairly even lines drawn in comparison to some of those other convoluted lines in other states with respect to Gerrymandering. "Government of the people, by the people and for the people" is not exactly accurate with the politicians and political parties holding much of the power negating the effects of the popular vote. Up, useful, interesting votes and sharing.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for stopping by nicole S. I hope now you have a better understanding of gerrymandering and how it affects every detail of your life.


Nicole S profile image

Nicole S 4 years ago from Minnesota

Interesting hub! I've heard of this but never really knew what it was.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for stopping by Jen. Agree that we need a different and better system than gerrymandering so that everyone's vote, regardless of party, really does count. The Electoral College needs to become a piece of history too, for the same reason.


Jen 4 years ago

I knew about gerrymandering before sort of, but I never thought about how it benefits the parties so that they can keep an incumbent in office almost indefinitely by using this method. They basically water down all the opposing votes so they may as well not bother to even vote! That doesn't seem right to me.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you for reading and commenting on my hub, Aunt Jimi!


Aunt Jimi profile image

Aunt Jimi 4 years ago from The reddest of the Red states!

Good explanation Au Fait. You're right about it all but never favoring the voters too. Good thing Texas needs a pre-clearance to gerrymander or there wouldn't be a single Democrat in office down there for eons. Hardly have any as it is! Republicans water down the Democratic votes any more and it'll be just like Campbell's chicken soup.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

The reason politicians draw district lines the way they do is first of all because they can, and next because it gives them the best assurance that they will be able to keep their office indefinitely, or for as long as they want to, and it assures that their Party will remain in power. Gerrymandering plays a huge part in the results of elections. Even more than swing states if that's possible! If only people understood how this works.

Thank you Shyron, for reading and commenting on my hub. I'm glad you're feeling up to it. So glad your home and hope every day is better than the one before!


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago

Awesome hub, I just reread this hub, and can't understand how people could be so rotten as to try to draw other peoples right to vote out of existence. Should be a way to draw them out of their seats.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Yes, more people should understand what gerrymandering is and how it works. I think they might be surprised, especially those people who often call for term limits. Gerrymandering is one of the main reasons some people stay in office for so long. Thank you Shyron for commenting and I hope you are feeling better soon!


Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron E Shenko 4 years ago

Great hub, Aufait. I have to go for therapy, just wanted to say the hub is great. Will re-read first chance I get.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Yes, I know most people have no idea how their government works or how it is supposed to work -- the two are often not the same. Thank you Bill Holland for such high praise, and for reading and commenting on my hub. I very much appreciate your time and your views.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 4 years ago from North Texas Author

Thank you Tillsontitan, for reading, commenting, and voting!

Gerrymandering takes place after a census is processed and it's orchestrated by the political party in power at the time. Gerrymandering is only done when a population grows, shrinks, or moves, in order to provide representation to all citizens -- but of course weasel sees to it that it benefits the political party in power more than the voters.

Generally gerrymandering is done only once every 10 years, but Texas has been in the middle of a gerrymandering problem for almost that long and will probably not have it settled in time to redraw district lines before the presidential election this November. The reason it's taking so long here is that the new district lines must be approved before they can go into effect which gives voters a better chance of getting some benefit. If approval were not necessary here (as explained in this hub) the party in power (Republicans in this case) would have had their way years ago.


billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Very informative hub my friend. I taught political science for a few years and I promise you there are quite a few citizens who do not understand this political process. You did a great job of explaining.


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Funny how the video used buffalo, jackalope and WEASEL! How well the weasel fits the part!

This is a great explanation with good videos. The sad part is we can be 'gerrymandered' and never know it! Lots of good information here.

This was a very educational hub and I can see it being used in high school civics!

Voted up, useful, and very interesting.

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