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elections

A Gallery of Gerrymanders

Crimes against geography

The contorted shapes that gerrymandering produces are grotesque reminders that our democracy needs an asterisk. The word derives from 1812’s governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry, who rearranged election districts to his liking. The shape of one of them

The 1812 cartoon in the Boston Gazette mocking the shape of one of Gov. Gerry's contrivances.

reminded people of a salamander. Hence Gerrymander.

Here is a selection of the most notoriously contrived to make an election outcome a certainty for the party controlling the process.

Maryland's 3rd District: As your eye will bear witness, this bug splat is
considered the most gerrymandered district in the country. Connected by tiny threads and leaping across water, it consists of parts of Baltimore, Annapolis and three counties. It was constructed to benefit Democrats. It's John Sarbanes district and was the district of both Maryland senators, Barbara Mikulski and and Ben Cardin, when they were representatives.

North Carolina's 12th District: The district slices through the center of the state, comprising portions of Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro, and running right down
U.S. 85 — so narrow in parts that one state legislator remarked, "if you drove down the interstate with both car doors open, you’d kill most of the people in the district". The district was designed after the 1990 census to assure that African-Americans in the state would have representation in Congress. In February, the U.S. Circuit Court ruled that, for relying on race, it must be redrawn.

Florida's 5th District: That a district could stretch from Jacksonville all the way to Orlando tells you that it was designed for a
suspect purpose. It even consists of sparsely populated areas strung together so as to gather up small African-American neighborhoods, and it culminates in heavily black Jacksonville. In 2014 the Florida Circuit Court ruled that the district had been drawn to collect a maximum number of blacks to make surrounding districts majority-white. Support of that ruling by the Democratic Party drew the ire of 5th District Representative Corrine Brown, who said breaking up her 5th would cost blacks a representative.

Pennsylvania's 7th District: Another district held together by threads. Two connect three wandering areas of markedly different size. After the 2000 census, the controlling GOP redrew the district map
so that, rather than the 10 seats Republicans had held versus 12 held by Democrats, the ratio would change to 12 Republicans vs. 7 Democrats. A group of Democrats sued in Vieth v. Jubelirer, which went to the Supreme Court in 2004. The Justices declined to invalidate the Pennsylvania map and moreover embraced the right of political parties to gerrymander for partisan gain, helping to entrench the polarization of the present day. Justice Antonin Scalia thought that good will out, that "an utterly incompetent candidate will lose even in its registration stronghold", and that the Constitution is moot on any "right to proportional representation" or that any ethnic or other group "must be accorded political strength proportionate to their numbers". In other words, if it's not in the Constitution, anything goes. The result was that gerrymandering led to Pennsylvania Democrats winning only 5 out of 18 congressional House seats, despite winning slightly more than half of the statewide vote.

Illinois' 4th District: Its shape, wrapping around Chicago, earned
it the nickname "earmuffs". Its two flaps are connected only by a strip of route 294 at its west end. The district has a long history, dating from 1842. But a district's shape and location can change significantly with each redrawing. The intent of its present configuration was to pack two parts of Chicago with majority Hispanic populations into one district.

North Carolina's 1st District: Created in 2013 immediately after
the Supreme Court ended the requirement that a passel of southern states must apply to the Treasury Department for "preclearance" of redistricting plans, the 1st district, like the 12th North Carolina above, was voided by the U.S. Circuit Court in February for gathering populations of like race.

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