Gerrymander: a quick look

Filibuster, attack poodle, and gerrymander



Politicians, for being so serious, come up with some goofy terms to describe things they discuss. One of them is filibuster. Another is attack poodle. But one of my favorites is gerrymander, because it's fun to say and has an interesting history.

Gerrymandering was so named by this newspaper in 1812 as they tried to lambast one Elbridge Gerry after he scootched the borders of his district around in order to give his political party an advantage in the upcoming elections. The newly realigned borders looked surprisingly like a salamander, thus the name was born. Since then, gerrymandering has inspired a lot of bitterness amongst political parties, although the process of redistricting is supposed to be completely objective.

The very first gerrymander...

The very first instance of gerrymandering in America happened in 1788 when Patrick Henry, the sly dog, "persuaded the state legislature to remake the 5th Congressional District, forcing Henry’s political enemy James Madison to run against the formidable James Monroe," according to Emily Barasch, a story researcher for The Atlantic.


Even it didn't work this time, it went down in history as a viable campaign strategy. Madison overcame the obstacles and won, despite the additional challenge. Today, though, people are still trying to wiggle their districts around in order to introduce new competition for someone in the district, or to provide additional support by creating a majority in one of the parties.


So how do you gerrymander?

This strategy, understandably, tends to upset people when they think it's happening. It's difficult to know for sure, though, because the redistricting process is, itself, so convoluted. It does not lend itself to easy understanding, or sustained interest.

Every ten years, after the census, the whole state is redistricted in order to reflect the changes found in the census. So, who draws the lines?

There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, the state legislature makes the decision. They have a deadline, though, and if they aren't going to make the deadline, the state or federal courts can step in. After the legislature has drafted the new districts, the governor has the opportunity to look it over and veto if necessary.

The districts have a pretty large influence on state politics. Four highly influential state organization are required to have a representative from every district: the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the University of Minnesota Board of Regents, the Minnesota State Colleges and University Systems Board of Trustees, and the State Board of Invention.

In other words, the final district area has a large affect on the candidates' success or lack thereof, which consequently have an affect on this committees that operate in Minn. government.

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