Slay The Dragon has just premiered on Hulu but the concept of Gerrymandering is still stumping a lot of viewers, what does it mean and why is it a problem in the US?
We all know that politics is complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.
Documentaries and explanatory series can be extremely helpful for those of us who will have heard electoral and political terminology being used with no idea what they actually mean.
One such term is Gerrymandering, the subject of the brilliant new movie on Hulu called Slay The Dragon, but what does it mean, how does it work and why is it a problem?
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Slay The Dragon: What does Gerrymandering mean?
- Gerrymandering is the political practice of modifying electoral district boundaries in order to give one particular party or group a distinct advantage.
The term ‘Gerrymandering’ was coined by a newspaper in 1812 in reaction to the redistricting of Massachusetts by Governor Elbridge Gerry in order to favour his Democratic-Republican Party.
Interestingly, it was originally termed ‘Gerry-mander’ because the newly redrawn district lines in the north of Boston was said to resemble a salamander.
Slay The Dragon: How does Gerrymandering work?
- Gerrymandering works by using district boundaries to give one party an advantage thanks to ‘cracking’ or ‘packing’ the voting power of another party or group.
In the US, different states elect a different number of representatives based on their population and each representative within that state is elected from one specific region, known as a district. However, the party or group that holds the majority in an area are not only given control of that region, but the power to redraw the boundaries between each of the districts.
Consequently, a party can redistrict an area and change the different regions that voters have power in order to give themselves an advantage when the next election comes around. In this manner, a group with fewer overall voters can still win a majority in an area, if they are smart about where they allow each person to vote.
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This is the practice of Gerrymandering and there are two main ways that Gerrymandering can be used, ‘cracking’ and ‘packing’.
Cracking Gerrymandering is when the district boundaries are drawn in a way that spreads out the voters of an opposing party across many districts, therefore diluting down their actual electoral power. Whereas Packing Gerrymandering is redistricting an area to include an excessive number of opposing voters, which reduces their count and therefore, power in other districts.
If you are still a bit confused and want a visual explanation for the term, check out this fantastic video by the Washington Post.
Why is Gerrymandering a problem?
- Gerrymandering is an issue within US politics because it has the potential to undermine the principle of democratic accountability.
Only being able to vote in your area isn’t the issue, the problem is that a party can control where voters can influence the political landscape in order to give themselves an advantage. In this manner, the voting power of individual citizens is manipulated and is considered by some to be a “mere ritual to verify the pre-determined result.”
There are also prevalent issues with racial Gerrymandering. Even as recently as July 2017, San Juan County in Utah was ordered to redraw some of their district boundaries after “US District Judge Robert Shelby ruled they were unconstitutional.” It was argued that Native Americans, who made up the majority of voters had been suppressed as “they are packed into gerrymandered districts.”