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September 26, 2016

Gerrymandering and partisan politics in the U.S.

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Essential question

Why is important that voters receive fair and equal representation in state and national legislatures?


The practice of drawing congressional district lines to benefit one political party over another is known as gerrymandering and dates back to the 19th century.

The term comes from Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts governor who helped draw the boundaries of a congressional district so misshapen and blatantly one-sided that one critic said the map looked like a salamander.

“No,” another replied, “a Gerry-mander.”

Today, state legislatures across the country draw congressional district lines every 10 years with the results of the census, which is the government count of all its residents.

Some lawmakers are looking for a way to end gerrymandering and what they see as an unfair way of dividing voters. Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has proposed his state take the power to draw district lines away from the Maryland legislature and create an independent commission, a system already in use in four other states.

But other politicians from both sides of the aisle don’t think his plan is the right solution.

Democratic Maryland State Sen. Joan Carter Conway said Maryland should not change its pro-Democrat tilt since far more states draw their districts lines to benefit Republicans.

“I don’t think Maryland should be in a position to change unless it’s a national change,” Conway said. “It’s very partisan. The Democrats have been accused of drawing lines to help them. The Republicans draw the lines to help them.”

North Carolina Republican David Lewis says there is no way for a commission to be really independent.  People can’t “simply sit down in a room and magically create districts,” he said, “those people don’t exist.”


Key terms

gerrymander — to manipulate the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class

congressional district — an electoral constituency based on population that elects a single member of a congress

incumbent — a person who holds a political office or post

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. What do you know about the U.S. House of Representatives? How many members does it have? How are they elected?
  2. What are the differences between the Republican and the Democratic Party? What is the role of party politics in local and national elections?
  3. Think about your town, your city, your school district, your state. Where are the dividing lines between your town and another? Who decides these boundary lines?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. Do you think gerrymandering is a problem? Explain your reasoning?
  2. Why do some people say gerrymandering leaves certain voting populations, such as African Americans, at a disadvantage?
  3. Do you think independent commissions would be effective in preventing gerrymandering? Why or why not?
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