Jul 12, 2019

Wordology, Gerrymander

The US Supreme Court recently ruled that it has no authority to decide cases that challenge partisan gerrymandering, a practice in which political parties draw Congressional districts to increase votes in their favor.

By redrawing the borders of electoral districts, members of a given political party can cram the opposition’s supporters into as few precincts as possible, thus grabbing a disproportionate amount of power.

The tactic gets its name after a one-time vice president. Elbridge Gerry was born on July 17, 1744. He was a native of Marblehead, Massachusetts.

In 1787, with the war over, Gerry took part in the Constitutional Convention and was the person who moved to include a Bill of Rights.

Early in 1812, Democratic-Republican legislators laid out new districts which shoehorned most Federalist Party supporters into a handful of precincts. Due to this redesign of maps, Federalist candidates for the state Senate earned 1602 more votes than their Jeffersonian opponents did. Yet, because of these new precincts, the Democratic-Republican Party nabbed 29 seats to the Federalist’s 11.

Districts now came in all manner of irregular shapes. Particularly infamous was one such division in Essex County. This squiggly precinct looked like a mythical salamander. Thus, the name “Gerrymander” was born.

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