Gerrymandering Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Gerrymandering, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Gerrymandering?

Defining legislative district boundaries in order to create an unfair advantage to one political party.

History and Meaning of Gerrymandering

Gerrymandering is a practice that has been used in the United States since the early 1800s. The term itself comes from a combination of the name of Elbridge Gerry, a Massachusetts governor who approved a redistricting plan in 1812 that benefited his political party, and "salamander," due to the odd shape of one of the districts created by the plan.

The purpose of gerrymandering is to give one political party an unfair advantage in an election by manipulating the shape and boundaries of electoral districts. This can be accomplished by splitting up groups of voters who traditionally vote for one party or packing them all into one district so that the other party wins all the surrounding districts. Gerrymandering can occur at the state or federal level and is performed by the party in power.

Examples of Gerrymandering

  1. In 2012, the state of Pennsylvania's Republican legislature reportedly engaged in gerrymandering by carving up areas that traditionally vote Democratic into odd new shapes that would dilute the power of those voters.
  2. In 2010, Republicans in the state of North Carolina were accused of gerrymandering by creating districts that combined black voters into a few select areas in order to dilute their voting strength.
  3. After the 2010 census, Republicans in the state of Michigan allegedly gerrymandered some of the state's districts to give their party a stronger hold in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Legal Terms Similar to Gerrymandering

  1. Redistricting: This is the process of drawing new political district boundaries after a census in order to ensure equal representation are among the districts.
  2. Partisan advantage: This is the act of intentionally benefiting a political party in a given situation or system.
  3. Packing: This is the act of herding large groups of voters of one political party into a single district to minimize the amount of representation that party has in other districts.