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Under exposed, by Shel Haber

Gerrymandering, or how to fix an election—legally

Since the 1994 election, an unusually low number of seats in the US House of Representatives has changed hands. This is for the most part due to gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering is defined as manipulating the boundaries of a election district to favor one party or the other.

Most often it is this twisting and reshaping of political districts by State legislatures that decides who is elected—not the voters.

This bit of political cheating is not new; it dates to 1812 in Boston Massachusetts. The then-Governor Elbridge Gerry had a Massachusetts state Senate election district redrawn to favor his party. The shape of this new district was so grotesque that a newspaper, The Boston Weekly Messenger, printed a cartoon with the title, The Gerry-Mander, because the outline of Gerry’s new district reminded the editors of a salamander. The name Gerrymander stuck.

At one time, this practice was used only in a few states; now it is nationwide.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott (R) is so confident that the current Federal judges will let Texas Republicans get away with fixing elections that he openly bragged in a brief filed with a federal court. “The Redistricting we designed was to increase Republicans at the expense of the Democrats.”

In Democratic-controlled Maryland it was tit for tat. An official said, off the record, “In Texas, they’re switching the districts around to get more Republicans in. We can’t just let them do it and not do it in this state.” Except Texas has 32 congressional seats and Maryland only 8.

Today, some of the most grotesquely
reshaped congressional districts include North Carolina 12th, Texas 35th, Illinois 4th and Maryland 3rd.

One lesson of the 1812 Massachusetts election was, although Gerry’s party did keep its Gerry-mandered Senate seat, his
party lost the Massachusetts House and Elbridge Gerry was not reelected.

Shel Haber, a stage, film & television art director, is co-publisher of The Nyack Villager.