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Most people have heard the word "gerrymandering" once or twice,
probably during a presidential election.
What exactly is gerrymandering?
Essentially, it's the process of giving one political party an advantage over another political party
by redrawing district lines.
It's like Democrats trying to gain an advantage over Republicans,
or Republicans trying to gain an advantage over Democrats.
You see, each party wants to gain as many districts as possible
so they can do things like control the state budget,
or set themselves up to win even more districts in the future.
So to understand how this process began, and how it continues today,
we must go back to 1812 in Massachusetts.
Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts, supported and signed a bill to allow redistricting.
That is, redrawing the boundaries that separate districts.
The catch? The new lines would favor Gerry's own political party,
the Democratic-Republican party, which no longer exists.
You see, Gerry wanted his party to win as many state Senate seats as possible.
The more members of your party who vote, the more likely you are to win an election.
The new lines were drawn to include loads of areas that would help Governor Gerry in the future.
They were so strange looking that someone said the new districts looked like a salamander.
The Boston Gazette added Gerry's name to the word salamander,
and voilà! Gerrymandering,
the process of dividing up and redrawing districts to give your political party an advantage.
So how exactly does someone go about protecting their own political party,
and actually gerrymandering a district?
There are two successful practices.
Packing a district,
and cracking a district.
Packing is the process of drawing district lines and packing in your opponents like cattle,
into as few districts as possible.
If more districts equals more votes, the fewer the districts there are,
the fewer votes the opposition party will get.
Packing, then, decreases the opponent's voter strength and influence.
Cracking is the opposite:
taking one district and cracking it into several pieces.
This is usually done in districts where your opponent has many supporters.
Cracking spreads these supporters out among many districts,
denying your opponent a lot of votes.
When you have a large number of people who would generally vote for one type of party,
those folks are known as a voting bloc.
Cracking is a way to break that all up.
So when would a party choose to pack their opponent's districts rather than crack them?
Well, that really depends on what the party needs.
To dilute your opponent's voters, you could pack them into one district
and leave the surrounding districts filled with voters of your own party.
Or, if you and your party are in power when it's time to redraw district lines,
you could redraw districts and crack up a powerful district
and spread your opponent's voters out across several neighboring districts.
So, Governor Gerry in 1812 wanted to gain an advantage for his party,
and redrew district lines in his state in such a crazy way we have a whole new word
and way of thinking about how political parties can gain advantages over their opponents.
Politicians think of creative ways to draw districts every few years.
So the next time an election comes around,
and politicians ask people to vote,
be sure to look up the shape of your district and the districts that surround it.
How wide does your district stretch across your state?
Are all of the districts in your state relatively the same shape?
How many other districts does your district touch?
But always be sure to ask yourself,
does my district look like a salamander?