Articles

Gerrymander-spotting

In redistricting on October 12, 2011 by dadge

Let’s get one thing straight right away: gerrymandering isn’t about shape. Given that they all contain about the same number of voters, constituencies can be of all shapes and sizes without any gerrymandering having occurred. Well, nearly all shapes and sizes. The gerrymandering that takes place, sometimes quite legally, in some US states, is given away by the ridiculous shapes of some of the voting districts. But if a particular type of voter lives in a compact area, a gerrymander can be compact too.

So don’t get carried away by shape. What’s important is intent. Are you trying to give one party an unfair advantage? If you don’t know much about this topic it might sound like quite a difficult thing to do, but in theory it’s very easy.

Let’s say an area has three constituencies and the area splits 50-50 Labour-Tory. Labour will try to make two seats which are majority Labour and the Tories will try to make two seats that are majority Conservative:

Labour plan
 
seat                                            Lab-Con split
Northtown and Bobshire North     60%-40%
Southtown and Bobshire South    60%-40%
Hillocks                            30%-70%
 
Tory plan
 
seat
Hillocks                                    30%-70%
Bobshire                                    35%-65%
Northtown and Southtown            85%-15%
 
 
From these examples, you can see that in general terms, political parties try and ghettoise their opponents’ voters. I feel that gerrymandering is harder for Labour to get away with than the Tories since urban seats and urban fringe seats which suit the Tories seem quite natural and logical, while more mixed seats, with urban, suburban and rural parts tend to be more contentious.
 
And you can see that the Commission is on a bit of a hiding to nothing since if it draws the boundaries in a certain way, the side that appears to be disadvantaged will accuse it of being unfair, even though there was no partisan intent. But Boundary Commissions and independent redistricters have to ignore this and carry on…
 
If you’re interested in this topic (and who wouldn’t be) I recommend Mark Monmonier’s book “Bushmanders and Bullwinkles”.
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