Voter Identification Law

Unless you're a die-hard political junkie, you likely don't know exactly what gerrymandering is, even if you've heard the term before. However, it affects the partisan make-up of the federal and state legislatures and therefore the laws that they make (or don't), which in turn impacts all of us.

The name and practice date back more than 200 years. Gerrymandering was named for Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, whom a Boston newspaper accused of redrawing districts to get his favored candidates elected.

What Is Gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering involves drawing electoral district maps around the party affiliation of the residents by state legislators. Gerrymandered congressional districts are drawn in a way that often virtually assures the victory of one party. The same has been done for state districts to impact the partisan make-up of state legislatures. Some of these electoral districts are drawn in a way that makes no sense geographically.

Voting rights advocates have argued that partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional because it essentially denies voters a chance to have their vote count when they're in a district drawn to include a majority (and sometimes as many as 80 percent) of voters who belong to one party. They're hoping that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up one of the legal cases regarding gerrymandering, which often has a racial component as well, in the next term. Multiple justices have already expressed concern about the practice, but thus far haven't ruled it unconstitutional.

How Gerrymandering Leads to Political Gridlock

One voting rights advocate says that gerrymandering is a "significant reason for the hyper-partisanship and political gridlock we currently see in state and federal politics."

North Carolina has been the focus of more than one gerrymandering lawsuit. The impact of gerrymandering can be seen in the numbers there. In 2012, over half of North Carolina voters voted for a Democratic representative, yet Republicans won 9 out of 13 seats. In Wisconsin, which also has a case that could go before the high court, over half of voters voted for Democrats in 2012, but Republicans won 60 out of 99 state assembly seats, for a supermajority.

Those on the other side of the issue, such as one North Carolina state senator, argue that it's fine to "use political data to gain a partisan advantage on the map." He says, "It is not illegal." That's something that may be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in the not-too-distant future once and for all.