NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Gerrymanders and Democracy

November 7, 2001

When Americans go to the polls in the next regular federal election one year from now, many of the races for Congress and the state legislatures will already have been decided, says the Wall Street Journal.

That is because of the legislative redistricting process that occurs after each national census.

Through a process known as gerrymandering, the majority party in many state legislatures crafts legislative districts that protect its incumbents, and attempts to enlarge its majority. They do so by concentrating a majority of voters who identify with their party or the other major party in particular districts. This creates oddly shaped districts and sometimes merges districts so that incumbents (usually of the state's minority party) are forced to run against each other.

Another result is that relatively few legislative races are truly competitive.

  • A year ago more than 20 percent of the membership of the U.S. House of Representatives had no major party challenger.
  • George W. Bush won Florida by only 537 votes, but 10 of the 21 Florida House incumbents ran unopposed.
  • Next year, perhaps only 30 of 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will even be competitive.

Gerrymandering effectively disenfranchises some voters, says the Wall Street Journal.

  • In Utah, the Republican-controlled legislature moved 684,000 people from one congressional district to another -- whereas competing plans moved fewer than one-tenth as many -- in order to defeat a Democratic congressman.
  • In Michigan, a GOP gerrymander has stuffed six Democratic incumbents into only three seats.
  • And in Georgia, Democrats pushed four Republican incumbents into two districts.

Both Britain and Canada appoint boundary commissions to draw legislative districts, and this year both Iowa and Arizona successfully used nonpartisan bodies to draw compact districts.

Source: Editorial, "The Gerrymander Scandal," Wall Street Journal, November 7, 2001.

For text (WSJ subscribers)

For text


Browse more articles on Government Issues