A district-based system for choosing representatives has issues in-and-of-itself. Those issues become applified when you ask the questions “who draws the districts?” and “how often are districts redrawn?”.
All too often the answers to these questions indicates systematic abuse of power by those that are in power. In the US both the Republicans and the Democrats have a long history of abusing redistricting.
In fact, it goes back to before these parties existed. Consider Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.
The image above is of the fabled ‘gerrymander’ named after the convuluted districting that was proposed almost 200 years ago to keep Mass. Governor Elbridge Gerry in power. At the time this abuse of power was rebuffed and the Governor was voted out of office.
The practice of drawing districts to maximize political advantage unfortunately remained.
Currently, in Massachusetts, redistricting is conducted by the legislature every 10 years and must obey the following rules:
- districts must have roughly similar populations—plus or minus 5%
- districts must be contiguous—in other words, that each district has a single footprint
- districts cannot violate the federal voting rights act
- very small towns cannot be divided
Within the confines of these rules there is plenty of opportunity for abuse.
Generally gerrymandering is used to:
- favor incumbants
- favor the party currently in power
- allow representatives to live in areas that would be outside of more compactly drawn districts
Here is Common Cause on gerrymandering in Massachusetts. By no means is this problem limited to Massachusetts.