Gerrymandering is a topic that comes up with every election cycle. Help students understand what it is and what is being done to prevent it with this week’s Current Event.

Brought to teachers by Susie Marcus, CLP consultant, with CLP staff.


News Sources

The gerrymandering fight looming over Pennsylvania’s special election, by Addy Baird, Think Progress, March 13, 2018
“Whoever wins Tuesday will serve for just nine months before having to run again ahead of the midterms this fall, and a lengthy fight over gerrymandering in the state—a strategy of drawing districts in outlandish ways in an effort to elect more members of one party—means that whoever wins, should they run again, will have to do it all over again in a new district.”
CLP: Left-leaning source, but explains how complicated the election is

Gerrymandering Pennsylvania, by Jay Cost, The Weekly Standard, March 9, 2018
“It remains to be seen just what effect this tinkering will have in November. The trouble with gerrymanders like the map Republicans put together in 2011 is that they tend not to withstand electoral waves, like the one that seems to be brewing for Democrats in the 2018 cycle.”
CLP: Editorial cartoon

GOP heads back to court today to stop Pennsylvania’s new congressional map, TribLive, March 9, 2018
“The lawsuit was filed by eight GOP congressmen and two GOP state senators. It claims a Democratic majority of the state’s highest court had no legal authority under the U.S. Constitution to draw its own election map after declaring a 2011 map was unconstitutional.”

Mundelein H.S. students propose government reforms, by Rick Kambic, Chicago Tribune, February 26, 2018
“They compared Gerry’s district, which was shaped like a salamander, to Illinois’ fourth congressional district, which is shaped like a sideways letter U and includes portions of Chicago’s West Side and slivers of suburban towns like Oak Park, Melrose Park, and Berkley, among others.”

States introduce bills to consider gerrymandering, by David A. Lieb, The Detroit News, February 25, 2018“Responding to complaints about partisan gerrymandering, a significant number of states this year are considering changing the criteria used to draw congressional and state legislative districts or shifting the task from elected officials to citizen commissions.”

The Debate Over Gerrymandering Is Changing in a Fundamental Way, by Ed Kilgore, New York Magazine, February 20, 2018
“Public (and sometimes judicial) opinion has long been scandalized by the common practice of partisan gerrymandering (particularly when it comes to state legislators drawing their own districts). But until quite recently, the focus of redistricting reform was on who drew the maps and what they looked like to the untrained eye.”

Why the new Pennsylvania map is a ‘huge’ deal in the fight for House control, by Chris Cillizza, CNN, February 20, 2018
“On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew the state’s congressional lines in advance of the 2018 election. (The court had previously ruled that the map drawn by Republicans earlier in the decade was driven mainly by partisan consideration and therefore in violation of the state’s constitution.)
The new map will fundamentally rejigger the state’s politics and, at first glance, will make Democrats much more competitive in a state that has leaned their way for most of the last two decades.”

Eric Holder leads Democrats to war on gerrymandering, by Benjy Sarlin, NBC News, February 7, 2018
“Holder said the redistricting committee is taking a multipronged approach, targeting state races with influence over the redistricting process but also looking at lawsuits and ballot initiatives that might advance their goals. One goal is to raise the issue’s prominence among grass-roots activists in the hopes of firing up turnout.”

What Pennsylvania’s Landmark Partisan Gerrymandering Ruling Means, by Michael Li, Brennan Center for Justice, February 6, 2018
“While the Pennsylvania case was decided under state law, the ruling could nonetheless have a big impact elsewhere in the country by providing a model for how other state constitutions could be used to successfully combat partisan gerrymandering.”

The Battle Over Racial Gerrymandering Is Once Again Headed to the Supreme Court, by Pema Levy, Mother Jones, January 12, 2018
“This summer, a three-judge panel in San Antonio found that Texas Republicans intentionally weakened the voting power of African American and Latino voters when it drew multiple state House and congressional districts. This was the ninth racial discrimination in voting case the state has lost since 2011, which includes a long legal battle over its stringent voter ID requirement. Now, the Supreme Court will determine whether Texas’ maps can stand.”

The real fix for gerrymandering is proportional representation, by Matthew Yglesisas, Vox, November 6, 2017
“The basic idea of proportional representation is that instead of each place having a single representative selected by either plurality or a runoff system, you aggregate a bunch of people’s votes and then assign seats to parties in proportion to their popularity.”
CLP: Offers explanation for new ways to draw district lines.

What the Briefs Say About Extreme Gerrymandering, by Thomas Wolf, Brennan Center for Justice, September 6, 2017
The subjects covered by the briefs run the gamut, from describing how gerrymandering is profoundly at odds with the Framers’ vision for our democracy to warning the Court about how cutting-edge technology and “Big Data” will make gerrymandering much worse in the future if the Court doesn’t step in. The filers of the briefs are equally diverse. Their ranks include prominent Republicans and Democrats, civil rights groups, citizens in the states affected by extreme gerrymandering, and leading legal scholars, historians, and political scientists.
CLP: Examines multiple issues that are the result of gerrymandering.

Wisconsin Case Could Deliver National Blow to Partisan Gerrymandering, by Jay Heck, Common Cause in Wisconsin, June 20, 2017
“Although federal courts have previously ruled against redrawing voter districts in a way that disadvantages racial minorities, this is the first-ever federal ruling that a single-member district plan was drawn illegally for partisan advantage. The 2011 Wisconsin gerrymander by the Republicans was considered to be the most partisan of any Republican gerrymander in the nation that year.”
CLP: Editorial cartoon included


Questions to Consider

  • What is gerrymandering? What is partisan gerrymandering?
  • What is racial gerrymandering?
  • Is the shape of the voting district the issue or just a symbol of the problem of fair districting?
  • Does gerrymandering diminish democracy? How?
  • What can be done about partisan gerrymandering? Why is finding a fair formula difficult?
  • How was the Pennsylvania Congressional election on March 13 an example of the complexities of drawing voting districts? Why is it complicated?
  • What is proportional representation?
  • What advantage might an electoral commission have over a legislative committee in deciding on electoral districts? Why does the way the electoral commission members are selected provide a challenge for fair districting?
  • Which branches of government are responsible for drawing electoral districts? How do the courts make decisions about the constitutionality of voting districts?
  • How does the Census determine voting districts?
  • What is the “efficiency gap”?
  • How do redistricting and gerrymandering work? Does gerrymandering silence voters? Who should decide how legislative districts are drawn?
  • Who do they think should make selections about how district lines are drawn?


Background and More

Elbridge Gerry and the Monstrous Gerrymanderer, by Jennifer Davis, Library of Congress, February 10, 2017
“The first “gerrymander” was drawn on a map and signed into law on February 11, 1812. Elbridge Gerry, then governor of Massachusetts, signed into law a redistricting plan designed to keep his political party in power in the upcoming election. Upset that the Federalist Party was critical of James Madison’s foreign policy, Gerry signed the reapportioning plan that heavily favored his Republican party.”

Gerrymandering and how to fix it, by Elaine Kamarch, Brookings, February 2, 2018
“THE ISSUE: The Supreme Court announced that it will hear a second case this term to determine whether partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. In both Gill v. Whitford and Benisek v. Lamone, the state’s majority party is accused of redrawing a voting district or districts to undermine the minority party. A decision in both cases could reshape how elections are conducted.”


Lesson Plans

Lesson Plan: Redistricting and Gerrymandering, by Rachel Roberson, The Lowdown
CLP: Middle School

The Strange Geometry of Gerrymandering, by Matthew Green, The Lowdown, June 6, 2017
CLP: Math, maps and a video; middle and high school

Investigating Gerrymandering and the Math Behind Partisan Maps, by Patrick Honner & Michael Gonchar, The New York Times, November 30, 2017
CLP: Interdisciplinary unit, middle and high school


Constitutional and Legal Connections

Many Republicans Oppose Gerrymandering, by Bruce Thompson, Urban Milwaukee, March 14, 2018
“’One question to ask is to what extent do the amicus briefs interest reflect their partisan interest? In other words, if the Wisconsin gerrymander had been designed by Democrats with the aim of entrenching Democrats, how many of them would switch their position?’”

Justices urged to see political impact of Pennsylvania voting case, by Lyle Denniston, Constitution Daily, March 5, 2018
“Two prominent leaders in Republican politics have urged the Supreme Court to consider the Pennsylvania redistricting case as a part of this year’s intense political battle for control of the U.S. House of Representatives – an issue outside the constitutional issues at stake.”

Alito sets response date for Pennsylvania election map appeal, by Scott Bomboy, Constitution Daily, February 28, 2018
“On February 19, the state Supreme Court published a new election map of House districts drawn by Nathaniel Persily, a Stanford Law school professor. The state court ruled that a revised 2011 map sent to Governor Tom Wolf still wasn’t in compliance with orders it gave the state legislature on January 22 to eliminate a bias it perceived in election maps that favored Republicans.”

Read why Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with gerrymandering claim, The Morning Call, February 8, 2018
“She (Justice Debra Todd) says those standards were written into the state constitution in 1874 to address gerrymandering concerns in state legislative districts, and says those neutral benchmarks are suitable to apply to a congressional map.”

The Great Republican Power Grab, The Editorial Board, The New York Times, February 8, 2018
“Both Democrats and Republicans draw biased maps, of course — the two cases before the Supreme Court this term make that clear — but modern partisan gerrymandering is mostly the work of Republicans, who control a majority of governorships, as well as the legislative chambers in 32 states.”

Latest partisan gerrymandering decision adds to growing debate, by NCC staff, Constitution Daily, January 10, 2018
“The judges agreed the current map violated the Equal Protection clauses of the Constitution. “On its most fundamental level, partisan gerrymandering violates ‘the core principle of republican government . . . that the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around,’” Wynn said.”

How a Wisconsin Case Before Justices Could Reshape Redistricting, by Michael Wines, The New York Times, October 1, 2017
“How egregiously can a majority party gerrymander a political map before it violates the Constitution? The Supreme Court has tried to answer that question for 30 years. On Tuesday, it will try again, hearing arguments in a case involving the Wisconsin State Assembly that could remake an American political landscape rived by polarization and increasingly fenced off for partisan advantage.”


Oregon & the Northwest

Redistricting Reform Task Force, Oregon Secretary of State

Redistricting in Oregon, League of Women Voters of Oregon

The Atlas of Redistricting, by Aaron Bycoffee, Ella Koeze, David Wasserman, Julia Wolfe, FiveThirtyEight, January 25, 2018
CLP: Great graphics with a lot of information


Oregon State Social Science Standards

8.8 Evaluate information from a variety of sources and perspectives.
8.26 Examine a controversial event, issue, or problem from more than one perspective.
8.21 Analyze important political and ethical values such as freedom, democracy, equality, and justice embodied in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
8.27 Examine the various characteristics, causes, and effects of an event, issue, or problem.
8.28 Investigate a response or solution to an issue or problem and support or oppose, using research.
HS.1 Evaluate continuity and change over the course of world and United States history.
HS.2 Analyze the complexity and investigate causes and effects of significant events in world, U.S., and Oregon history.
HS.9 Identify historical and current events, issues, and problems when national interests and global interest have been in conflict, and analyze the values and arguments on both sides of the conflict.
HS.27 Examine functions an process of United Sates government.
HS.30 Analyze the roles and activities of political parties, interest groups and mass media and how they affect the beliefs and behaviors of local, state, and national constituencies.
HS.33 Explain the role of government in various current events.
HS.57 Define, research, and explain an event, issue, problem or phenomenon and its significance to society.
HS.58 Gather, analyze, use and document information from various sources, distinguishing facts, opinions, inferences, biases, stereotypes, and persuasive appeals.
HS.59 Demonstrate the skills and dispositions needed to be a critical consumer of information.
HS.60. Analyze an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon from varied or opposing perspectives or points of view.
HS.61 Analyze an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon, identifying characteristics, influences, causes, and both short- and long-term effects.
HS.63. Engage in informed and respectful deliberation and discussion of issues, events, and ideas.


We the People Lesson Connections

Middle School, Level 2

  • Unit 6, Lesson 29: What are the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 30: How might citizens participate in civic affairs?

High School, Level 3

  • Unit 5, Lesson 29: How does the First Amendment protect free expression?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 37: What key challenges does the United States face in the future?