The Dangers of Drawing Districts

Handsome, isn't he?
There are many myths 
about our regular redistricting and

about gerrymandering, and they start here. 

Myth: The Constitution tells us how to draw districts. 
Fact: Not only doesn't the Constitution say how to draw

districts, it doesn't even require them.

We didn't always use them. 
But we have used districting since early in our history

because it works much better than having Representatives

serve 'at large', representing the state as a whole,

which has a strong potential for corruption. 
Districting gives the people of each district a particular Representative 
who must raise their particular interests in Congress.

​​Section 3 doesn't repeal anything in the Constitution.

It adds something. 

We don’t have to have districts at all.

This would be their first mention in the Constitution, 
and it must be considered. 

Myth: Because the Constitution doesn't mention districting,

              we have no requirements to uphold when we redistrict. 

Fact: The Preamble does mandate at least two things that affect redistricting: 

  • that the people must be free to ordain and establish our government,
  • and that government must not merely be just but establish justice.

How these affect redistricting shows up in clauses like the Apportionment clause, the Guarantee clause, the Equal Privileges and Immunities clause, the Equal Rights clause, the Poll Tax clause and others. It's a big issue the Constitution addresses in multiple clauses (see An Invalid Amendment by StatuteSelf-Governance and the Income Inequality QuestionThe Representation Question, and One Person, One Vote. For Level 2, see Frozen Apportionment). The Constitution is read as one whole document. Taken together, what these clauses mean in redistricting is that Representatives must represent equal numbers of people, and that the people's priorities can't be distorted by the way we draw districts. 

Then what's the problem? 

Our redistricting process is easy to abuse. 


Graphic, "How to Steal an Election", Steven Nass (as per Wikimedia Commons) 

Image of gerrymander, Boston Weekly Messenger, 1812



Myth: Requiring compact, contiguous districts              would end gerrymandering.  
Fact: Gerrymandering is defined by its                         purpose. It means drawing districts 

            to gain an unfair advantage.                                 A district could be perfectly square and             still be a gerrymander. The distortion                   that makes a district a gerrymander is                 the distortion of a legislature's priorities               by the way people are divided up                       into districts.

           It especially affects elections.

We use a three-part process at the federal level:

  • enumeration (counting the population), 
  • apportionment (Congress determining how many Representatives each state will have, based on enumeration)
  • and districting (each state dividing into districts of one Representative each).

This subsection discusses gerrymandering by districting. The Frozen Apportionment subsection discusses gerrymandering by malapportionment (not using Article I, Section 2's ratio to determine the number of Representatives each state will have). 

The section footnote The Representation Question dissects a Supreme Court case, Evenwel vs Abbott, in which gerrymandering of state-level districting is attempted by enumeration.

title "How to Steal an Election". Graph repeated three times, five boxes by ten; two columns red then three blue. Text below first graph: "50 precincts. 60% blue, 40% red". Second graph divided horizontally into five districts; text below says: "5 districts, 5 blue, 0 red, blue wins". Third graph divided so that 3 dictricts have 6 red and 4 blue precincts and 2 districts have 9 blue and 1 red precinct. Text below says, "5 districts, 3 red, 2 blue, red wins"
drawing of lizard-like gerrymander with counties marked, famous old newspaper image