Corruption and self-dealing, rigged elections, extreme partisanship — redistricting’s got it all. Whatever you might diagnose as the ills of modern politics, you’ll find redistricting and its evil twin, gerrymandering, right there in the middle of the story, whether as cause, effect or both.
This year, as state legislators face a new round of redistricting based on the 2020 census, there’s a fresh wave of anxiety. There are good reasons for that: Legislators are either openly scheming to create new opportunities for their own side or cementing the gains they’ve already made, all but eliminating swing districts and the chance for real competition.
The whole process is profoundly American, whether we like it or not. Redistricting has been a political blood sport since the nation’s founding. James Madison was the first known victim of an attempted gerrymander, with the area around his central Virginia home packed with hostile antifederalists. (He won anyway.) The term gerrymandering itself dates from 1812, a reference to a Massachusetts map that created an outrageous salamander-shaped district under the state’s governor at the time, Elbridge Gerry.
What’s new isn’t the fight, which has reliably happened right on time every decade. What’s new