What Is Gerrymandering?

Gerrymandering, like the electoral college, is one example of how practices founded to benefit those centuries before our time continue to govern us today, but with far less success. What was put in place to prevent mob-rule is now politicians’ addictive cheat-tool, being used with the excuses that there are simply “no other alternatives,” and that, “it has been this way for centuries.”

The second claim is the problem, but is the first really true? To answer this, one must know the basics of districting, and how gerrymandering manipulates its functions.

Gerrymandering is the manipulation of electoral boundaries so as to favor one political party or class. The term “gerrymander” had been coined nearly two hundred years ago in the election of 1812 (though redistricting has been in use since 1788). Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts created a redistricting plan designed to benefit his political party. The result? A newly-drawn district that resembled the shape of a salamander; hence, gerrymandering was born.

A congressional district is an area of a country drawn based on the population. Each district elects one member to the U.S. House of Representatives. The intended purpose of districting is to ensure political parties an equal chance of being represented in the House; to attain this, each of these districts are supposed to be equal enough in terms of party population. Hypothetically, if there are six Republicans and six Democrats in one district, then there is predicted to be an equal chance for the preferred representative of either party to be elected. In terms of fairness, this would be quite the ideal districting situation.

Unfortunately, we do not live in the ideal world—so that situation is unlikely to occur. In reality, party populations would be more unbalanced. There may be six Republicans in a state to counter ten Democrats. Since the Democrats have a larger population, they have a better chance of their preferred candidate being elected.

Districting was put in place to prevent that sort of unbalance, providing each party a fair voting advantage during elections. If the district drawer sees uneven party populations, they can redraw the district lines to even them out.

For instance; say a curtain divides a room with five blue-shirted people on one side and five green-shirted people on the other. We can shift the curtain so that there is a mix of blue- and green-shirted people on both sides. While each side does not have an even mix of colored shirts, it is less concentrated than having all of one color on either side. This is how districting is meant to function.

Gerrymandering, on the other hand, is the manipulation of redistricting. If Democrats are in control of the government, they can use gerrymandering to draw more districts that contain mostly Democratic voters, instead of drawing districts with a more even mix of parties. This is essentially what Elbridge Gerry did to benefit his political party.

So, how did he do this?

A major idea of districting is that the more districts your party has, the more votes you have—as each district receives one vote. The more votes your party has, the more likely your candidates will win seats in the House. The more your candidates win seats, the more power your party has in Congress.

Power—an obvious incentive for politicians to exploit redistricting for their own benefit, instead of using it to preserve honest elections.

There are two methods of redistricting; “packing” districts, and “cracking” districts. When packing, district lines are drawn so as to make more districts for one’s own party, and less for the opponent’s. This is done by surrounding a certain party’s district with those of the opposing political party. This is meant to concentrate those voters into a single district, thereby reducing their influence in the surrounding, different-party districts.

Cracking a district means exactly how it sounds. Cracking occurs when lines are drawn through a large district, filled with lots of people supporting the same party, to crack it into multiple districts; thus, increasing that party’s chance of gaining more votes.

These redistricting methods are supposed to help maintain even party populations. However, since Governor Elbridge’s endeavor to manipulate their uses for personal gain, we have since ended up with more salamander-esque districts than proportional ones.

Some could argue that there is a justification to gerrymandering, in that it allows candidates who would not otherwise be elected, get elected. While this is great news for the candidate, the people end up with a ruler in office whom they did not vote for.

One example of extreme gerrymandering occurred after the 2000 census, in Pennsylvania. Democrat Frank Mascara was running for a seat in the House against Republican State Senator Tim Murphy. Mascara was running in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, along with Murphy, while Democrat John Murtha was running in Pennsylvania’s 12th district. Mascara had recalled that, before the election, his district has been “more or less the same for about a hundred years.” This is was not to be for much longer; during the election, the state legislature consisted of a Republican majority, which decided to play around with Mascara’s 18th district. What ended up happening was extreme gerrymandering; Mascara’s district was redrawn so that it was split between two different districts—the 12th and 18th. The line was so meticulously drawn so that on one side of Mascara’s street belonged to the 12th district, while his house, on the same street, belonged to the 18th. The purpose of doing this was to force Mascara into competition with Murtha in the 12th district. Both Democrats now running in the same district meant that Murphy was able to easily take over the 18th district without competition from the opposing party.

Could these sorts of incidents have been avoided? While some politicians claim that there are no alternatives to this centuries-old practice, it turns out that there have been fresh ideas in the wake towards making change. Following 2011, Virginia had held a line-drawing exercise once a survey voiced that a strong majority of Virginians wanted a nonpartisan district-drawing authority. Despite the effort in holding hearings and the writing of a report of this exercise, the idea had gained little interest, as lawmakers ignored those efforts. Iowa, on the other hand, is one of America’s rarities in terms of the redistricting process—to Iowa’s mapmakers, the process is not political. The three district drawers are not allowed to consider voter registration, past election results, or even the addresses of the current members of Congress. These restrictions help keep the redistricting process impartial to opposing party candidates. Unlike Frank Mascara’s gerrymandering incident, Iowa’s elections generally result in far more competitive races due to its strict regulations on redistricting.

Evidently, there are ways to curb gerrymandering, while not abolishing redistricting completely. Independent boards would be more effective as opposed to the state legislature having control over drawing the lines. Though, this is easier said than done; voters themselves must demand change if any is to be made.

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“One child slave, please.” — The Costs Of Capitalism

Your pair of socks, that tenth-edition textbook, this glistening MacBook screen. Schoolgirls in Gujarat, clearcuts in Idaho, circuit boards clogging Chinese riverbeds.

One rarely dwells over the children stooping over an atomic basin as they slap a pair of new sneakers before the cashier, or lends a thought to the by-catch carcasses while ordering a roadside meal of fish and chips. Trudge down creamy-floored aisles, eyes scanning the shelves for a cheap deal. Those numbers are golden, and Fair Trade emblems are subdued.

$5.00 Special K—avert your gaze, friends, then pat your over-tried wallet when you land a better bargain. We love finding a dollar-done deal, simply because there’s no reason to cash out on that bag of $8.00 trail-mix when we could tie ourselves over with a $2.00 Lay’s. Logic at work, fellow consumers. Watch and learn.

Wait.

We must stop for a moment. Just a fractured moment—before you slip the cellophane into the cart. Once more, let’s run our eyes over the little white card tucked beneath the shelf. The price states $2.00, a typical value. Still, I beg you to hold on to your sanity, long enough for me to delve a little deeper behind the scenes of these three digits.

First of all, have you ever wondered: What is price?

And what does it actually measure?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines price as “the amount of money given or set as consideration for the sale of a specified thing.”

Merriam is not wrong, but it could not have been more vague. Why is the money set the way it is? Why are some things more expensive than others? These fail to be revealed in the definition.

So, how can these be explained? Take those socks as an example.

Said company wants to manufacture a new line of cotton peds for cheap. Making a profit is the sole aim of any rational capitalist, and so the best way to sell this product is to utilize the cheapest modes of production, transportation, and distribution. Generally, we want the picture to look a little something like this.

Make India the home-base of production—$0.92 an hour, cheap labor guaranteed.

Air freight is the fastest method of shipment. Fast equals efficiency. Efficiency equals money.

Last but not least, run some thirty-cent advertisements across that social media platform, and slap those packages onto the end-cap’s frail shelving unit. Making one pair of peds cost you less than a dollar.

Congratulations.

What’s all the hype about profit, anyway? See it this way—it may be enough money for us to make a decent living if we set the price of a pair of socks to what it cost us to make, but we want more. We don’t want just a “decent living”; we want lifestyle. We want to go on holiday vacations, eat out at five-star cafés, and join the town’s country club. To achieve that lifestyle, we need more money.

That said, we’ll up the price to $2.50.

Price, as illustrated by our peds, is determined by the methods of how something is produced. Not only that, but the costs of a certain plays a major role. The prices you see plastered over food packages and souvenirs are the numerical manifestations of how much money the company pays to ensure their product makes it to the shelves. For our capitalist, inexpensive methods of production means more money in their pockets.

It seems simple—dirty, yes, but simple enough. Production is all about making as large of a profit as possible. But there’s an inevitable dark side, and it’s where the consequences of utilizing such inexpensive methods get figured in. Things start to complicate.

Let’s hand the mic back to our capitalist.

Our socks will be stitched by children receiving less than a dollar a day—but shoppers won’t see that. The cargo planes we’re shipping in will most definitely not be eco-friendly. Because, who wants to pay extra for the fuel swap? Not me.

Using the cheapest methods of manufacturing are the equivalent of using the most unethical methods of manufacturing. No wonder the so-called ‘organic’ foodstuffs are more expensive—they are grown more ethically. When our socks were being manufactured, we tallied in the costs of time and efficiency, which are what gave us our price. But we left out other kinds of costs, too.

Social costs. Environmental costs.

These costs are not reflected on the price tag, but that does not mean they don’t exist. When we choose a cheap textile factory in Gujarat, we know we are supporting the child labor occurring there. But what is measured is the inexpensiveness—not the level of morality, not the harmful working conditions of the children. We could have chosen to have our socks manufactured at home, where we wouldn’t have to be concerned with the immense amounts of pollution, courtesy to cargo planes shipping from Asia to the Americas. Yet again, it is not the environmental destruction we are advertising in the price tag.

If companies began adding the social and environmental costs of their methods into their prices, the numbers would climb. We would hesitate to reach for the bag of Lay’s chips just as we do with a bag of organic ones. The reality is that most companies don’t figure in all the costs, and never will, until regulations are made for them to do so. Profit is important. Actual needs come second.

Under capitalism, unethical corporative behavior is rewarded with low prices, while ethical behavior receives hard-to-reach prices. It is hard to accept that a gas-powered car will be cheaper because the fuel needed to run it was obtained by blasting off a mountaintop, as opposed to painstakingly crafting a battery to power an eco-friendly vehicle. We live in a world where cheap matters more than values, in the corporate sphere. Price, which measures efficiency, fails to include the costs of that efficiency. Until consumers fully realize this, companies using destructive methods will continue to be supported while those using ethical methods will be discouraged.

Paying for something at a higher price seems futile, especially when there are cheaper alternatives. But as consumers, we have a choice in which companies we support; our purchases are our votes for ethical, or unethical, production. When looking at a price, we should ask ourselves, “Is it worth it?”

Despite the answer, one thing is certain—the damage has already been done. Ultimately, we will have to pay the costs.