Gerrymandering and how to fix it

Demonstrators rally during oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, a case about partisan gerrymandering in electoral districts, at the Supreme Court in Washington
Editor's note:

In Unpacked, Brookings experts provide fact-based analysis of Trump administration policies and news.

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.

Many experts believe that gerrymandering has contributed to the extreme polarization between political parties.


  • Gerrymandering refers to the drawing of political boundaries to favor one party, or one faction or another.
  • Gerrymandering was first done in 1812 by Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts who drew a district to favor his own political party that looked like a salamander. Critics called it the “Gerry-mander.”
  • Gerrymandering has become a refined art, with policymakers dividing units as miniscule as streets into different political districts.
  • Many experts believe that gerrymandering has contributed to the extreme polarization between political parties today because gerrymandering diminishes the influence of moderates.
  • One way to reform gerrymandering would be to mandate contiguous political districts. In other words, districts that make sense as communities, as opposed to districts that wander down highways-like a famous instance of gerrymandering in North Carolina.
  • The courts are currently in the process of hearing two gerrymandering cases. A Supreme Court decision is expected in June.
  • Another gerrymandering reform idea is for states to give the responsibility for drawing voting districts over to independent commissions. Because the Constitution gives state legislatures the authority to draw politic districts they also have the authority to hand that responsibility to another party or organization.
  • A few state legislatures have given their authority to draw political boundaries to independent commissions and that has resulted in the drawing of more sensible districts.


Supreme Court set to scrutinize partisan gerrymandering- and why it matters

Polarized We Govern?

A primer on gerrymandering and political polarization

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Elaine C. Kamarck is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of Primary Politics: Everything You Need to Know about How America Nominates Its Presidential Candidates. She is a member of the Democratic National Committee and a superdelegate to the Democratic convention.