by HPTA member Heather Redding
This is Gerry, the Meandering Cat-Squirrel of North Carolina’s 4th Congressional district. Believe it or not, our friend Gerry is actually (more or less) the shape of the district in which many of our group members reside or work. (See actual map here.)
North Carolina is not alone in its artistically drawn districts. Take a look at “America’s most gerrymandered congressional districts” (Washington Post, 2014) for more examples of Rorachach-like districting– a practice that is jeopardizing the democratic representation of our nation’s electorate.
We can trace this issue back two hundred years ago to Massachusetts, when Governor….wait for it….Gerry (!!) employed this technique, which resulted in a district that resembled a salamander (see David Stebenne’s “Re-mapping American Politics” for a more extensive historical look at Gerrymandering). Let us not be deceived by the cute animals produced by power hungry politicians, for the effects of Gerrymandering are far reaching and stark.
This is particularly true in North Carolina, a state that is anything but new to the legal battles that ensue when district lines are drawn based on unconstitutional criteria, such as race. With the U.S. Supreme Court now involved (“Court blocks North Carolina and special elections, at least temporarily“), only time will tell whether Gerry the Cat-Squirrel will still be meandering in our neck of the woods in the near future. If Gerry disappears due to the reshaping of neighboring districts, and is replaced by a mundane rectanglular bloc, he will be sorely missed. But so too have we longed for the restoration of an integretous system of representation, so Gerry seems well worth the sacrifice.
For more information on efforts within N.C. to create unbiased districts, check out Common Cause North Carolina.
The Washington Post also offers this user-friendly introduction to the basics of gerrymandering: “This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see“. For those who can stomach a more mathematical/statistical explanation, take a look at Duke University’s Quantifying Gerrymandering project.