Gerrymandering is the act of politicians manipulating the redrawing of legislative district lines in order to help their friends and hurt their enemies. They may seek to help one party win extra seats (a partisan gerrymander), make incumbents of both parties safer (an incumbent-protection gerrymander) or target particular incumbents who have fallen out of favor.

Those engaged in gerrymandering rely heavily on winner-take-all voting rules. That is, when 51% of voters earn 100% of representation, those drawing districts can pack, stack and crack the population in order to make some votes count to their full potential and waste other votes. Gerrymandering has become easier today due to a combination of new technology to precisely draw districts and greater voter partisan rigidity that makes it easier to project the outcome of new districts.

Independent redistricting commissions and other public interest changes to redistricting are important, but trying to fix gerrymandering fully within winner-take-all voting rules is simply impossible. Reasonable goals will always be in conflict, such as:

Addressing Gerrymandering

The key to fixing gerrymandering is changing key statutory laws for how elections are held. Check out our resources:

Ranked Choice Voting Fair Representation Act for Congress Redistricting 

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Key Facts

  • Fewer competitive U.S. House districts and safe incumbents after redistricting: In 2010, 70 of 435 U.S. House districts had a competitive partisan balance of 47% to 53%. That was small, but after redistricting in 2011, the number of competitive districts declined to only 53. That number dropped again to 47 seats (only 11% of all seats) after the 2012 election due to shifts in voting behavior. Of 31 vulnerable incumbents (those who won by less than 10% in 2010) affected by redistricting (with a new district drawn with partisanship changing by more than 3%), 26 had their district made safer and only five less safe.
  • Partisan distortions in politically drawn plans: In 2011, Republican lawmakers drew new district lines in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. In 2012, Democratic U.S. House candidates won more than Republican candidates in both states, but won only 9 of 31 seats.
  • Partisan distortions in commission drawn plans: In 2011, an independent redistricting commission drew lines in California and a bipartisan commission with a public interest “swing vote” drew lines in New Jersey. In 2013, Republican candidates for the New Jersey assembly won 51% of the vote, but only 32 (40%) of 80 seats. In 2014, Democratic U.S. House candidates won 57% of votes in California’s 53 U.S. House races, but 74% of seats.

Reform Innovations

FairVote’s proposals that most directly speak to this problem zero in on changing statutory laws for how we hold elections.

    1. Require all House Members to be elected by ranked choice voting, which creates incentives for them  to reach out to more voters in the general election in order to win;
    2. Require all states with more than one Member to use multi-winner districts that gives voters the power to elect representatives for the left, center and right (including Democrats and Republicans) in every district;
    3. Draw districts with independent redistricting commissions. 

States can also make changes right now to promote the goals of the Ranked Choice Voting Act. For example, one proposal would have state enter into an "Interstate Compact for Fair Representation." This would be a contract between two or more states that would each agree to elect using ranked choice voting in multi-winner districts drawn by independent redistricting commissions.

  • State Legislative Elections: State legislatures also would benefit from state versions of the Ranked Choice Voting Act, with the same combination of reforms. Maryland, for example, could apply ranked choice voting in both the primary and general elections from existing three-winner districts used to elect most members of its House of Delegates.

    Districts Plus” is an another innovation to address partisan gerrymandering in state legislatures. It is a mixed member voting system where most legislators are elected from single-winner district drawn by commissions based on public interest criteria, and some additional members are elected from “accountability seats” to ensure that the votes for the candidates of each party are reflected accurately in the overall composition of the legislative chamber. This would mean every district would be contested meaningfully because every vote in every district would affect overall representation. It also would mean if a party’s candidate won more votes, they’d always get more seats, and a party with five percent of the vote would earn five percent of the seats.

    To find out about redistricting reform within winner-take-all voting rules, see the work of groups such as Common Cause and the Bipartisan Policy Center.
  • Local Elections: Ranked choice voting in at-large local elections can avoid the pitfalls of both winner-take-all at-large elections and of district or ward-based elections. Over 200 jurisdictions in the United States use non-winner-take-all voting rules in at-large elections to promote fair representation of minority viewpoints.

Deep Dive: Is There “Fair” Redistricting?

Gerrymandering is often blamed for problems that are really inherent in the use of single-winner districts, such as a lack of competition or outcomes that unfairly favor one political party. Bipartisan redistricting commissions, independent redistricting commissions, and citizen redistricting commission are often seen as the solution to gerrymandered districts because they take district maps out of partisan (or even political) hands. There are good reasons to take power away from partisans in drawing district, but analyses by FairVote and leading scholars show that no matter how a state redistricts, single-winner districts tend to lead to outcomes controlled by the partisans that maintain the power of one party in a district. Despite the frequent association of gerrymandering with bizarrely shaped districts and poor aesthetics, both merely provide circumstantial evidence of legislative wrongdoing. Drawing oddly-shaped districts

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Drawing Districts

Despite the frequent association of gerrymandering with bizarrely shaped districts and poor aesthetics, both merely provide circumstantial evidence of legislative wrongdoing. Drawing oddly-shaped districts is neither a goal of gerrymandering nor is it necessary for a map to be gerrymandered. It is not difficult to draw district maps that unfairly favor one political faction or entrench incumbents using attractively compact districts. Helpful resources include:

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