Racial Gerrymandering

By Georgia Davis Conover

Once every decade, states in the United States use census data to redraw their Congressional and legislative districts.  Just how that is accomplished varies from state to state.  In some states, such as Arizona, an independent commission determines the political lines. In others, like Florida, the elected legislature redraws the districts.  Often, when political bodies are involved, the party in power is accused of gerrymandering–drawing the boundaries in such a way as to favor itself.

A citizen petition movement in Florida is underway to ensure that no incumbent or political party is privileged during redistricting.  The proposal, which must garner 60% of the vote to pass, is splitting Florida’s Legislative Black Caucus.  Some members of the caucus, which makes up 16 percent of the state legislature, say the current system has always meant politically safe districts for African-Americans.  Others counter, however, that “packing” districts with black voters weakens representation in neighboring areas.  Florida voters will be asked to cast their ballots on the petition in November.

In the Annals of the Association of American Geographers, John O’Loughlin writes that legal challenges to redistricting plans often fail, partly because no legal definition of gerrymandering exists.  He statistically analyzed districts from Manhattan to New Orleans and found some that were drawn favorably for black lawmakers and some that diluted black voting power.  O’Loughlin proposes using these same statistical methods to determine the equity of redistricting plans in the future.

Read the Miami Herald Article.

Read O’Loughlin, John. 2005. The Identification and Evaluation of Racial Gerrymandering. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 72(2): pp. 165-184.


  1. We know we need 435 representatives. Why not divide the states into equal portions using straight lines, like the grid system for homesteading? Some districts would be more populated than others, yes, but we wouldn’t have to deal with worries of gerrymandering, either for racial, or political reasons (i.e. to give one party a particular advantage).

  2. Having watched lawmakers in Florida as they redrew district lines, this option would certainly make the process less messy. Unfortunately, it could also shift power away from urban centers and to rural areas, as fewer people would have more say over elections. Apportioning legislative and Congressional districts is a tricky business indeed and, no matter how the lines are drawn, someone will benefit at the expense of another.

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