Voting Rights and Racial Gerrymandering

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 How Does Gerrymandering Affect Voting Rights?

Gerrymandering is manipulating the boundaries of voting districts to favor one party or group over another. At its core, it undermines the fundamental tenet of democracy: every person’s right to vote should count equally.

When gerrymandering takes place, the value of some votes can be diminished, thereby skewing representation and denying certain voters an equal say when it comes to government laws and decisions.

What is Racial Gerrymandering?

Race has been, unfortunately, a recurring factor in the history of voting rights abuses. Racial gerrymandering refers to the drawing of district boundaries to either concentrate or dilute the voting power of racial or ethnic minorities. This can be done in two ways:


Packing is a tactic where map drawers cluster as many voters of a specific racial or ethnic group into a single district. The intention behind this strategy is to limit the influence of that particular group in surrounding districts. By doing so, the group’s voting strength is isolated to that one district, often ensuring an easy win for the party the group tends to support. However, this “over-concentration” then diminishes their influence in neighboring districts.

Imagine a state with three districts and a significant Hispanic community that generally leans towards Party A. If the map drawers, potentially influenced by Party B, decide to confine the majority of this Hispanic population into just one district, that would mean Party A might win that single district by a large margin. Still, Party B would have a better chance of winning the other two districts because the Hispanic influence has been “packed” away.


Cracking is another strategy employed in gerrymandering but achieves the opposite effect of packing. Instead of concentrating voters, cracking scatters them across multiple districts. By doing this, the voting strength of a specific racial or ethnic group is diluted, preventing them from having a significant impact in any single district. The primary purpose is to spread the group thin, so they remain a minority in several districts, thereby decreasing the chances of the party they typically support winning in multiple areas.

Let’s consider the same state with three districts and its significant Hispanic community leaning towards Party A. If the map drawers, influenced by Party B, distribute the Hispanic population thinly across all three districts, the influence of this community is diluted everywhere. As a result, Party A might struggle to win any district, even though they have a sizable support base because their key demographic has been “cracked” across all areas.

By manipulating these boundaries based on race, gerrymanderers can ensure that minority voices are underrepresented or misrepresented.

Is Racial Gerrymandering Legal?

Historically, gerrymandering has been used as a tool to marginalize minority voters. However, in the eyes of the law, racial gerrymandering is illegal. In the United States, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits voting practices that discriminate based on race, color, or membership in a language minority group. Numerous court decisions have since reinforced that drawing districts primarily based on race, resulting in racial discrimination, is against the law.

The History of Gerrymandering

The practice of gerrymandering has deep historical roots in American politics. Tracing its origin and evolution over the centuries is necessary to understand its lasting implications.

Origin of the Term

The term “gerrymandering” is an amalgamation of “Gerry” and “salamander.” It was coined in the early 19th century after Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that redrew the state’s senatorial districts. Due to its bizarre shape, one of these districts resembled a salamander. Critics combined the governor’s name with the creatures to label the practice “Gerrymander derisively.”

Historical Usage

While the term might have its origins in the 19th century, manipulating boundaries for political gain predates the birth of the United States. As the nation grew, so did the sophisticated methods of carving out political territories. Over the decades, both major parties have been guilty of leveraging this tool to secure or retain power.

Key Court Cases and Legal Battles

Throughout U.S. history, gerrymandering has faced legal challenges:

  • Baker v. Carr (1962): This landmark Supreme Court decision acknowledged that federal courts had the authority to intervene in state redistricting cases. The case shifted the dialogue, asserting that redistricting could violate the “one person, one vote” principle.
  • Shaw v. Reno (1993): This case addressed racial gerrymandering, where North Carolina’s redistricting plan was challenged as racially discriminatory. The Supreme Court held that redistricting based on race must be held to a standard of strict scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause.
  • Gill v. Whitford (2018): A more recent case tackled partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin. Though the Supreme Court did not lay down a definitive standard for what constitutes excessive partisan gerrymandering, it kept the door open for future challenges.

Turning Points

While gerrymandering continues, there have been efforts to curtail its influence. Some states have adopted independent commissions to oversee redistricting, aiming to reduce political interference. The rise of technology, while making gerrymandering more precise, has also allowed the development of tools and algorithms to detect gerrymandered boundaries and suggest fairer maps.

Impact on Local Communities

While often discussed in the context of national or state-level politics, Gerrymandering has profound ramifications at the grassroots level. Local communities, being the heart and soul of a region, can bear the brunt of manipulative boundary drawing, which affects their day-to-day lives in multiple ways.

  • Fragmentation of Communities: At its core, gerrymandering is about splitting and grouping voters in ways that serve political ends. This can result in communities—often those with shared histories, cultures, and local issues—being divided between two or more districts. This division dilutes their collective voice and can lead to local concerns being overshadowed by broader district issues.
  • Diverse Needs Underrepresented: Communities often have unique needs based on demographics, economy, and history. These specialized needs can be easily overlooked when gerrymandered into a larger district with a different majority demographic. For example, urban communities gerrymandered with rural areas might find that their specific urban issues, like public transportation or housing density, aren’t given adequate attention.
  • Decreased Civic Participation: Gerrymandering can lead to disillusionment among voters. When residents feel their votes don’t matter due to pre-determined election outcomes, they might become less likely to engage in civic activities, attend town hall meetings, or vote in local elections. This reduced engagement weakens the fabric of local democracy.
  • Economic Repercussions: Local economies can be impacted when their representation is not aligned with their needs. Areas that rely heavily on certain industries (like farming or tourism) might find that gerrymandered boundaries lead to policies that don’t favor their primary economic drivers.
  • Mismatched Resources and Services: Gerrymandering can lead to uneven distribution of public resources. When communities are split, resources meant for community development, infrastructure, or public services might not be allocated based on actual needs, leading to disparities in quality of life.

In essence, gerrymandering is not just a tool of high-stakes national politics—it deeply affects the lifeblood of our nation, which is our local communities. For democracy to truly function, the voices at the grassroots level must be heard, recognized, and valued. Addressing gerrymandering is about ensuring fair representation at higher levels of government and preserving the integrity and vitality of our local communities.

Do I Need an Attorney Experienced in Voting Rights?

If you believe your voting rights have been compromised or you suspect racial gerrymandering in your district, seek legal advice. A knowledgeable attorney can help advocate for your rights. Protect your rights and your voice.

If you’re looking for a dedicated civil rights lawyer, contact LegalMatch to find an experienced attorney.


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