By Ari Berman for the Washington Post

Gerrymandering — in which politicians manipulate electoral boundaries for partisan advantage — is emerging as a key issue in the midterm elections. The Pennsylvania
Supreme Court recently redrew the state’s GOP-dominated congressional map, boosting Democratic chances of taking back the House of Representatives. The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to outlaw gerrymandering and has three big cases on its docket this year from Wisconsin, Maryland and Texas. Gerrymandering has gone from a wonky technical problem to a matter of great political intrigue. Yet there are many misperceptions about how the process works.
Myth No. 1
Partisan gerrymandering is a long-accepted part of U.S. politics.

Practically every history of gerrymandering includes a reference to Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry , who in 1812 approved a state Senate district shaped like a salamander that became known as a “Gerry-Mander.” It’s a frequent talking point among politicians that gerrymandering is as old as American democracy itself. “It is well established that partisan intent in districting is lawful,” the state of Wisconsin argued when its new State Assembly map was challenged in court. “Districting is ‘inherently political’ and ‘there is nothing in the Constitution to prevent’ consideration of political factors,” the leaders of Pennsylvania’s legislature wrote in January.

These arguments ignore that America was founded on the basis of fair representation, as a reaction to the British system of “virtual representation” that gave Americans no say in the running of their colony. Gerrymandering has been denounced as long as it’s been practiced. Gerry himself called the map he signed “highly disagreeable,” and the Salem Gazette, which coined the term “gerrymander,” wrote that “this Law inflicted a grievous wound on the Constitution.”

Moreover, today’s gerrymandering — because of sophisticated technology, increased political polarization and the clustering of partisans in like-minded areas — makes the map signed by Gerry look quaint, according to a study by Nicholas Stephanopoulos of the University of Chicago and Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute of California. Simon Jackman of the University of Sydney analyzed 786 different state legislative plans between 1972 and 2014 and found that five of the 10 worst Republican gerrymanders had been passed since 2010.

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