This First Map of a Gerrymander Will Make You Angry

Our familiarity with "gerrymandering" comes from the United States revising the boundaries of electoral districts every 10 years, in order to keep up with demographic change.

The painter Gilbert Stuart was inspired by the awkward shape of an electoral district on a map he saw in a newspaper editor’s office. He decorated the snake-shaped district with a head, a set of wings and claws, making it out to be some kind of antediluvian monster. “That will do for a salamander,” he said to the editor. “Gerrymander!”, replied he to Stuart.


For the man responsible for the odd shape of that electoral district, in eastern Massachusetts, was Elbridge Gerry, governor of the state. His Democratic-Republican partisans had stitched together the district in such a way as to assure the electoral victory of their candidate and therefore the defeat of the candidate for the other main party, the Federalists. The year was 1812, and the first of many recorded uses of the term occurred that spring.

The continued popularity of the term – and relevance up to the present day – stems from the practice in the United States of revising the boundaries of electoral districts every 10 years, in order to keep up with demographic change. A very wise provision, and many of those districts do in fact change, but not always with the accurate representation of the electorate in mind.

In fact very often the redistrictings perversely reflect the attempts of one party or another to gain a ‘safe’ seat, in which the other side can’t win. Legal maybe, but hardly very democratic. The term is also relevant in the United Kingdom, as in other countries that elect their officials via the ‘first past the post’ system. Gerrymandering is less relevant in countries with a system which emphasises proportional representation.

This cartoon dates from 1812, and depicts the very first ‘gerrymander’ – if you’re a stickler for historical accuracy, please pronounce with a hard g, just like the name of the governor. The word has since been in use as a verb and a noun, depicting the action of redistricting with intent of political gain, as well as the resultant unlikely-shaped district.

--

Strange Maps #53

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

Map here at Wikimedia Commons.

Big Think Edge
  • The meaning of the word 'confidence' seems obvious. But it's not the same as self-esteem.
  • Confidence isn't just a feeling on your inside. It comes from taking action in the world.
  • Join Big Think Edge today and learn how to achieve more confidence when and where it really matters.

To boost your self-esteem, write about chapters of your life

If you're lacking confidence and feel like you could benefit from an ego boost, try writing your life story.

Personal Growth

In truth, so much of what happens to us in life is random – we are pawns at the mercy of Lady Luck. To take ownership of our experiences and exert a feeling of control over our future, we tell stories about ourselves that weave meaning and continuity into our personal identity.

Keep reading Show less

Active ingredient in Roundup found in 95% of studied beers and wines

The controversial herbicide is everywhere, apparently.

(MsMaria/Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • U.S. PIRG tested 20 beers and wines, including organics, and found Roundup's active ingredient in almost all of them.
  • A jury on August 2018 awarded a non-Hodgkin's lymphoma victim $289 million in Roundup damages.
  • Bayer/Monsanto says Roundup is totally safe. Others disagree.
Keep reading Show less

Ashes of cat named Pikachu to be launched into space

A space memorial company plans to launch the ashes of "Pikachu," a well-loved Tabby, into space.

GoFundMe/Steve Munt
Culture & Religion
  • Steve Munt, Pikachu's owner, created a GoFundMe page to raise money for the mission.
  • If all goes according to plan, Pikachu will be the second cat to enter space, the first being a French feline named Felicette.
  • It might seem frivolous, but the cat-lovers commenting on Munt's GoFundMe page would likely disagree.
Keep reading Show less