Christina Greer: Gerrymandering: How drawing jagged lines can impact an election

Recorded atOctober 25, 2012
Duration (min:sec)03:41
Video TypeTED-Ed Original
Words per minute167.6 fast
Readability (FK)43.87 very difficult
SpeakerChristina Greer

Official TED page for this talk


District lines, and the groups of voters within them, may seem arbitrary, but a lot of thought (and political bickering) is put into these carefully drawn lines. From "packing" a district to "cracking" a district--learn how the shape of districts impacts political parties during election season. [Directed by Smart Bubble Society, narrated by Christina Greer].

Text Highlight (experimental)
100:15 Most people have heard the word "gerrymandering" once or twice,
200:19 probably during a presidential election.
300:22 What exactly is gerrymandering?
400:24 Essentially, it's the process of giving one political party an advantage over another political party
500:29 by redrawing district lines.
600:31 It's like Democrats trying to gain an advantage over Republicans,
700:34 or Republicans trying to gain an advantage over Democrats.
800:38 You see, each party wants to gain as many districts as possible
900:42 so they can do things like control the state budget,
1000:45 or set themselves up to win even more districts in the future.
1100:48 So to understand how this process began, and how it continues today,
1200:53 we must go back to 1812 in Massachusetts.
1300:56 Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts, supported and signed a bill to allow redistricting.
1401:02 That is, redrawing the boundaries that separate districts.
1501:06 The catch? The new lines would favor Gerry's own political party,
1601:10 the Democratic-Republican party, which no longer exists.
1701:13 You see, Gerry wanted his party to win as many state Senate seats as possible.
1801:18 The more members of your party who vote, the more likely you are to win an election.
1901:22 The new lines were drawn to include loads of areas that would help Governor Gerry in the future.
2001:27 They were so strange looking that someone said the new districts looked like a salamander.
2101:31 The Boston Gazette added Gerry's name to the word salamander,
2201:34 and voilĂ ! Gerrymandering,
2301:37 the process of dividing up and redrawing districts to give your political party an advantage.
2401:42 So how exactly does someone go about protecting their own political party,
2501:46 and actually gerrymandering a district?
2601:49 There are two successful practices.
2701:51 Packing a district,
2801:52 and cracking a district.
2901:54 Packing is the process of drawing district lines and packing in your opponents like cattle,
3001:58 into as few districts as possible.
3102:01 If more districts equals more votes, the fewer the districts there are,
3202:04 the fewer votes the opposition party will get.
3302:07 Packing, then, decreases the opponent's voter strength and influence.
3402:11 Cracking is the opposite:
3502:14 taking one district and cracking it into several pieces.
3602:17 This is usually done in districts where your opponent has many supporters.
3702:20 Cracking spreads these supporters out among many districts,
3802:23 denying your opponent a lot of votes.
3902:26 When you have a large number of people who would generally vote for one type of party,
4002:30 those folks are known as a voting bloc.
4102:32 Cracking is a way to break that all up.
4202:35 So when would a party choose to pack their opponent's districts rather than crack them?
4302:39 Well, that really depends on what the party needs.
4402:42 To dilute your opponent's voters, you could pack them into one district
4502:45 and leave the surrounding districts filled with voters of your own party.
4602:49 Or, if you and your party are in power when it's time to redraw district lines,
4702:53 you could redraw districts and crack up a powerful district
4802:56 and spread your opponent's voters out across several neighboring districts.
4903:00 So, Governor Gerry in 1812 wanted to gain an advantage for his party,
5003:05 and redrew district lines in his state in such a crazy way we have a whole new word
5103:09 and way of thinking about how political parties can gain advantages over their opponents.
5203:14 Politicians think of creative ways to draw districts every few years.
5303:17 So the next time an election comes around,
5403:20 and politicians ask people to vote,
5503:22 be sure to look up the shape of your district and the districts that surround it.
5603:27 How wide does your district stretch across your state?
5703:30 Are all of the districts in your state relatively the same shape?
5803:33 How many other districts does your district touch?
5903:36 But always be sure to ask yourself,
6003:39 does my district look like a salamander?