The Battle for Votes: Gerrymandering
Every decade, after each United States census, states engage in redistricting, the redrawing of congressional and state legislative boundaries. This process often becomes politicized, with district lines drawn to create partisan advantages and disadvantages, a tactic known as gerrymandering. The census count has numerous effects, and one of the most important is its impact on our representative democracy. With the 2022 midterm elections on the horizon, what’s at stake now is control of the House of Representatives.
This 11-minute video and accompanying lesson plans explore the ways reapportionment and redistricting affect how and by whom the people are represented. Students will examine interactive resources to explore how changing district lines can affect the balance of partisan power, and evaluate criteria for drawing district lines. They will experiment with interactive maps to see both historic and contemporary changes to the balance of power among states, and discover who has power within those states to redraw the lines. These activities ask students to examine primary sources, pose questions for investigation and gather additional narratives.
Lesson Plan 1: Reapportionment and Redistricting
- Examine the role of the census in the reapportionment process.
- Analyze historic and contemporary maps to determine how the balance of power in Congress has shifted geographically over time.
- Determine the requirements for redistricting and compare how the process and requirements differ by state.
- Construct new Congressional maps and hypothesize how different criteria in map drawing may lead to different electoral outcomes.
Lesson Plan 2: Gerrymandering
- Analyze historic and contemporary maps to determine how the balance of power in Congress has shifted over time.
- Define gerrymandering and explain how it is used.
- Analyze the intended and unintended consequences of creating Majority-Minority districts.
- Prioritize and justify the use of redistricting criteria.
- Social Studies
- Civics & Government
- U.S. History
- Campaigns and Elections
- Civic Engagement
- Ronald Reagan
- Voting Rights
- Supreme Court
- 1980s America
- The Modern Era (1980-Present)
It’s a dark art of politics.
Officially, the term gerrymandering describes a process whereby states can redraw their congressional and legislative districts every 10 years, after each new census.
Predictably, the party in power – Democrat or Republican – seeks to draw those districts to favor its candidates.
But today’s battles over gerrymandering have become particularly partisan, thanks to a 1986 Supreme Court decision. In that unanimous ruling, the Court ruled that North Carolina’s redistricting plan had violated the 1982 Voting Rights Act by reducing black voting power.
The court said minority groups should have the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates to Congress.
To achieve this goal, states began redrawing their voting maps to favor districts where minority residents of voting age represented more than 50 percent of the population.
That gave minority groups their candidates – but it often left the remaining districts short of Democrats, and in Republican hands. The GOP eventually gained control of most states below the Mason-Dixon line. And that helped Republicans take back both houses of Congress in 1994 for the first time in 40 years.
As the battles over gerrymandering continue today, so does its legacy. Candidates in gerrymandered-districts tend to be more liberal if Democrat, or more conservative if Republican. And those divisions just feed political polarization.
Lesson Plan 1:
- What role do reapportionment and redistricting play in the electoral process?
- How have apportioned seats in the House of Representatives changed over time in different regions of the United States?
- How do states engage in the redistricting process and what criteria do they use to create new Congressional districts?
- How do the criteria for drawing Congressional districts impact the balance of power in Congress?
Lesson Plan 2:
- Which criteria should matter most when drawing district lines?
- How has the partisan balance of House seats shifted over time?
- How have redistricting and gerrymandering contributed to that shift?
- How does race intersect with and affect redistricting?
- What are some consequences of gerrymandering?
Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, attending to such features as the date and origin of the information.
Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.
Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
Explain points of agreement and disagreement experts have about interpretations and applications of disciplinary concepts and ideas associated with a compelling question.
Explain how supporting questions contribute to an inquiry and how, through engaging source work, new compelling and supporting questions emerge.
Evaluate public policies in terms of intended and unintended outcomes, and related consequences.
Analyze the impact of constitutions, laws, treaties, and interna-tional agreements on the maintenance of national and international order.
Explain how the U.S. Constitution establishes a system of government that has powers, responsibilities, and limits that have changed over time and that are still contested.
Evaluate social and political systems in different contexts, times, and places, that promote civic virtues and enact democratic principles.
Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their political, cultural, and economic dynamics.
Evaluate how political and economic decisions have influenced cultural and environmental characteristics of various places and regions.
Evaluate the impact of economic activities and political decisions on spatial patterns within and among urban, suburban, and rural regions.
Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
Use questions generated about multiple historical sources to pursue further inquiry and investigate additional sources.
Analyze change and continuity in historical eras.
Analyze how historical contexts shaped and continue to shape people’s perspectives.
Describe the facts, reasoning, decisions, and majority opinion of required Supreme Court cases.
Explain how required Supreme Court cases apply to scenarios in context.
Explain patterns and trends in data to draw conclusions.
Explain what the data imply or illustrate about political principles, institutions, processes, policies, and behaviors.
Explain how the steps or stages in a process relate to each other.
Explain the relevance, implications, and/or significance of similarities and differences.
Explain how congressional behavior is influenced by election processes, partisanship, and divided government.
CON-3.C.1: Congressional behavior and governing effectiveness
Explain why and how political parties change and adapt.