Gerrymandering: small changes with big consequences

By Joost Koot

Sometimes, small things can have a big influence. Some academics that argue for this are Banerjee and Duflo. With randomised controlled trials they try to show that small changes in small institutions can have a positive impact. Gerrymandering is also a relatively small change within the institutions that make up democracy, of which the influence can be big. Gerrymandering however can have very negative consequences. Gerrymandering is the act of redrawing voting districts, to favour your own party. Redrawing district borders is not always bad. It is used to make up for changes in the population compared to when the borders were first drawn.

However redrawing districts can give political parties the ability to ‘cheat’ in elections by drawing the districts in a way that favours them. There are two main tactics for this. In the first one, you put as many of the opponent’s voters in as few districts as possible. This causes you to have the ability to have more districts for yourself. The second way of gerrymandering involves you cracking the districts. You spread out as many of your opponent’s voters over as many districts as possible to make sure they do not have a majority in any district. 

The relatively minor changes to the voting districts can have major consequences. Parties can be guaranteed to win the elections, before they even start campaigning depending on how loyal the voters are. Undermining the principles of democracy, gerrymandering could cause elections to be pointless. However, of course it only works if parties are able to predict who their voters are going to be. If everyone is an undecided voter, Gerrymandering becomes a lot more difficult