This is a term that isn’t used particularly often and when I came across it, I didn’t know what it meant. It was after research when I went ’That would never be allowed’, which then lead to a surprise.
What is Gerrymandering?
The dictionary gives quite a good description of gerrymandering:
(to) Manipulate the boundaries of (an electoral constituency) so as to favour one party or class.
It really is that simple.
Not simple? I’ll break it down. In the UK we have 650 constituencies, but this is changing in 2018 as part of the ‘Sixth Periodic Review of Westminster Constituencies.’ 1 In this case it was to reduce the number of seats in the house of commons, and because the number of constituencies has to match the number of seats in the house, some borders would have to change and other areas merge. 2
But how were the borders decided? This is where gerrymandering can take place. Let’s use the totally real, ‘Blue Crocodile Party’ I promise that isn’t defamatory. If the BCP knew where all their voters lived (down to the local ward would where it would be useful,) they could use this information to make sure the borders were drawn in such a way that all their voters are in the same constituencies and therefore would have a higher chance of getting the most votes for that seat, giving them a higher chance of becoming the house’s main party. But that’s only if they have a say in how the borders are grouped.
The UK’s four boundary commissions (one for each constituent country) are very aware of this, and so there are only four members of each commission of which three can make decisions. (The speaker of the house, at the moment John Bercow 3, is the ex officio chairman of each body.) These members are independent and impartial and in most cases have to use official statistics to help them draw the boundaries at Parliaments request. Their boundaries are continuously scrutinised and there is almost always a public consultation.
Has gerrymandering happened before?
As explained, there is a very little chance of this happening in the UK and so there are very few examples of where boundaries have been allegedly gerrymandered. If we take a look at our friends across the pond, it looks like a different story. The US history4 is littered with people being paid or bribed to redraw voting districts into a certain way, and as each state draws their own, there isn’t an easy way to adjudicate this. Some states have introduced committees to draw their boundaries, but only a few of these are independent commissions. The US has been criticised multiple times due to their lack of legislation.
How can gerrymandering be stopped?
There are multiple ways we could stop gerrymandering happening, which are explained in the video at the end of the article. But I see gerrymandering as proof of a much bigger problem. The problem of each citizen only getting one vote. This then leads to the bigger question about wether ‘First Past The Post’ is sufficient in today’s Britain, or perhaps it needs to replaced by another voting system.
Gerrymandering in a nutshell:
If you have a little more time CGPGrey will tell you the same thing, but in a nicer video:
- Information about this review can be found here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sixth_Periodic_Review_of_Westminster_constituencies ↩︎
- A map of this can be seen here: http://constituencyboundaries.uk/ ↩︎
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Bercow ↩︎
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering#United_States ↩︎