One of the reasons the United States Congress is less representative of the citizenry than it should be – and remains stubbornly stuck that way – is that the boundaries of congressional districts are usually drawn by the legislatures of each state. Naturally, whichever party is in the majority tends to draw the lines so as to benefit themselves.
This is called “gerrymandering”, after Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, who in 1812 signed a bill redistricting his state to benefit his party. One of the districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a salamander, thus the term “gerrymander.”
The graphic below (from the Washington Post) illustrates in a very simple way how gerrymandering can result in election outcomes that distort or even completely invert the wishes of the people.
Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a bipartisan panel the state of Arizona created to draw that state’s district boundaries. This opens the door for other states to follow Arizona’s lead. If they do, perhaps Congress will become more like what it’s supposed to be: a legislative body representing the people.