Every decade, following the decennial census, the state legislatures of the United States are told how many representatives their state will send to the United States House of Representatives. Representation in the House is based on state population and there are a total of 435 representatives, so some states may gain representatives while others lose them. It is the responsibility of each state legislature to redistrict their state into the appropriate numbers of congressional districts.
Since a single party usually controls each state legislature, it is in the best interest of the party in power to redistrict their state so that their party will have more seats in the House than the opposition party. This manipulation of electoral districts is known as gerrymandering. Although illegal, gerrymandering is the process of modifying congressional districts to benefit the party in power.
The term gerrymandering is derived from Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814), the governor of Massachusetts from 1810 to 1812. In 1812, Governor Gerry signed a bill into law that redistricted his state to overwhelmingly benefit his party, the Democratic-Republican Party. The opposition party, the Federalists, were quite upset.
One of the congressional districts was shaped very strangely and, as the story goes, one Federalist remarked that the district looked like a salamander. No, said another Federalist, it"s a gerrymander.
The Boston Weekly Messenger brought the term gerrymander into common usage when it subsequently printed an editorial cartoon that showed the district in question with a monster"s head, arms, and tail and named the creature a gerrymander.
Governor Gerry went on to become vice president under James Madison from 1813 until his death a year later.
Gerry was the second vice president to die in office.
Gerrymandering, which had taken place prior to the coinage of the name and continued for many decades thereafter, has been challenged many times in federal courts and has been legislated against. In 1842, the Reapportionment