Gerrymandering 101


Your one-stop guide to how gerrymandering works and how to fix it.

It's divided into three sections:

• ways to think about the issue

• Myths to avoid

• The case for hope

Written by Chris Satullo | Illustrated by Rob Tornoe


Overview: Harrisburg, we have a problem

Think of gerrymandering as the bug in the operating system of democracy. It prevents government from working the way Madison and Hamilton envisioned. It spawns gridlock, hyper-partisanship and voter apathy. And our state is the first chapter in that sad tale.

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Way 1: One form of corruption breeds others

And make no mistake, distorting election districts to create an unfair advantage for your team is a form of corruption.

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Way 2: The five whys

A childish habit can actually help you chart the depth of the damage that gerrymandering does.

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Way 3: Do you count?

A bad, incomplete U.S. Census in 2020 will lead to bad, unfair election maps in 2021 - and confirm some Americans' worst suspicions about their country.

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Way 4: How not to slice a pizza

Every American knows how to slice a pie fairly. But if politicians divvied up a pizza the way they carve up a state, guess who'd get all the pepperoni?

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Way 5: It's a job interview

An election, that is. So why do voters, the bosses of democracy, let incumbents get away with rigging the interview?

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Way 6: Time to take away the keys

If your teenage crashed your car twice, isn't that what you would do? Well, PA pols ran redistricting into a ditch in 2001 and 2011. Maybe it's time to tell them: This is why you can't have nice things.

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Myth 1: The data made them do it

Political operatives want you to believe them our state's geography and demographics force them to draw the wacky lines they do. No, their maps reflect their priorities - and the chief one is self-interest.

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Myth 2: The court fixed everything, right?

The state court ruling tossing out PA's old congressional map was necessary but not sufficient. It got rid of one bad map but didn't change the processes that have churned out bad maps for decades - and will again in 2021 absent major reform.

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Myth 3: Just let the algorithm do it

Making election maps is a democratic, not a technocratic, act. It's as much about values as ones and zeroes. And, after what we've learned about Facebook, Uber, Cambridge Analytica etc., does anyone really just "trust the algorithm"?

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Hope 1: 'DIY' democracy is blossoming

From Utah to Missouri to Michigan, voter activism has helped put reform on the ballot. Our state is a tougher nut, but what Fair Districts PA did to inform and energize ordinary citizens was remarkable.

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Hope 2: Charlie Brown might kick the ball, at last

For years, attempts to reform gerrymandering in PA have sadly re-enacted the classic Peanuts comic strip. It happened again this year. But the lay of the political land in Harrisburg has changed since 2011 in ways that offer grounds for hope.

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Hope 3: And a child shall lead them

Draw the Lines offers a hopeful message to many young people: The digital skills that come to you as naturally as breathing are just what's needed to fix the mess your parents and grandparents have made of democracy. The biblical prophet Isaiah would agree.

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Hope 4: You can master the values that matter

A guide to thinking through the trade-offs and tensions among the key values that go into making an election map.

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Have questions or issues you'd like to see Gerrymandering 101 address? Have comments on what you see here? Either way, please share them by clicking Contact Us at the bottom of the page. We'll let you know what we're doing in response.

Draw the Lines and the case for hope

Draw the Lines PA is dedicated to demystifying gerrymandering, debunking the myths that have grown up around it, and sharing the best ideas for reform that have emerged all around our republic. We think the best way to prove that voters are capable of playing a bigger role in redistricting is for them to make their own, valid maps and share them with elected officials. And we think it's important to tell the small, inspiring stories of people from all over who've decided to say, "Enough," who are giving of their time and talents to make our democracy work according to our best ideals, not our worst instincts.


The Amanda Holt Story: The Power of One

Watch this video if you’re skeptical about regular people’s power to slay the gerrymander. Nothing about Amanda Holt said reformer, yet she sent tremors through Pennsylvania politics.