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Video transcript

- [Instructor] What we see here are two maps of congressional districts. On the left we see some congressional districts in and around Austin, Texas. This black line shows us Travis County where Austin, Texas is. And on this right map we see the congressional districts in and around Chicago, Illinois. What I'd like you to do is pause this video and see if you see anything interesting about the shapes of these congressional districts. Well some things might immediately jump out at you. Here in Chicago, Illinois, this fourth district in particular seems kind of fishy. It's often known as the earmuff district. It has this northern part and this southern part, and then it's actually connected just by an interstate, not by the things on either side of that interstate. So that doesn't seem like a natural shape for a congressional district. And then here in Austin, Texas, you see that the votes in Travis County are split amongst many congressional districts. And so the question that should be surfacing in your brain is, why are these districts shaped that way? And the answer that many people will give you is it's because of a gerrymandering. Gerrymandering, which is the idea of shaping districts to benefit one political party or another. Every 10 years there's a U.S. Census, and based on that census, different states will might get a few more representatives or a few less representatives, and so state legislatures will often have to redistrict. And so that's when this occurs. And so the first question you might ask is, well that's a very strange word, where does it come from? And that goes all the way back to 1812 when the then governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry, Gerry was how you pronounced his name although now it's gerrymandering. He decided to sign the bill that would reapportion the state senate districts. And you have this one really strangely shaped district right over here that people said hey that looks like a salamander. And so they created a portmanteau which is really just a combination of words around Elbridge Gerry and the back half of salamander. So you have gerrymander, which is creating these districts to advantage one party or the other. Elbridge Gerry did it for the Democratic Republican party against the Federalist, but now it's Republicans versus Democrats. So now let's go back to the two districts that we looked at and think about what are the implications of it? Who will, who does the gerrymandering benefit? So in the case of Austin, Texas, Austin, Texas is an urban area. Urban areas tend to lean more left. And it does lean more Democratic. It's actually more liberal than most urban areas in Texas. But it's surrounded by more rural areas that lean right. And so it would be advantageous and it is advantageous for Republicans to split those Democratic votes amongst these Republican districts. In the case of Chicago, it's a little bit less obvious. This type of gerrymandering was done by a Democratic legislature, but it's a little bit less obvious what's going on here with the fourth district because it is actually surrounded by districts represented by Democrats. What you need to appreciate is when this gerrymandering is done it's often done by sophisticated computer algorithms and there's all sorts of implications of stretching one district or another. This is just one tactic that you see here is taking a bunch of Democratic votes and diluting them amongst a bunch of Republican districts. You might see it the other way. You could have situations where you redistrict so that an incumbent no longer lives in their district and so they wouldn't be the incumbent anymore. You might see redistricting to force two incumbents to go against each other. You might see redistricting where you're collecting pockets from certain constituencies so that you can make a district so that they would have representation and that's the one that's often cited for the district four right over here. Because these are heavily Hispanic areas around or in Chicago. Now I'll leave you with a newspaper article from the Salem Gazette in 1813 that talks about at least how the Federalists felt about that first official gerrymandering. This is in response to Elbridge Gerry's signing of the bill to allow for that salamander shaped district that advantaged the Democratic Republicans against the Federalists. Federalists, followers of Washington. Again behold and shudder at the exhibition of this terrific dragon, brought forth to swallow and devour your liberties and equal rights. You can see in the picture it actually does look like a dragon, they put wings on it. Unholy party spirit and inordinate love of power gave it birth. Your patriotism and hatred of tyranny must by one vigorous struggle strangle it in its infancy. The iniquitous law which cut up and severed this Commonwealth into districts is kindred to the arbitrary deeds of Napoleon when he partitioned the territories of innocent nations to suit his sovereign will. You gotta remember this is right around the time of Napoleon conquering much of Europe. This law inflicted a grievous wound on the Constitution. It in fact subverts and changes our form of government, which ceases to be Republican as long as an aristocratic House of Lords under the form of a Senate tyrannizes over the people and silences and stifles the voice of the majority. And then it goes on to say, will you then permit a party to disfranchise the people, to convert the Senate chamber into a fortress in which ambitious office-seekers may entrench themselves and set at defiance the frowns of the people? No, this usurping faction must be dislodged from its stronghold.