Policy Documents

No. 34 Partisan Gerrymandering: Harms and a New Solution

Daniel Polsby and David Popper –
March 4, 1991

In Part I of this Heartland Policy Study, the authors describe gerrymandering as a real, not illusory, danger to democratic practice -- the moral equivalent of stealing elections. The phenomenon can, as the authors argue, be readily identified and effectively remedied. The constitutional framework for so doing already exists and is discussed in Part II.

The remaining sections of the paper describe procedural norms for safeguarding the constitutional rights that are now violated by gerrymandering. In Part III, three such safeguards are described in some detail: equinumerosity (the requirement that districts have approximately equal populations), contiguity (the requirement that districts consist of contiguous territory), and compactness (the requirement that district boundaries be drawn without uncalled-for spikes, indentations, or silly meanderings), The compactness standard -- one district map-makers are currently not required to meet -- is shown to be essential to the effectiveness of the other two, more commonly accepted, standards. The potency of the compactness standard in combatting gerrymandering is described in Part IV.

In Part V, the authors present a simple, but powerful, mathematical technique for the measurement of the “compactness” of any district map. The authors strongly encourage its adoption as a legal standard against which claims of gerrymandering may be evaluated. A summary and concluding remarks constitute Part VI.