John Oliver Takes On Gerrymandering


John Oliver explains gerrymandering, voting districts, and why this is all a big, big deal.

Quick, do any of you know exactly what gerrymandering is? No, if you had to look it up, you’ve just cheated. The fact is, many people don’t understand the intricacies of this political maneuver, but it can have drastic effects on how you’re represented in Congress. Thankfully, John Oliver is here with a tl;dr version to get you up to speed.

Essentially, said Oliver, gerrymandering is the process of redrawing voting districts in order to create advantages for your political party. It’s one of the reasons that Republicans currently have such a strong hold on the House of Representatives. This is despite the fact that, in many cases, the actual will of voters does not always match up with that of their representative.

In fact, gerrymandering can screw with a lot of things. Though, thanks to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the practice can’t be used in regards to race, it can maybe, kind of be used with an eye towards political parties. To tell the truth, it seems that politicians themselves aren’t entirely sure what is or is not legal in the world of gerrymandering.

How gerrymandering works

If politicians pay careful attention to addresses and voting records, they can divvy up districts in a way that gives their own party an advantage. So, if a state has a majority number of, say, Democratic voters, politicians could redraw the districts so that a disproportionate number of Republicans would win elections.

One commentator even said that modern gerrymandering is practically a science. “It’s one of the few remaining types of science in which the Republican party currently believes,” quipped Oliver.

To be fair, redrawing districts is frequently necessary. Communities change, populations shift, people move, and everyone needs the most fair representation possible. That’s one of the reasons why district lines are redrawn after the ten-year census.

Redrawing a district is surprisingly difficult

There are also few “right” ways to redraw a district. Often, politicians who take on this task must balance many different and sometimes competing concerns. How can you best represent a community’s interests? How can you follow rules, such as the one that states districts must be contiguous? In what way should you accurately reflect that often weird shapes that human settlements take?

Furthermore, other settlement patterns and voter behaviors can also affect district voting. Democrats, for instance, tend to move to large urban areas. However, cities are already plenty full of Democratic voters. This means that a vote for a Democratic politician in New York City is a drop in the bucket.

A Democratic voter could be far more effective in red states. A progressive vote could go longer in more conservative district in, say, Wyoming or Kansas. The issue there, however, is convincing young and progressive voters to move away from metropolitan centers.

Now what?

So, what’s the solution to gerrymandering? Oliver argued that independent commissions, though imperfect, would be a step in the right direction.

“Lawmakers should not be allowed to dilute our votes by drawing their own lines and essentially picking their own voters,” Oliver said. “Everyone should get an equal chance to make a bad decision which f—s things up for everybody else.”

Next: Democrat to…Repeal Gun Legislation?

He then called upon some of the most shining members of our society, including Juggalos, unicyclists, Jill Stein voters, and “everyone’s racist grandma.” Yes, it’s true. Even the most awkward, the seemingly worst amongst us, should be able to choose their own representative, rather than the other way around.