Gerrymandering: Is Geometry Silencing Your Vote?

(electronic music) – Fair elections. The cornerstone of
American democracy. Pysch. Let me tell you why
that’s a load of malarkey. (electronic music) We’ve been told
over and over again that every vote counts. Like when those cool
celebrities tell you to go out and rock the vote. ♪ Rock the vote,
rock rock the vote – But when it comes to
electing your representatives, you know, those people
that write the laws, there are cases when your
vote doesn’t really count. And that’s no accident. Politicians do it on purpose. It’s called gerrymandering. The age old art of
rigging the system. Politicians use
population and voting data to create new voting
districts so that their party has a better chance of winning
the most districts overall. Like in this case
where blue wins three out of five districts
even though there are fewer blue voters
than red voters. Both Democrats and
Republicans gerrymander. That’s probably the reason
why in the 2016 elections Democrats won 47
percent of the vote for North Carolina’s House
seats but only ended up with 23 percent of the seats. This isn’t just a
North Carolina problem. It happens all over the map. And people are
starting to get mad. – Gerrymandering has
created an absurd reality. – Gerrymandering
is vote rigging. – That is voter fraud. – That is real voter fraud.
– Gerrymandering. – So what is gerrymandering? And what can we do to stop it? Well, gerrymandering is
all kinds of complicated. But it boils down to some
of my favorite things. Data, geography, and geometry. Every state is split
into districts. You’ve got
congressional districts where each district
gets one rep in the US House of Representatives. Every 10 years, states
redraw the district lines to account for people moving
and other population changes. There are two big
rules that govern how we draw district lines. Number one, districts
have to have the same number of people. And number two, thanks
to the Voting Rights Act, districts can’t be racist. Which means you can’t clump
all the people of color into one district or
spread them out so much that their vote
doesn’t mean anything. Just to be clear here,
racial gerrymandering is not allowed, but
political gerrymandering, that’s okay. Mathematically, there
are like a gazillion ways that you could split a
state into districts. Each state has its own process
for drawing these lines and most are done by lawmakers, aka the politicians in power. With the help of
computer programs, politicians use
population and voter data to make predictions
about how different geographical arrangements
will likely vote. If they wanna guarantee
their party stays in power, they can just divide
up the districts to squeeze out the other party. Pretty much just negating
the opposition’s votes. It’s the reason you get
districts that look like a praying mantis or an
upside down elephant. When this happens you
can end up with districts that are mostly made
up of one party. So it’s really hard to vote
elected officials out of office. The opposing party
just can’t win. Time for a demonstration. Jerry, bring out
the white board. So Jerry’s brought out my
handy little white board here but first let me get my
teaching glasses and hat ready for you guys. All right. So. Class, what we have
here is a city district. These squares represent,
we’ll say, Republicans. And these circles
represent the Democrats. Now if the Democrats wanna
crack the Republican vote they would just do it like this. Okay. So you have this
little line right here, little line right there, little line like that. And see, what we have
here is they’ve diluted the Republican vote and
absorbed it into the Democratic vote,
so the Democrats would win each of
those districts. That’s called cracking. And you also have something
that’s called packing. Now packing varies
from cracking because with cracking what you do, what
we did was we broke it down, packing we’re gonna clump it in. Maybe do a little
something like that, then come back up and then, voila, all right. So what we’ve done is we’ve
sacrificed this one district all for the sake of
these other districts, you see what I’m saying. Now you have a greater
chance of getting districts all around the
one in the middle. So this what
politicians are doing to dilute votes from various
communities around the country. And there you have it. Cracking and packing. You just learned something. So what can we do to confront
this affront to democracy. Well here’s a couple of ideas. One is take the humans out
of the process entirely and leave it up to computers. We can write computer
algorithms that ignore political data
and draw district lines based on population size
in neat and tidy shapes. None of this praying
mantis nonsense. But not everyone’s
sold on this idea. How can we make sure that
these districts are actually more fair or that they don’t
violate the Voting Rights Act? Another solution is to take
redistricting out of the hands of the politicians and give
the power to the people. A few states, like California,
have independent commissions in charge of redistricting. These bipartisan groups
don’t have any incentive to gerrymander. Now this is actually how most other Western
democracies do it. But all in all, it’s
still a struggle to determine how to draw
lines that are the most fair. And now, we wanna hear from you. How does the practice of
gerrymandering make you feel about casting a
ballot in the future? What else do you
wanna know about this? Let us know in the
comments below. And remember, stay
above the noise. (electronic music)

About the author


  1. Thanks for watching! Let us know what you think in the comments below. If you have questions, we'll try to answer them.

  2. Got recommended to you by PBS Spacetime; I'm glad to see more people take on Gerrymandering in particular, and I like your approach (this video seems a little short on your usual data, but I expect it's because gerrymandering is a more mathematical than empirical thing). For anyone interested in getting a bit more detail and examples, I highly recommend CGP Grey's video on gerrymandering if you haven't already seen it, as well has his series on election systems.

    As for how gerrymandering makes me feel: disillusioned. I still vote because it's low enough opportunity cost, but I vote strategically instead of honestly, which is a big problem when I'm trying to abide by the idea that honesty is the foundation of all human virtue. The structural problems in US elections, and gerrymandering is the most immediate, makes me look at other democracies with envy. It's a very strange position to be in when we're raised to believe we're the best country in the world even when so many metrics don't support it.

  3. I think we should gerrymander, but with a certain result in mind. We shouldn't gerrymander for parties. We should gerrymander for competitiveness. This should bring about compromise and civility as we empower the middle to rise up. There may be other things to gerrymander for such as racial and income diversity for similar reasons.

  4. Recommended over by PBS Space Time, I quite liked this video! Americans really need to see gerrymandering for what it is – a blatant attempt by politicians to make your vote count for less. I hope this video spreads!

    FYI, Canada isn't fully immune to this either. Between 2004-2015 we had a pretty obvious "cracked" scenario in Saskatchewan's federal electoral districts that kept a consistently strong second-place party from winning any seats at all, as it split up the two major urban centres into four districts, despite only required two to cover each city respectively, and combined them with expansive rural sections. The ironic part was that this change was encouraged by the party that it affected the most, because they believed the urban sections would keep out the rural vote. 🙂 But, that case aside, Canada has nothing like what I've seen in the US, it's crazy there.

  5. The best solution seems to me to simply get done with districts entirely. Anyone on the state can vote on anyone they want from the entire state. How to distribute the votes is more complicated… If one guy gets 90% of the votes of the state should him get just one seat? The typical solution for that is to give seats to the party first. The vote counts primarily to the party: if one guy got 90% of the votes, at least 90% of the seats goes to his party. Inside the party, the candidates gets the seats on the order they were most voted.

    That is how it works in Brazil, which indicates it doesn't work very well (although I am positively sure it is better than district division). My proposed solution is for representatives not to get elected at all, but simply randomly chosen among the population. If the person doesn't want, draw the next. It is entirely possible to elaborate a process which mathematically guaranteed to be fair. Such a system also guarantees a house which is completely representative of the people. All the parties would be able to do was to supervise the process, and instruct the chosen people for the next term (i believe there should be a one year training period before assuming the office).

    What are the chances of this scheme to be implemented in practice anywhere in the world? I suspect statistically 0.

  6. Gerrymandering looks like a fun strategic board game. Gerrymandering looks like a terrible way to run elections. Maybe someone should make a gerrymandering board or video game, and spread it around to raise awareness of this with the public.

  7. How I feel about it… Mostly apathetic. You heavenly imply that the problems you talked about are cased by gerrymandering. Witch is easily disprove since places that don't have gerrymandering have the same issues. You even disprove it yourself (2:40) “The opposing party just can't win” Now compare that statement to reality where the people in office flip back and forth. Example; what's the longest a presidency has been held by one party?

    The root problem is the “first past the post” voting system you use. That's the source of your issues. So, you got to tackle the 90% of the problem before I'll care about the 10%.

    Look up “Single transferable vote”, Not the best voting system but it's popular and actually addresses some of you problems.

  8. Most other western democracies? More like anglistic democracies. In mainland europe the most widespread system is voting for parties which according to their percentage in the popular vote place representatives into the parliament. Loses the advantage of direct election of representatives but garantuees representation according to popular vote.

  9. You are claiming to be above the noise but you write titles like
    that? Essentially personally addressing every reader with "you are
    getting supressed!".This is just dirty. There already is a really good video about this from CGPGrey. without any clickbait bullshit. And btw he as a bunch of other great videos about the voting system.

  10. An interesting sidenote to this is the power for both good and evil that mapping software has brought to the redistricting process. Using spatial data and GIS tools, it is much easier to amplify bias and reduce it. With great power comes great responsibility. Google "maptitude" if interested.

  11. Great Job. This is just what we need. Straight forward info about important issues in a nutshell that wakes us up, begins an awareness, makes us think, and encourages us to seek out more information so we can make better decisions.

  12. Well, you didn't raise the most important point. Gerrymandering is inherently coupled with first-past-the-post voting, so the best solution is to just get rid of single representant districts and move to better voting system – like eg. STV.

  13. Good job ! I really like your videos. I'm happy to see coloured faces on a pbs channel for once 😁. And I don't understand why American don't do the direct universal suffrage like us french people there is no gerrymandering this way and all votes would have the same weight !

  14. The number of House seats has been static since 1929 while the population has nearly tripled in the same time. Perhaps the easiest thing to do is to update the Apportionment Act so that there is less of an incentive to crack and pack voting blocks based on geography.

  15. It might take a little more work, but I think multi-member district proportional representation is superior to any system we can devise using single-member districts.

    I drew up a map for Texas using this method:

  16. Gerrymandering will make the votes of some voters in any given district little more than protest votes. I am one of those protest voters, and I vote anyways since it's not that much effort and it shows my representatives that I am politically engaged.

    Something known as the efficiency gap can be used to measure such votes. I'm surprised you guys didn't mention this metric since prioritizing districts which reduce it is potentially another viable way to end gerrymandering. You also didn't mention a more contentious idea: switching to a parliamentary system. Parliamentary systems are also susceptible to gerrymandering, but far less so.

    Understandably, there's a lot of debate around what's the most effective way to stop gerrymandering. At the end of the day though, any of the proposed solutions would be more democratic than the current system.

  17. Since African Americans tend to vote overwhelmingly democrat, creating districts wherein you achieve sufficient representation for African Americans sort of guarantees a level of packing doesn't it? In order to avoid ‘racial discrimination’, aren’t we guaranteeing republican over representation in states with large black populations?

  18. I'm curious to know, are there changes to the way elections are run that can help? I've heard it said that STV makes gerrymandering less effective, but are there better options?

  19. I thought the video was really good but, it has a real "high school" feel to it. It looks like you have shown us the problem but didn't really talk about how different places have solved the problem and how well those other systems work.

    I think we should move over to a instant run off election system. Have you ever looked into ranked choice voting?
    You can find out more at

  20. In the part of the video where you mention California using "bipartisan commissions", that is still rigging the districts by putting the power to draw them into the hands of the two main parties and therefore shutting out any third parties from a chance at winning.

  21. In the past few elections, I almost decided not to vote. I just don't feel like it counts, and this video supports that thought. The people voted for Clinton by almost 3 million votes, but Donald got elected. Am I wasting my time? Gerrymandering needs to go away, as does the Electoral College.

  22. I really like this channel and I hope it gets more attention. As a PHY major I've had a long term problem of bringing up science to someone and them replying "well scientists say [tying your shoelaces different] will cure cancer so can we really trust them?". It's always like pulling teeth because the people (and by extension the media) interpret science misunderstanding studies, the scientific method, or how to interpret data. It's an awesome thing that I've only rarely seen come to light, probably the last time getting popular mention was on Jon Oliver's show about a year ago, so stick with it guys I appreciate all the stuff you do.

  23. I need to say it. The US it's not a democracy, it's a representative regime with divisions of powers and a presidential organization. Also, in the founding letter the word democracy is avoided, you can see that in the history books that tell the discussions about it. Even though the gerrymandering is wrong.

  24. I'm glad here in france we're a little bit more advanced than you are… of course we still have got election polls (hello bandwagon effect), a mathematically partially biased voting system, and a scandalous way of dividing media speech time, but national research has already tested a new voting method which is mathematically correct (translated it's "majority judgement", "jugement majoritaire" in french), so I've got hope for the future (we'd need to change the constitution… it's possible but it would set a sixth republic just fo fixing this small detail…). With a bit of luck, we'll succeed to restrain polls, restablish speech time equality and the validity of neutral vote (+50% = reorganizing the elections with only new candidates allowed). Plus, we actually already have civil primaries, which aren't a mainstream thing but do exist, if we want to elect a candidate independently of its belonging to the political class. Of course, a common and centralized debate platform wouldn't be a bad idea… but let's end the phantasm now or I'll never stop x)
    Concerning your country… I really whish you good luck 🙂

  25. AI. That's a job for artificial intelligence.
    Train a neural network on "how to draw the line as fair as possible while staying legal".
    And once the results are good enough, the AI decides, and everyone just shut up.
    For more transparency (literally), make the program open source and let anyone look at it.

    Now, if only politician were not 25 year late when it comes to technology…..

  26. Being a GIS Technician and geography wiz, I can testify to how easily gerrymandering could be. Political and census data is very easy to draw and manipulate to your advantage.
    Being a Texan, this is frustrating because so many districts are clearly gerrymandered.

  27. Here is how I would redistrict areas:

    Step 1: Have a computer algorithm draw a map using the Shortest Split-line Algorithm

    Step 2: Have an independent, state-run, commission review this map and make any reasonable modifications due to historical, geographic, demographic, or any other reasonable concerns

    Step 3: Check the modified map against an algorithm method similar to Professor Wendy Tam Cho's Computational Method for Identifying Extreme Redistricting Plans, to identify any partisan bias

    Step 4: Have another independent, state-run, commission (provided with the information from Step 3, as well as information relating to any other comments, complaints, concerns, or issues) approve or veto the map and (if vetoed) send it back to either step 1 (if sent back to step 1, it may be prudent to establish a new independent commission) or step 2 of the process.

    This whole process should take less than 3-6 months. If a solution cannot be settled by the deadline, another map that would be near identical to the Shortest Split-line map will be automatically selected.


    There are also many other improvements that need to be made to the United States electoral systems, such as:

    * Popular Election of the U.S. President

    * A Switch from First Past the Post to Ranked Choice Voting or Proportional Systems (most likely with multi-member districts)

    * Improving Enfranchisement, through automatic voter registration, or easy voter registration (probably through the mail or online), easy voting (like early voting, voting my mail – which might be the most efficient, etc…), restoring voting rights to incarcerated convicts and former convicts, etc…

    * Enacting measures to improve voter information, such as improving the state of Presidential Debates and Forums, certain advertising rules, and just having more public policy education in general.

    * Removing money's influence from elections, possibly through policies laid out in the American Anti-Corruption Act.

    * The following are more extreme and are not necessary, but I have heard compelling arguments that we should make voting mandatory with a $20.00 – $50.00 fine for not voting, and lowering the voting age to 16.

    * Etc…

    A lot of these may require a Constitutional Amendment though. There are some ways around the Constitution however, such as the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. All these are just to improve the election process in the U.S. though. There are many other ways to improve the performance of government and elected officials.

  28. Hi! First of all – very interesting and content related series. I am great fan of that kind of activities on YouTube. It is surprising to me that you n US have to cope whit such a problem. I thought you, as old democracy, have developed some civic methods to automatically reduce that kind of political abuse. Sorry to hear, that its not completely true. How often does it take place? Once a 10 year, or often? Who is doing/approving it? Congress, government? Have opposition any chance to protest or stop it? Greetings form Poland.

  29. I really like how you include links to sources and a useful description for your videos. Keep up the good work! 😀

  30. Would be great if you did an episode on fair(er) election systems and methods, such as IRV and others. Would be great if some of the theory is considered (such as Arrow's impossibility theorem, and other theory), but even just talking about this important improvement to US voting (and other countries, too, of course) would be much appreciated.

  31. or you just get a voting system like in Sweden where Every vote counts since half of the votes don't get thrown away when a party winns in a district

  32. That damn Gerrymander. I always knew he was a trouble maker. Ever since I saw him licking melted ice cream off a police car 👅🚔🍦👀; I knew he wasn't right. Damn! Damn! Damn…!!! (In my Florida Evans voice.) 🙃🤣😂😂😂🙈🙉🙊🐒🐤🐣?

  33. I like that you guys mentioned possibly using computer algorithms for redistricting, but I think something that is very often overlooked is that you can't totally remove human bias from the process. Algorithms are programmed by humans, and our biases will be baked into the algorithms (hopefully subconsciously and not willingly!) whether we want them to be or not.

  34. STV solves all your problems! (In Gerrymandering)

    CGP Grey Video:

  35. Either 1. Get rid of districts and vote at large like continental Europe. Yes, a constitutional change. You cannot decouple racial and political gerrymandering because Republicans are so white. 2. Use sortition (chose representatives by lot).

  36. Goddamn geometry. Speaking of voting, y'all should look at alternative voting systems. CGP Grey did some good videos on them.

  37. I think it naive to just say that racial gerrymandering is illegal as if that means it never happens anymore. It is still common in many places and in the current political climate and with the recent Supreme Court ruling people feel empowered to do it. There is still a LOT of work to be done to fight racial bias in America (and in ourselves). It's pretty deeply entrenched.

  38. States send two state representatives each (senators). Since this is a statewide position, it would be done without concern for a district.
    The number of house representatives determined by population. Districts could be fixed and of roughly equal continuous area and population and redrawn whenever the number of representatives change. The drawing of the districts would be done by a independent committee based on drawing rules.
    An alternate thought is to assign each person a state citizenship and through that a representative, eliminating the need for a district to define what part of the population a house representative represents.

  39. To preface this comment, I want to start by saying that I agree 100% that gerrymandering really screws up elections. Along with this problem sits the electoral college, aka the reason Trump is president instead of Hillary Clinton who clearly won the popular vote. BUT, these problems are turning our elections into essentially a positive feedback loop that continuously makes our elections less and less truly democratic. On top of gerrymandering and the electoral college, which by themselves make all votes not count as equal, these problems are amplified by discouraged voters (especially young voters and minority voters) and the cycle continues. Young people are the future of this country, but they are a very small percentage of the voice. We have grown up in an era where voting is a privilege to all citizens regardless of race or gender; I think we are taking that right for granted when we shouldn't be.
    So even though it is important to understand the implications of these problems, I feel it is still VITALLY important to encourage people to vote. I am a college student in Alabama and I just this week watched how the African American community as well as young people helped Doug Jones win a seat in the Senate. Nobody thought that enough people from the Bible belt in Alabama would come together and stand against Roy Moore's disgusting self, BUT WE DID IT!!
    For a long time felt like my vote did not matter so I thought "when I turn 18 I probably won't vote anyway." However after going to the University of Alabama at Birmingham (Go Blazers) and having the chance to broaden my world view and become more cultured and empathetic, I realized that opting out of voting is for myself, in a huge sense, a poor use of white privilege. For a lot of people, minorities in particular, elected officials can change their lives dramatically. As we have seen in the past year, travel bans, immigration policies, and even just verbal empowerment of bigotry are affecting SO many people negatively. So when elections come around I not only feel that it is my responsibility to vote for what I believe in; I feel that it is my responsibility to go vote for all of the people who will be directly effected if I don't. So please try to encourage millennials to vote even if gerrymandering and the electoral college are in place, because if our generation doesn't start making our voices heard, we are going to be the ones stuck with the repercussions for years and years to come.
    On a lighter note, I love this channel and I have binge watched it for the past day and a half after finishing finals. I really love the lighthearted yet firm attitude that you all take while addressing some serious social issues. PBS studios has me hooked on another one of their channels!!

  40. How about Rep. Beyer's Fair Representation Act which implements Single Transferable Vote for Congressional Districts, with 3 to 5 at-large, ranked-choice Representatives per District. WE SO NEED THIS!!!!!!!!

  41. Another thing that would reduce the effect of Gerrymandering would be to see voters vote less based on political identity.

  42. Hmmm… Unless I’m missing something really basic here, the problem isn’t jerrymandering, but that voter *districts*, rather than individual voters, elect candidates. Voter districts need to become strictly clerical — to “divide and conquer” the problem of reporting the popular vote. If which candidate wins a given voter district we’re made irrelevant, then the shapes and makeup of each voter district would make no difference whatsoever.

  43. "Both parties do it" but republicans rely on it. Add gerrymandering to their list of cheap desperate schemes to keep them in the game as, they don't represent us. Pick an issue that isn't tax breaks disproportionately divided for wealthy interests. Guns, Healthcare, Environment, fiscal responsibility, climate change, campaign finance reform, the list goes on. Republicans are simply fundamentally dishonest. They do not represent the majority.

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