A few weeks ago, the U.S. Census Bureau released the first batch of data from the 2020 census. On the surface, this might appear a mundane act by a federal agency. In fact, it was the starting gun for a decennial tradition in American politics: ruthless, democracy-distorting, hyper-partisan gerrymandering of congressional and state legislative districts.
Gerrymandering is not new. State legislatures have been drawing district boundaries that unfairly advantage one side or the other since our country’s founding.
But over the past few decades, enabled by advances in data analysis and driven by political expediency, gerrymandering has become endemic—and increasingly sophisticated. Districts have been engineered to absurd levels of partisan perfection. Lines zig and zag, dividing voters neighborhood by neighborhood, street by street. You might need an advanced degree to draw a gerrymandered district. But you don’t need a PhD to spot one.