Gerrymandering, or the process of manipulating district lines to favor one political party over the other, not only has the ability to determine winners and losers for political contests but also has broader effects on the health of states’ democracy. By creating more ideologically uniform and demographically similar districts—which may be easier for one party to hold across election cycles—gerrymandering creates an echo chamber in which candidates and elected officials are responsible only to people of like demography and ideology rather than to a broad base of voters. This phenomenon leads to the polarization and entrenchment of each party’s political views. Both a lack of voter agency and fewer truly competitive contests can lead to voter apathy.

States manage the districting of the seats in their state legislature through a variety of processes. A majority of states do not redistrict through any sort of commission and, even in the 21 states that do, those commissions are often merely advisory or backup plans in case the legislature fail to produce a map. Thus, in many cases, state legislative redistricting involves state legislators drawing the lines of their own districts—choosing their voters rather than being chosen by the voters.

No single method of mapmaking alone eliminates the possibility of gerrymandered districts drawn to suit the party in power. Therefore, this report does not evaluate states based on the input of how redistricting is determined, but it instead focuses on electoral outcomes. In other words, it considers the degree to which the partisan breakdown of districts is distorted when compared with overall voter preferences. To do this, using data from the most recent elections for the states’ house of representatives, this report analyzes the difference between the number of seats that parties should based on their overall two-party raw vote shares and the number of seats each party actually holds. This percentage difference can serve as a numerical representation of how gerrymandered a state’s districts currently are.

For a more detailed explanation of each factor, including citations, please download the full report.

Click to view scoring methodology
  1. Current Policy in State
    Points added to score
  2. Tier 1: Distorted by less than 5 percent
    0 points
  3. Tier 2: Distorted by 5 percent to less than 10 percent
    5 points
  4. Tier 3: Distorted by 10 percent or more
    10 points
Policy Recommendation for This Factor
Create fair district maps

This report’s analysis has shown how skewed district maps at both the congressional and legislative levels can be when compared with raw two-party vote shares for those same offices. It is beyond the scope of this report to recommend specific processes for this map-making, but with the 2020 Census approaching and redistricting plans already taking shape, lawmakers must determine how to create maps that reflect and amplify rather than limit and dilute the voices of the voters.

Click here to see a full list of policy recommendations to improve the health of state democracies based on the findings of this report.

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© 2015 Center for American Progress Action Fund

Press Contact: Benton Strong at Bstrong@americanprogressaction.org 202-481-8142

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