What is gerrymandering, and where did the term originate? Ohio Issue 1, on the ballot May 8, is a bipartisan attempt to curb gerrymandering in Ohio. The Enquirer/Mike Nyerges


Gerrymandering. It's a weird word Americans have been hearing a lot lately, but what does it mean?

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica gerrymandering means "drawing the boundaries of electoral districts in a way that gives one party an unfair advantage over its rivals."

The term gets its name from two things, Elbridge Gerry and salamanders.

Wait, what?

More: Election 2018: What is Ohio Issue 1? How would it eliminate gerrymandering?

More: Tuesday is Election Day: What you need to know

Who is Gerry?

Back in 1812, Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a law that defined new state senate districts.

"The law consolidated the Federalist Party vote in a few districts and thus gave disproportionate representation to Democratic-Republicans," Encyclopaedia Britannica said.

According to the Smithsonian, Gerry signed the Declaration of Independence and was the fifth vice-president. 

The bill sliced up Essex County, a political stronghold for the Federalist Party.

"It worked: the freakishly shaped district elected three Democratic-Republicans that year, 1812, breaking up the county’s previous delegation of five Federalist senators," the Smithsonian said. 

What is mander?

After the law passed, Boston Gazette cartoonist Elkanah Tisdale transformed the new districts into “The Gerry-mander" because the Federalist district looked a bit like a salamander, according to the Smithsonian. 

Ever since, politicians have been carving strange shapes into the political landscape, some of which have earned their own nicknames.

In northern Ohio, one district has been nicknamed the "snake on the lake." Another covers nearly all of eastern Ohio, more than 100 miles across.

Why does it matter?

According to political experts, Gerrymandering creates an unfair political advantage to certain political parties. 

Ohio Issue 1 on the May 8 ballot is a constitutional amendment with bipartisan support that would restructure Ohio's process for drawing congressional maps.

The proposal on May 8 ballots is aimed at curbing gerrymandering, the partisan manipulation of political boundaries that is seen as a cause of partisanship, gridlock and incivility in Washington.

Want to know more about Issue 1? Click here. Want to know more about the May 8 primary? Click here. 

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