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Gerrymandering to retain power

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07/26/2017 - The 2016 general election marked the second time this century that a presidential candidate went on to win the White House after losing the popular vote, leading some people to question the purpose of the Electoral College, of which most citizens have only a fleeting understanding. But while post-election focus has zeroed in on perceived shortcomings in the presidential election system, far less attention has been paid to inequalities built into many congressional and state governing body races through the age-old practice of partisan redistricting, also known as gerrymandering.

Redistricting refers to the drawing of electoral geographic boundaries for each representative in Congress and each state's governing body. Districts also exist for county commission seats and in some municipal board elections.

Local Congressional Districts
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Local State Senate Districts
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In Michigan, state and congressional representatives are from districts and elected by the people residing in those districts, although technically a U.S. House member does not have to live in the district they are seeking in an election. As a general rule, for example, voters in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills and an southern portion of Rochester Hills reside in the 11th Congressional District, voters in Bloomfield Township are in the 9th Congressional District, while Rochester and the majority of Rochester Hills are in the 8th Congressional District. However, the boundaries of those districts tend to change every 10 years, meaning it is likely the district you reside in will change each decade. Likewise, state legislative districts are subject to change every 10 years. Those changes are supposed to be based on U.S. Census results and reflect shifts in the population. However, the process of redistricting, which in Michigan and most other states is controlled by the state's legislature and approved by the governor, often results in districts that give an advantage to one political party over another. When this occurs, the process is referred to as gerrymandering, so named back in 1812 when Massachusetts Governor Elridge Gerry allowed for an oddly shaped political district formation that looked like a salamander.

Gerrymandering is mainly done in two ways called "cracking," which divides a political party's supporters among multiple districts so that they fall short of a majority in each one; and "packing," which concentrates one party's backers in a few districts so they win by overwhelming margins.

Because the political party in power at the time of redistricting is ultimately responsible for the process, it is in the interest of that party to draw districts that help them retain their positions in future elections.

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