- Understand the reasons for and process of redistricting after a census.
- Assess the motivations for and electoral consequences of gerrymandering.
- Identify and analyze the techniques political cartoonists use to express opinions and encourage critical thinking about contemporary issues.
Washington Post video: What is gerrymandering?
GovTrak: Congressional Districts Map
In the Classroom
1. Introduction—One of the key elements of a democracy is the idea that each citizen’s vote counts equally. Ask students if they have heard the term gerrymandering. What do they understand about its use and effects on democracy?
Distribute the handout “Gerrymandering: Background Information” to each student. Review page one of the reading with the class. Clarify any difficult vocabulary or concepts. Invite students to work alone or with a partner to try their hand at redistricting (page two of the handout). Circulate to converse with students about challenges they face in trying to draw fair districts.
Show the Washington Post video, which illustrates different ways of redistricting and shows examples from various states. Ask students to identify information that they believe to be important from the video. What information is new to them? It may be helpful to project an image of redistricting examples from the Washington Post during a quick debrief with the class.
What do districts look like in your state and/or a neighboring state? If computers are available to students, ask them to explore the GovTrack site. Alternatively, project the map so all students can view their state and/or nearby districts. (Note: you may have to zoom in to see district lines in large urban areas.) Have a brief discussion:
- Are all of the districts in your state similar in shape?
- Do you notice any irregularities?
- Share any additional observations with one another.
Instruct students to read page three of the handout, clarifying any difficult vocabulary or concepts. This page briefly reviews recent legal challenges to gerrymandering as well as ballot initiatives.
2. Analyzing Cartoons—Divide the class into groups of three or four students each. Distribute the handout, “Gerrymandering: Political Cartoons” to each student. Review the introduction with your class, emphasizing the techniques cartoonists use to convey opinions on political issues. Review the first cartoon, and answer the questions on the handout with your students to model the assignment. What techniques are being used? What is the message of the cartoon? How is this cartoon related to what the class knows about gerrymandering? Are there multiple ways in which the cartoon might be interpreted?
Assign two additional cartoons from the handout to each group and ask students to answer the questions on the handout. Tell students they should be prepared to share their analysis with the rest of the class.
3. Drawing Connections—As you project the rest of the cartoons from the slideshow, have each group present their analysis of their political cartoons. If multiple groups analyzed the same cartoons, you may wish to have them present together or on different questions from the activity, keeping in mind that different groups of students may interpret each cartoon differently.
As a class, discuss how cartoonists provide perspectives on political issues. Were students able to identify the message of each cartoon? If so, what were the cartoonists trying to express? Which techniques did students think most effectively got the message across? What do these cartoons say about gerrymandering and its effect on our democracy?
Ask if students noticed connections between or among cartoons. Did multiple cartoons present a similar message? Did any cartoons present contradictory perspectives or opinions? Did one cartoon build on another’s message in some way?
4. Discussing Effects on Democracy—If time permits, ask students to read the brief excerpts of the speech by Senator George Mitchell on page four of the handout “Gerrymandering: Background Information.”
To wrap up, invite students to discuss the following questions:
- Do you think redistricting is best handled by state legislatures or independent commissions?
- When challenges to redistricting occur, should courts or state legislatures be charged with resolving issues?
- How might gerrymandering undermine the ideal of one person, one vote?
- Do you think gerrymandering undermines confidence in democracy in the United States?
Team up with a math teacher to explore this Duke University resource that examines North Carolina’s 2012 election results.
Challenge students to conduct research to learn more about reform efforts. Are there reform efforts in your state? Do students agree that the organization’s approach or remedy will help to resolve issues? Learn more about November 2018 ballot initiatives by asking students to read the Economist article in the supplementary resources list.
Have students create their own political cartoons that reflect their opinion on gerrymandering.
Invite students to write letters to elected officials expressing their views on gerrymandering. They can find contact information for federal and state officials at usa.gov/elected-officials.
Ballotpedia: State-by-state redistricting procedures
Vox card stacks: Gerrymandering, explained
Washington Post article: This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see
CNN video: How gerrymandering got its name
Economist article: Map scrap
New York Times article: The Great Gerrymander of 2012
KQED lesson plan: Gerrymandering and Your Right to Vote
This Teaching with the News lesson was written by Amy Sanders, Choices Teaching Fellow.