Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry was the first politician to take advantage of rules that allow one party to draw maps to its own advantage. Two hundred years ago this month, after Gerry signed into law a map of state Senate districts that would favor his Democratic-Republican Party’s candidates, the Boston Gazette offered its satirical take on one such district, around Gerry’s home base of Marblehead, just north of Boston. The meandering district, which curved north and east around a Federalist Party stronghold, looked like a salamander, the newspaper said, coining a new word to describe the tortuous political mapmaking: gerrymandering.
Gerry might have been proud of the past year’s round of redistricting. Both Republicans and Democrats have continued the tradition he started, carving up districts to play to their electoral strengths—and, in the process, redrawing the lines party strategists will obsess over for the next decade.