Gerrymandering has subtle but treacherous power & it is Possibly the Worst of Crimes against ALL Americans

Gerrymandering’s Insidious Power: Why Redistricting Matters

By Meryl Ann Butler

Gerrymandering has subtle but treacherous power: it allows the party in power to draw the lines of voting districts to serve their own interests, instead of serving the interests of constituents. In effect, the legislators choose their voters, instead of the voters choosing their legislators! Here’s how Virginia is working on fixing it.


Photo by Meryl Ann Butler
(image by OneVirginia2021)
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Gerrymandering has subtle but treacherous power: it allows the party in power to draw the lines of voting districts to serve their own interests, instead of the interests of constituents.

Examples of gerrymandered districts in Virginia
(image by OneVirginia2021)
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In effect, the legislators choose their voters, instead of the voters choosing their legislators.

Contrary to one popular misconception about the practice, the point of gerrymandering isn’t to draw yourself a collection of overwhelmingly safe seats. Rather, it’s to give your opponents a small number of safe seats, while drawing yourself a larger number of seats that are not quite as safe, but that you can expect to win comfortably. — WaPo

This is a simplified visual representation showing how Gerrymandering works:

A Visual Guide to Gerrymandering: Pigs vs Frogs
(image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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A Visual Guide to Gerrymandering: Pigs vs Frogs
(image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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Virginia, the “Mother of Presidents,” has one of the worst records for gerrymandering in the country.

‘high time we did something about it’
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But the nonprofit, OneVirginia2021, is taking a stand.

Brian Cannon is Executive Director of OneVirginia2021, an organization which advocates for fair redistricting in the Commonwealth of Virginia through local, regional, and statewide efforts. The organization works to “raise awareness, provide information, and work with legislators to implement meaningful reform.”

Brian Cannon
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Two years ago OneVirginia2021 had 3,500 supporters. Today there are 44,000.

The documentary, GerryRIGGED: Turning Democracy On Its Head, is partly responsible for the increase. It was produced by Community Idea Stations (Richmond PBS) in cooperation with OneVirginia2021.

Bill Oglesby, produced and directed the film. Oglesby is an assistant professor at The Robertson School of Media and Culture at Virginia Commonwealth University, and also owner of Bill Oglesby Media Consulting, a firm specializing in strategic media consultation.

Bill Oglesby
(image by Bill Oglesby)
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Every decade, with recent results of the census in hand, legislative districts are drawn. Redrawing political lines is a powerful tool that determines who wins an election, controls the legislature, and ultimately which laws pass. In Virginia, legislators create the criteria and draw their own districts. This is a manipulative process known as gerrymandering, and we must create a system that more fairly draws political lines.

Pushing for redistricting may not be the sexiest form of activism, but it is essential. Opednews interviewed Cannon and Oglesby.

Meryl Ann Butler: Thank you for visiting with OpEdNews, Brian and Bill. How did you both get started with this project? What inspired you?

Brian Cannon: I have always cared about non-partisan issues because that’s exactly what should pass in a functioning republic. I understand why one-sided, controversial issues get stalled. But for the life of me I cannot understand why folks won’t get behind good government reforms. I also studied this issue in law school – and of the big issues plaguing our republic (money in politics, fake news, people choosing to live near people who are like them, and gerrymandering) only gerrymandering doesn’t have a First Amendment protection. So this is the easy one to fix.

I was recruited by the leadership of OneVirginia2021 two years ago to lead this organization, and it’s the best professional decision I’ve ever made.

Bill Oglesby: I teach the capstone documentary course in Virginia Commonwealth University’s mass communications program. Community Idea Stations (Richmond PBS) approached me and asked if I would be interested in producing and directing a documentary on gerrymandering and redistricting reform. It took me little time to answer affirmatively, because I have long had an interest both in politics and this issue in particular.

Lawmakers by nature will only act to change that which their constituents demand. That’s why it is so important that people educate themselves about this issue and demand reform. If lawmakers come to believe that enough people care and are prepared to do what is necessary to make sure reform happens, that’s when they will act to correct this egregious system.

MAB: Thank you. After watching your movie, GerryRIGGED, I was much clearer on why redistricting is a critical issue. The movie reveals that the problems associated with Gerrymandering are much more important than they appear to be on the surface. Can you share a little about that “optical illusion” with our readers?

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Oglesby: There’s a bit of a “butterfly effect” that comes with gerrymandering. Nothing in politics is ever the same when the elected representatives are there because of a rigged system. When district lines are drawn to dramatically favor the incumbent (or the incumbent’s party), uncontested races become the norm. When incumbents don’t have to worry about a challenge from the other major party, they worry only about a challenge from within their own party. That leads to a lack of moderation so as to appeal to base voters on the far right or far left. That leads to hyper-partisanship and gridlock, which is the sad state of affairs we see today where neither party talks to the other in any meaningful way, and compromise becomes a dirty word.

MAB: How does Gerrymandering in Virginia compare to other states?

Cannon: We are one of the worst. Up there with us are our fellow mid-Atlantic states, Pennsylvania, Maryland and North Carolina. Some of it has to do with our racial diversity and the rivers carving up our state.

Oglesby: Also, the process of drawing new district lines every ten years is left up to the state legislature. These lawmakers vote with impunity to draw lines that guarantee their own reelection, because there are so few criteria demanding they act in the public interest.

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MAB: What are the barriers to redistricting in Virginia? And how do you plan to overcome them? How do these compare with other states?

Cannon: – Entrenched politicians who like the current system are the plague of our republic. Not just for gerrymandering but probably for a whole host of issues. People get power and then don’t want to let it go – it reminds me of Gollum from Lord of the Rings. What you can learn from other voting movements like women’s suffrage, the civil rights era, and even from the campaign finance reform movement of the late 90’s is that being right on policy is important but not enough. You must also shame the remaining politicians into this. So while we gladly take converts, we have videos like “Delegate Jerry Mandering” to shame the others into it.

Oglesby: The states that have had the most success with reform are those where voters can propose initiatives that essentially bypass their legislators. No such voter initiative exists in Virginia. Here, the legislature rules the process, and they are the ones who stand to benefit from gerrymandering. The state Senate, which is almost evenly split between the two parties, has been more receptive to reform than the House of Delegates, where Republicans hold a commanding majority. Most progress that has been made to date has been through the courts.

MAB: What is the possible or probable timeline, and why is timing important?

Oglesby: Unless courts order a special remedial election in the interim, states only redistrict once every ten years, immediately after the census figures are released. Each census occurs in the first year of each decade, so the next census happens in 2020. In Virginia, adding a reform measure to the state constitution means two successive General Assemblys must pass the measure, which then goes to voters for approval. That means that, in order for a constitutional change in 2020, both houses of the General Assembly would have to approve the change in 2018 and 2019.

MAB: I was surprised to learn from your movie that redistricting gets bipartisan support. Can you share with our readers why?

Cannon: There are leaders of good faith in both parties. There is also the opposite. But the practice is indefensible and some politicians just get it, even if it would mean losing their seat.

Oglesby: It’s all about politics. When the majority party (and both parties are equally guilty) comes up with their gerrymandered plan, it tends to guarantee non-competitive districts not just for them, but at least some for incumbents representing the other party. That provides an incentive even for those in the minority party to vote for the plan, as it preserves their own seats.

Ocean View, Norfolk, businessman Richard Hahn chats with media consultant Bill Oglesby after the screening of ‘GerryRIGGING’ at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, VA, Jan 11, 2017.
(image by Meryl Ann Butler)
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MAB: Does what happens in Virginia regarding redistricting have any relationship to what has happened, or may happen, in other states?

Cannon: We hope we are paving the way on a bipartisan approach for other states to follow. Our lawsuit is the first of its kind in the nation. Our coalition is broad and a curiosity of other reform groups. But it’s how this has to happen. Voting reforms that aren’t bipartisan are constantly under threat for repeal.

MAB: Thanks, I’ll get back with you, Brian, for more information about your groundbreaking lawsuit, for an upcoming article. How about you, Bill?

Oglesby: It is not unusual, as in Virginia, for the courts to have to take the lead in reforming the system. In some states, voter initiative is a way to circumvent the legislature. In others where the topography and/or population is not as diverse, it is easy to draw very compact districts, so the arguments for gerrymandered districts are harder to justify. There are examples of states, such as Ohio, where the “good government” argument for legislators to reform themselves has taken hold, but it’s hard for most lawmakers to resist the temptation to act in their own self-interest.

MAB: I saw your movie “GerryRIGGED” at an event at Virginia Wesleyan college in Norfolk, in January, and it was excellent and informative! Would you say it’s is only for Virginians, or does it have value for others? If so, who?

Oglesby: Virginia can be used as an example for most other states. The problems relating to gerrymandering are almost universal.

A group in Warrenton, VA, gathers for a screening of ‘GerryRIGGED,’ Feb. 16, 2017.
(image by OneVirginia2021)
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MAB: OK, how can our readers watch the movie?

Oglesby: Here’s the link. (Ed. note: with permission, we’ve also embedded it below this article.)

MAB: You had a bit of a setback on Valentine’s Day – I wish the legislators had shown you a little more love! Can you share with us what happened, and how you plan to proceed?

The Valentine’s Day massacre of justice in the Virginia legislature
(image by OneVirginia2021)
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Cannon: The legislature killed a number of smart, thought-out proposals on how to end or at least curb gerrymandering in Virginia. What we saw this session, however, was a growing number of bipartisan supporters in both the House and Senate of Virginia. We also saw tens of thousands of people speak out for this. So while we may have lost the battle this session, we are only growing stronger to win the war. We can only lose by giving up. But we are not going away.

Up next is a lawsuit against some of the most gerrymandered districts – drawn by both Democrats and Republicans – that is in Richmond Circuit Court on March 13th. Virginians also have a chance to weigh in on this session’s votes in June primaries and November’s general election. OneVirginia2021‘s supporters are going to make sure this election season that gerrymandering is THE ethical issue in our politics.

MAB: Thank you. I understand that Virginians may excercise their First Amendment rights to petition the government here. And citizens around the United States can educate themselves on gerrymandering, and search for local activist groups.

Thank you both for sharing with us, and good luck!

OneVirginia2021’s crowdfunding page is here.

GerryRIGGED: Turning Democracy On Its Head upcoming screeningsin Virginia:

Richmond, Bijou Film Center, 6pm, 3/14/17

Richmond, First UU Church, 7pm, 3/18/17

Charlottesville, Private home, 3/22/17

Arlington, TBD, 7pm, 4/4/17

Richmond Private home 4/23/17

Charlottesville, PVCC, 7pm 4/26/17

Submitters Website:

Submitters Bio:

Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, 2013. In June, 2015, the combined views on her articles, diaries and quick link contributions topped one million. She was particularly happy that her article about Bree Newsome removing the Confederate flag was the one that put her past the million mark. Her art in a wide variety of media can be seen on her YouTube video, “Visionary Artist Meryl Ann Butler on Creativity and Joy” at A NYC native, her response to 9-11 was to pen an invitation to healing through creativity, entitled, “90-Minute Quilts: 15+ Projects You Can Stitch in an Afternoon” (Krause 2006), which is a bestseller in the craft field. The sequel, MORE 90-Minute Quilts: 20+ Quick and Easy Projects With Triangles and Squares was released in April, 2011. Her popular video, How to Stitch a Quilt in 90 Minutes with Meryl Ann Butler can be seen at She has been active in a number of international, arts-related projects as a citizen diplomat, and was arts advisor to Baltimore’s CIUSSR (Center for Improving US-Soviet Relations), 1987-89. She made two trips to the former USSR in 1987 and 1988 to speak to artists, craftpeople and fashion designers on the topic of utilizing the arts as a tool for global wellbeing. She created the historical “First US-Soviet Children’s Peace Quilt Exchange Project” in 1987-88, which was the first time a reciprocal quilt was given to the US from the former USSR. Her artwork is in collections across the globe. Meryl Ann is a founding member of The Labyrinth Society and has been building labyrinths since 1992. She publishes an annual article about the topic on OpEdNews on World Labyrinth Day, the first Saturday in May. On Feb 11, 2017, Senior Editor Joan Brunwasser interviewed Meryl Ann in Pink Power: Sister March, Norfolk, VA at–by-Joan-Brunwasser-Pussy-Hats-170212-681.html “Creativity and Healing: The Work of Meryl Ann Butler” by Burl Hall is at–T-by-Burl-Hall-130414-18.html Burl and Merry Hall interviewed Meryl Ann on their BlogTalk radio show, “Envision This,” at Archived articles Older archived articles, from before May 2005 are here.


About eslkevin

I am a peace educator who has taken time to teach and work in countries such as the USA, Germany, Japan, Nicaragua, Mexico, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman over the past 4 decades.
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