John Oliver: 'Literally everything about gerrymandering is stupid and wrong'

The Last Week Tonight host discussed the problems with politically motivated redrawing of state lines and how it negatively affects democracy

John Oliver has discussed the problems related to gerrymandering in America and the ongoing threat it poses to democracy.

The Last Week Tonight host spent the majority of Sunday’s episode talking about the practice, which involves redrawing state lines, often to increase a voting majority for a particular party.

While a problem, Oliver claimed that there are worse problems right now. “The greatest threat to our democracy right now is clearly whatever tweet the president has planned for Cinco de Mayo this year,” he said.

He spoke about how technology has ensured that it’s transformed into a more specific process. “Gerrymandering has become a very precise science and interestingly, it’s one of the few remaining types of science in which the Republican party currently believes,” he said.

A brief history followed, tracing back the origins of the name, including the fact that the inspiration, Elbridge Gerry’s name, is actually pronounced differently. “Literally everything about gerrymandering is stupid and wrong,” he said.

Two key components are called packing and cracking, which refer to different ways of ensuring voters are either squeezed into an area or spread out. “Packing and cracking, not to be confused with the teen drug trend of cracking and packing, which is when the teens hollow out a cucumber, fill it with crack and put it in their anus to absorb it faster,” he joked.

While it’s illegal to use gerrymandering to diminish voters of color, the same rule doesn’t apply for diminishing an opposing party. “So racial gerrymandering: no,” he said. “Partisan gerrymandering: that’s kind of OK.”

He spoke about how Republicans had used their rights to draw lines back in 2010 to increase their advantage. “The maps they drew put Democrats at a significant disadvantage,” he said. “It’s like if, instead of Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs had had to use Tim Burton instead. It’s not technically impossible to win, but it’s going to be much, much harder.”

The system would be easier if it could be evenly separated into blocks but this isn’t how states are made up. “American communities are not square,” he said. “They’re like jazz music, they’re freeform, free-flowing, and they contain a troubling amount of opioids.”

There’s also discussion about using an independent commission to draw the lines, with Oliver adding: “It’s hard to come up with a worse system than the one most states currently have.”

Guardian staff

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