Speed Reads


John Oliver explains how gerrymandering hurts weirdos, racists, and democracy

"There is understandable concern at the moment about the personalities harming our democracy, but tonight let's talk about one of the major structural problems," John Oliver said on Sunday's Last Week Tonight, and that's the closest he got to mentioning President Trump. Democrats in particular love to complain about gerrymandering, but it is "a real problem," Oliver said. He showed how more than 40 percent of voters in Ohio and Pennsylvania chose a Democrat in 2014, and Democrats won only a small fraction of the seats.

Thanks to technology, "gerrymandering has become a very precise science — and interestingly, it is one of the few remaining types of science in which the Republican Party currently believes," Oliver quipped, noting that Democrats use the technique, too. Redrawing electoral boundaries is actually necessary as populations change, but in 37 states, he noted, the redrawing of those lines every 10 years is controlled by the state legislature, whose members have a "pretty clear vested interest" in protecting their seats and party power.

Oliver explained two techniques, packing and cracking, and how racial gerrymandering is illegal but partisan redistricting is fine. In 2010, Republicans poured $30 million into state-level races, won big, redrew the maps to their favor, and in 2012, sent 33 more lawmakers to the House than Democrats, even though Democrats cast 1.1 million more ballots for House members nationwide. For the Democrats, gerrymandering is "like if instead of Tim Duncan, the San Antonio Spurs had had to use Tim Burton," he said. "It's not technically impossible to win, but it's going to be much, much harder."

"Not all weird-shaped districts are bad, and not all normal-shaped districts are good," Oliver said, and "gerrymandering is not the sole reason for the mismatch between our popular vote percentages and our representation. Some of that is due to where Democrats choose to live." But more states should hand redistricting duties to independent commissions, he said. "Lawmakers should not be allowed to dilute our votes by drawing their own lines and essentially picking their own voters." Then he had his big finish, bringing on stage people he suggested had made bad decisions — Insane Clown Posse superfans, 47-year-old Quidditch players, erotic bakers, Jill Stein voters, racist grandmas. "Think about it," Oliver said: "Election results should not be the fault of lawmakers' crazy lines, they should be the result of our own crazy decisions." Watch below, warned that there's some NSFW stuff in here. Peter Weber