What is “Gerrymandering”?

There are only two states in the nation where voters are asked to vote multiple times for the same candidates until one of them secures a plurality (not just a majority) of the vote: Louisiana and Georgia. Originally implemented in Georgia in the 1960s to ensure that whites would rally around white Democratic candidates, run-off elections have become a persistent weapon of racist voter suppression. Overwhelmingly benefiting Republican candidates today, runoff elections are just one example of voting restrictions aimed primarily at minority voters.

With Georgia in the midst of another runoff election, it is helpful to remember all of the obstacles that African American voters face each election season. In this clip, Dawn Blagrove—an attorney and the Executive Director of Emancipate NC—reminds her audience of the legacy of gerrymandering and how the process is used to dilute the voting power of Black voters. (Emancipate NC is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to “dismantling structural racism and mass incarceration across North Carolina … through community education, narrative shift, and litigation.”) 

This is an excerpt from her keynote address on September 9, 2022, to the “Voices of Change: Contested Citizenship Conference,” hosted by Meredith College in Raleigh, NC. The regional conference was part of the national Legacies of American Slavery: Reckoning with the Past initiative. You can watch the entire address at https://vimeo.com/748194386.

For more on the history and legacy of runoff elections, please see:

  • “For Black Georgians, voting restrictions are more of the same. These slave narratives prove it,” CNN (March 28, 2021): LINK. Using the WPA Slave Narratives as a primary source of memory about the descent into Jim Crow, this article highlights the persistent threat to the voting rights of Black Americans.
  • “Georgia’s Runoff Elections Have a Racist History” Time (November 10, 2022): LINK. Traces the history of the runoff system in Georgia from 1963 and answers questions about the effects of runoff elections and what opponents of the system are hoping to replace it with.