In case you didn’t get the memo, allow these designers to spell it out for you, literally: Gerrymandering is bad.
Gerrymandering is the process of drawing congressional districts to give one political party electoral power over the other, or to ensure safe seats, which often results in fairly ridiculous district shapes. It’s a partisan problem that has garnered bipartisan scorn because both sides do it. Opponents of the practice say it disenfranchises voters and can skew the balance of power at the state and national levels.
To illustrate their scorn for the practice, three Chicago-based digital creatives created a font whose letters are composed of real-life districts, their borders so contorted that they resemble letters of the alphabet. Some states, such as California and Arizona, have attempted to stop gerrymandering by allowing independent panels to draw districts instead of lawmakers, though that hasn’t deterred the Ugly Gerry team from using California districts to form the letters “A,” “X” and “T” or Arizona’s 6th to represent “O.”
At UglyGerry.com, visitors can download the font or type their own messages, like so:
Users are then encouraged to tweet at their representatives and encourage them to end the practice.
The font was created by Ben Doessel and James Lee, who work for the advertising firm Leo Burnett in Chicago, while the website was created by freelancer Kevin McGlone. The project is independent of the firm but has its endorsement.
“To ensure the eroding of democracy isn’t an issue that is lost in the news cycle, our design team from Chicago concocted a creative way to keep our warped voting districts top-of-mind,” the creators said in a statement.
The Chicago-based team noticed that the Illinois 4th District “looked like a U, then after seeing other letters on the map, the idea hit us: Let’s create a typeface so our districts can become digital graffiti that voters and politicians can’t ignore.”
In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew the state’s districts after the map was found to be gerrymandered to Republicans’ advantage.
But several states’ maps remain embroiled in controversy. North Carolina has been locked in a legal battle over its gerrymandered lines engineered by Republicans. In 2018, a federal court struck down its maps after finding that the districts had been purposely drawn to disadvantage Democrats. But in a reversal of fate, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision dominated by its conservatives, that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts” and that states or Congress should pass laws to prevent it. Voting rights activists opened a legal challenge to North Carolina’s gerrymandering in July.
That Supreme Court ruling also allowed another state — Maryland, whose legislature is controlled by Democrats — to proceed with business as usual. After the decision, Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, said he would reintroduce a bill that would pass redistricting power to an independent commission, rather than politicians.
As court and legislative battles play out, the Ugly Gerry team hopes to keep pressuring politicians to draw their lines more fairly. Users on the website can tweet a message, written in Gerry font, to their representatives.
It might be best, though, to keep the messages brief. Much like the maps it’s mocking, the font is kind of hard to read.
Graphic: Where do you draw the lines?