The Gerrymander and the Commission: Drawing Electoral Districts in the United States and Canada

30 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2013

See all articles by C.P. Hoffman

C.P. Hoffman

McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: 2006


The political systems of the United States and Canada differ substantially — the United States uses a presidential system with a bicameral legislature and Canada uses a prime ministerial model dominated by the House of Commons. However, both states rely on a first-past-the-post plurality electoral system wherein candidates face off in single-member districts with the largest votegetter winning. As such, each nation must use some procedure to draw legislative maps so that politicians and voters may know where district boundaries end.

The two nations, however, have settled upon fundamentally different models for drawing districts and for judging the validity of those districts. While political actors dominate districting in the United States, Canadian districts are drawn by independent commissions. Likewise, while American districts must be practically equal in population, Canadian districts may differ substantially to advance the interests of effective representation.

This essay analyzes the differences between American and Canadian models of districting and seeks to explain the origin of those differences. Part II looks at the American model of districting and the high levels of judicial scrutiny imposed on American districts. Part III looks at Canadian districting, the rise of independent reapportionment commissions, and the broad deference Canadian courts give to them. Finally, Part IY argues that the differences between the United States and Canada are path dependent, based primarily on minor decisions made early in the two nations' histories, incidental variations that have made reform easier at different times in the two countries, and differences in settlement patterns and demographics.

Keywords: Comparative Law, United States, Canada, Legal History, Election Law, Districting, Gerrymandering

Suggested Citation

Hoffman, Charlotte, The Gerrymander and the Commission: Drawing Electoral Districts in the United States and Canada (2006). Manitoba Law Journal, Vol. 31, No. 2, 2006, Available at SSRN:

Charlotte Hoffman (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

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