Rigged elections are like the stuff of movies. It's hard to believe it can happen in real life.

But it turns out it can and does. All the time, actually. But not at the polls.


Photo by Logan Mock-Bunting/Getty Images.

It's a common practice known as redistricting or "gerrymandering." The process can be very confusing, and politicians have little to gain by making it easier for us to understand.

Thankfully, fact wizard Adam Conover is coming at us with the basics of how gerrymandering works.

The former CollegeHumor personality who now stars in truTV's "Adam Ruins Everything" is here to break it down with the eye-opening clarity we need.

All images from truTV/YouTube.

"Every 10 years," he explains, "politicians redraw the districts that pick the House and state legislatures."

But that's not the problem. This is:

So in effect, they can determine election outcomes years ahead of the actual elections. And obviously, politicians with that much control are going to exercise some bias.

Conover illustrates this twisted but totally legal concept with the fictional state of “Newstateadelphia."

Voter registration in this state is pretty straightforward: 40% are members of the Yellow Party. The other 60% of voters belong to the Purple Party.

So creating electoral districts should be pretty easy, right?

"Now, if you divided this state into districts fairly, you'd get perfect representation," Conover explains. "Three purple districts and two yellow districts."

Here's what fair districting would look like:

But "fairly" and "politics" aren't always words that go hand in hand.

As Conover points out, if the Purple Party controls the entire district-making process, they can create districts that give them complete control over the state.

Here's what that might look like:

Redrawing districts so Purple voters are the majority dramatically increases the likelihood of a Purple candidate winning in that district. And once your party is in power, you can start passing laws.

It also works in reverse: Even a party with fewer voters in an area can redraw districts to their benefit.

"Even though the Yellow Party has less voters in Newstateadelphia, if they're allowed to redraw the lines, they can still win," Conover says. "And this happens every election year in America."

Does that sound like rigging an election? Some would would say it's the very definition of it.

Watch Conover's full explainer below, and if you want our votes to carry the weight they deserve, pass this along.