Sometimes called, "The Horseshoe", the 4th Congressional District of Illinois is considered one of the worst examples of gerrymandering in current US political geography. The district includes two separate East-West sub-districts, one largely Puerto Rican the other Mexican in population. In order for it to be considered a single district, all areas must be connected. For District 4, this is done via a thin strip of land along Highway 294. There is no population contained in this strip so it serves solely as a connector.
Gerrymandering is widespread across the United States and other countries. It was named after, Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry who's party drew up a serpentine-shaped district to favor his upcoming election. Gerrymander is a combination of Gerry and Salamander. Today Gerrymandering is carried out by both Democrats and Republicans to preserve the status of their party in certain districts. Gerrymandering has numerous negative impacts on the voting population including,
-- less competitive elections
-- increased security for the incumbant
-- more loyalty to the party and less to the district's population
This lack of focus on the population being represented means that voters are disenfranchised which can reduce voter turnout. Numerous attempts have been made to reverse gerrymandering but the problem persists. Because gerrymandering often favors both parties (albeit in separate districts) there is little chance of re-districting bills getting the necessary support to pass. California finally passed a state-wide proposition to (attempt to) fix the problem in 2008. The new maps were approved by citizens in a separate proposition in the November 2012 election.
Note: the above map was made in May 2011 but is generally consistent with how the district looked for the November 2012 elections.
Sources: National Atlas , Wikipedia , University of Illinois