Azavea Atlas

Maps, geography and the web is Live — Political Gerrymandering Research

I wanted to share a quick note that we launched today.

Redistricting the Nation allows the public to:

  • Enter their address (nation-wide) and view the “shape” of their federal, state, and local election districts.
  • Learn who is in charge of drawing the boundaries of their election districts (e.g., independent commissions or elected representatives).
  • Compare the “compactness” scores of their election district to other, similar districts (less compact and unusually shaped districts are more likely to be gerrymandered).
  • Draw new district boundaries on a map and generate compactness scores for the new district.
2009-10-21_1647-RTNscreenshot Screenshot

Redistricting Top 10: CA-23 (1)

You’re such a wonder that I think I’ll stay in bed.

              –Rufus Wainwright

California’s 23rd Congressional District is at the very top of our Top Ten list!

CA-23—a long, skinny strip of land along California’s central coast—is a product of the state legislature’s latest bi-partisan gerrymander. Several California representatives have admitted that the post-2000 Census redistricting effort was an “incumbent retention plan” for both political parties. CA-23 is in good company; the district joins CA-15(#12), CA-53 (#13), CA-38 (#15), and CA-7 (#18) at the top of our least compact Congressional District list, making California a true “wonder” when it comes to gerrymandering.

California's 23rd Congressional District: The least compact U.S. House District

California's 23rd congressional district: The least compact U.S. House District

Hope (and a reason to get out of bed) is in sight. In November 2008, Californians narrowly passed Proposition 11—an amendment to the state constitution that places the authority to draw state-level district boundaries in the hands of an independent, 14-member commission.  The task of redrawing Congressional districts was not part of Proposition 11, though a Congressional Redistricting Initiative may be added to the November 2010 ballot, just in time for the post-2010 Census redistricting process.

And with that we officially launch Redistricting the Nation!

Redistricting Top 10: FL-22 (2)

The Sunshine State makes a second appearance on our Top Ten list with FL-22—a classic example of an incumbent gerrymander. Florida’s 22nd Congressional District starts its beach crawl in Jupiter and ends in a flourish around Fort Lauderdale (without including much of the city proper). Republican redistricters handcrafted FL-22 after the 2000 Census by removing a heavily Democratic section of Miami-Dade County and extending the district boundaries further into Palm Beach County. Their goal was to provide a safe seat for Republican Clay Shaw, who was soundly re-elected in 2002 and 2004, serving a total of 13 terms in office. Democrat Ron Klein later defeated Shaw in the 2006 election.

Florida's 22nd Congressional District: The 2nd least compact U.S. House District

Florida's 22nd Congressional District: The 2nd least compact U.S. House District

Tomorrow morning we’ll unveil the #1 least compact congressional district before launching our hotly-anticipated Redistricting the Nation site. Stay tuned!

Redistricting Top 10: NC-12 (3)

The countdown continues, and followers of redistricting politics are sure to recognize the third least compact U.S. House district in the count: North Carolina’s Twelfth Congressional District.  From its re-establishment following the 1990 Census and reapportionment, the district’s boundaries have been the subject of frequent litigation. The legal wrangling ultimately resulted in a ruling in favor of the plan’s legality because it was a partisan—rather than racial—gerrymander, once again illustrating the perverse logic that governs gerrymandering.

North Carolina's 12th Congressional District: The 3rd least compact U.S. House District

North Carolina's 12th Congressional District: The 3rd least compact U.S. House District

In 1996 the Supreme Court ruled that the boundaries of the district (different than those shown here) were unconstitutional because race had been a predominant factor in their formation, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Over the next 5 years the proposed district boundaries underwent a series of changes and court challenges, and in 2001 the Supreme Court upheld the district boundaries as constitutional, finding that political party affiliation, rather than race, had been the predominant factor in the district drawing process. By that time, of course, the 2000 Census had already been completed and the cycle would begin again.

Similar to IL-04, the case of NC-12 exemplifies that tangled considerations that are at stake when devising a districting plan. States that are subject to the preclearance section of the Voting Rights Act have often walked a fine line with respect to ensuring that racial minorities are furnished with an opportunity for elected representation without verging into race-based gerrymandering. From the perspective of political parties, Republicans and largely Democratic African-American voters often find their interests to be strangely aligned through the packing of  minority voters into a single district. White Democratic candidates, meanwhile, can benefit from the breakup of such districts, which can boost their chances of election through the dispersion of African-American Democrats into neighboring districts.