In the 1980s, as California redrew its Congressional district boundaries after the census, one Congressman called his draft of a district map his “contribution to modern art,” because of its amorphous, amoebic shape. But he was far from alone in creating a shapeless, non-contiguous, non-compact, gerrymandered Congressional district. And this year, as states wrestle with the latest census update, new weirdly configured boundaries—clearly designed to favor one party or incumbent over another—are making America’s electoral maps more bizarre than ever.
Roll Call has studied the maps and has identified five of the most oddly shaped districts created in this year’s partisan map-making circus. And in the spirit of modern art, they’ve even named them, like this one, which Roll Call has dubbed “The Pinwheel of Death.”
The titles are cute, but the reality of these obviously gerrymandered districts is not. As we learned in Civics 101, the rules for drawing Congressional districts call for compactness and contiguousness.
When you see a district, such as Ohio’s 9th District, which is “contiguous” only because two parts of it are connected by a 20-yd.-wide bridge, it’s hard to believe that there was a serious attempt at sticking to the rules. And don’t just blame Republicans. When they get the chance, Democrats create contorted districts, too.
More quandaries about Congressional boundaries
The ugly districts depicted by Roll Call will not be the last ones that will come out of the sausage maker this year. Stay tuned for more, because—with less than 11 months to go before the 2012 election—six of America’s seven most populous states have yet to come up with plans for their Congressional districts. According to Ballot Access News, here’s the situation in Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois and Ohio:
- The legislatures of Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania still haven’t passed any congressional redistricting bills.
- In Texas and Illinois, the legislatures have passed bills to draw new U.S. House districts, but lawsuits are challenging the new districts, and courts have already ordered the normal petitioning period for primary ballot access in those states pushed back.
- In Ohio, the U.S. House districts were redrawn by the legislature, but a referendum petition is circulating. If the petition obtains enough signatures, the legislature’s plan can’t be used until the people vote on the plan in November 2012.
The only states that we can count on to have rational, contiguous and compact districts are those where there’s only one Congressperson–although the shape of the district does not guarantee a rational Congressional representative. Your options are Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.
Gloria Shur Bilchik is a freelance writer and community volunteer in St. Louis, Missouri. She is the editor of Occasional Planet. She views the preservation of progressive values as vital to making the US a humane, livable place for her children and grandchildren.