From The Archives: April 2009

Gerryminder

The Gallup folks recently ranked Congressional districts across the nation on the criteria of well-being, and California’s 14th, encompassing the tony enclaves of the western Silicon Valley, topped the list.

My own district, which abuts the 14th to the south, also harbors lots of apparently happy people - the kind that tend to exercise a lot and eat vegetarian and make love in yurts and refer to where they live as “Paradise” and stuff like that.  Intrigued, I pulled up my district’s stats and a map of its boundaries from the National Atlas’ handy 110th Congress catalogue to see how it compared.

A quick glance at the map of California caused my forehead skin to involuntarily crinkle.  The boundaries of some of the districts were obviously hinky - in a geographically-distorted sort of way.  My curiosity piqued, I pored over maps of the other states.

Nine years into the 21st century, I’d thought that gerrymandering, the act of drawing voting districts to unfairly influence the political process, had long been dead and buried.  But, apparently, the rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated.

d4

Illinois' 4th District

In a Miss Gerrymander pageant, our judges would select four states for the finals: Illinois, Texas, Maryland, and North Carolina.  Each has a compelling claim to the tiara: Illinois for the exquisitely headphone-shaped 4th district, Texas for the full-scale and systematic disenfranchisement of urban voters, Maryland for maintaining a consistently-high level of bulbousness, and North Carolina for the baldfaced racial motivations of the 12th district.

North Carolina's 6th District, where it meets the 12th and 13th Districts.

North Carolina's 6th District, where it meets the 12th and 13th Districts.

Amongst our finalists, we find that North Carolina consistently draws our attentions with its multitude of breathtaking endowments.  We hope that it’s not inappropriate to say that we can’t keep our eyes off its disjointed 6th and 13th districts, both consisting of two geographically separate parts that jump over each other at a single point where the corners meet, checkboard style.  We describe such aberrant flouting of the contiguous requirement with two words - positively magnetic!

In honor of such scantily-clad monkey business, offensive to decent citizens and mathematicians everywhere, we hereby crown North Carolina as Miss Gerrymander 2009!

We realize that not every state is blessed with the advantages of a corrupt political regime.  So, in the interests of charity, let’s spread some love to the ugly ducklings with our Booby Contest For Simpletons.  For the most straighforward districting of any state containing a major metro area, Minnesota receives an Honorable Mention. Georgia, a previous contender for the Gerrymander tiara, wins the award for Most Improved.  And to kudos to Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, Alaska, American Samoa, Puerto Rico, Guam, South Dakota, Wyoming, and the Virgin Islands, for keeping it simple, stupid!  Gold stars for the bunch of you!