Spot the Gerrymander

One of the following maps is the current gerrymander of Maryland’s Congressional District, and the other is my attempt at fair districts for Maryland.

Map 1

Map 2

I’ve written before on how to create fair districts.  Let a computer do it, minimizing the lengths of internal borders, subject to the districts being roughly the same size.  In response to that idea, the late Ron Smith of WBAL radio said,

“That’s an interesting idea. The problem is that it would defeat the very purpose of gerrymandering, which is one of the rewards for gaining the upper hand as a political party. Pols probably wouldn’t relinquish that very easily.”

My reply was:

I have no illusions on something like this.  This could not come from inside the system, it would have to come around the system through a constitutional amendment process.  What’s worse, is that I don’t think there are any interest groups with money that would back such a proposal.

Now, I decided to trying an experiment.  I can imagine someone making the following argument:

What? Are you crazy?  Leave it to a computer?  Computers don’t respect the unique culture of political subdivisions within a state!  People on opposite sides of the street could be in different districts!  A large city could be split in two or three, with no respect for the various subcultural groups, which would lose their voice!  Haven’t you heard of the Voting Rights Act!?

Well, okay. Let’s try doing something a little different.  Let’s start with the next largest subdivision in states — counties.  Let’s try to do a few things:

  • Have districts that are roughly equal-sized.
  • Have districts that come from similar geographic areas of the state.
  • Divide up counties as little as possible.
  • When dividing counties use straight lines.

Three counties were larger than the amount needed for a seat — Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Baltimore County (not city, which is its own county).  That’s where I drew three short lines, giving bits of those counties to other districts.

The top map is my creation.  Given the odd geography of Maryland, I think it does a good job of creating equal districts amid the diverse cultural geography of Maryland.

  1. Western Maryland (rural)
  2. The Eastern Shore (rural)
  3. Southern Maryland along the Chesapeake Bay (suburban/rural)
  4. Montgomery County near DC (urban)
  5. Prince George’s County with Charles County to the South (urban)
  6. Baltimore County less its southern fringe (suburban/urban)
  7. Baltimore City w/Baltimore County’s southern fringe (urban)
  8. Central Maryland (suburban/rural)

When I look at the second map, I can’t see how any of the districts are fair.  They are discretionary, jagged, concave to the max.  Why anyone should rule that these districts are fair is beyond me.

To those who live in Maryland, which is maybe 2% of my audience: what would it take to get a ballot measure together to change the way that we set districts?  To those living in other states, maybe you want to consider a similar shift.

Looking at my map, I suspect the congressional composition would be 3-5 Democrat to 4-4 Tied, versus the 2-6 we have today, and the 4-4 that existed when I first moved here in 1998.

If representatives were elected proportionately, Maryland would be 3-5, blue as the state is.

These are just my musings, but I will be passing them on to my friends in Maryland.

Update: Microcap made a good comment, I’d like to highlight the start of it here:

David: this is my “hot button” issue for 2012.

I am very surprised you missed that there IS a ballot question that got enough signatures to be on the fall 2012 ballot. The measure would overturn the current map.

This isn’t a permanent fix but at least it’s a start.

I’m glad that’s on the ballot.  I guess I don’t follow state & local to the degree I follow national & global.  We can vote down the current gerrymander, but we need something to replace it with.  Maybe my proposal could be a ballot initiative next time.


  • microcap says:

    David: this is my “hot button” issue for 2012.

    I am very surprised you missed that there IS a ballot question that got enough signatures to be on the fall 2012 ballot. The measure would overturn the current map.

    This isn’t a permanent fix but at least it’s a start.

    I live in the part of Montgomery County that was gerrymandered to the 6th district from the 8th. In one of the best educated districts in the country, I would wager that more than half of the thousands of voters affected don’t even realize that their member of Congress has changed. So to a certain extent, the citizens are themselves to blame, especially in Maryland which is so horribly governed.

    What the Democrats in Maryland [and Republicans in other states] have done is ridiculous, capricious, and destructive to America.

    My regular comment is a variant on Einstein’s insanity definition. Both political parties have established a system where 90% of districts are essentially one party districts. This leads to hyperpartisan members getting elected on both sides. Then, everyone wonders why when these fire-breathers get to DC, they can’t “work together” to find decent solutions to problems!

    Anyway, sorry for the rant, I hope you will revisit this issue as November gets closer. It will be interesting to see if Marylanders wake up to what has happened.

  • matthew49 says:

    While computers may not be able to understand the cultures of the political subdivisions within the state, they can certainly judge which of two (or more) human-drawn redistricting plans has the shortest internal borders. The majority can propose a plan, the minority can propose an alternate, and a computer can tell which has shortest total length of district borders, i.e., which has the most compact districts. This is very do-able if the legislature wants to do it. Unfortunately, the majority certainly does not want to give up gerrymandered redistricting for compact, rational districts as in your plan.

  • microcap says:

    2 Final comments:

    1) I have been AMAZED at how few Marylanders [one of the best educated state populations in the U.S.] either know or seem to care about this gerrymander and the initiative. [Not a slap at you David :)]

    Interestingly, that liberal bastion The Washington Post has been quite vocal about this gerrymander and how disgraceful it is. Good for them!

    2) When you explain the issue and show the map to people, even staunch liberal Democrats, they are really ticked off and are ready to support the initiative.

    Anyway, I intend to email all my fellow Marylanders a few times before the election to hopefully assist the initiative. I urge David and all Maryland blog readers to do the same.

  • Doug says:

    David, your computer program *must* comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (U.S.C. §§ 1973–1973aa-6). That’s why a lot of common-sense districts can’t be created–human judgement