Fixing America’s Ugliest Congressional District

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Maryland3rd

Maryland’s 3rd congressional district has been called the nation’s most gerrymandered (or, to be more blunt about it, “America’s ugliest congressional district”). To some observers, it resembles blood spatter at a crime scene; others see “a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Software engineer Brian Olson has spent his spare time coming up with a solution to the problem of ridiculous gerrymandering–which, of course, is mostly created by legislators hoping to maintain (or create) a political edge. His program creates “optimally compact” districts.

To see such efforts in action, compare the current Maryland Congress map:
MD500
with the “optimally compact” map:
map500

Of course, compactness isn’t the only issue at stake when it comes to districting. As the Washington Post points out, some people argue that districts should comprise “communities of interest” — that is, they should have some overarching commonality. But the Post also argues that high-minded appeals to such “communities of interest” often get twisted to serve political interests. It’s hard to imagine why a simple, computer-drawn district map would really be that much worse.



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2 COMMENTS

  1. ” “communities of interest” often get twisted to serve political interests. It’s hard to imagine why a simple, computer-drawn district map would really be that much worse.”
    So long as certain precautions are taken, they might even be better. But I wonder if the algorithm has been designed to avoid cutting my block in half, or having the boundary go down the middle of a small town. Are those “compact” districts based solely on geography, or is there some consideration to county lines, or population densities, or transportation times?
    It wold be great to get rid of the gerrymander. I hope it can be done in a sensible manner. But any first step will be better than what we have (unless you are an incumbent politician).

    • Good point, Jim – the way he avoids splitting blocks (etc) is by basing his calculations on census tracts — which themselves have been designed to divide areas in a (roughly) logical way.

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