A map that shows what’s wrong with Washington

2008 Election Dot Map, NortheastThe recent government shutdown and flirtation with default has seriously deteriorated public trust in Congress, and in Washington more generally.  Disgust with Washington is often followed by bewilderment. How did things get this way?

While there is no single answer to this question, if I had to choose one, it would be current redistricting practices. There is a strong case to be made that political polarization (and associated intransigence and brinkmanship) are rooted in gerrymandered congressional districts.

Gerrymandering, the art and science of lawmakers choosing their own voters rather than the other way around, has ensured that most representatives in the U.S. House are safe from general election challenges.  Without those challenges, positions taken by elected officials are not exposed to debate and to the typically moderating effect of contested elections.  In contrast, in gerrymandered districts where it is clear that one party or the other has a more or less certain general election victory in hand, candidates from the opposing party opt out of running (or have little real chance of winning if they do). As a result, the only threats to these lawmakers come in contentious primary contests from the hard left and hard right.  Being “primaried” is now a common term among political strategists, and is often used to describe well-financed tea party challengers who unseat moderate Republicans. As moderation, from either side, is lost in primary challenges, the result is more rigidly ideological victors and the deadlock we see with increasing frequency in Congress.

This connection between redistricting, polarization, and legislative dysfunction is complicated, and as soon as political scientists start talking about the nuances of this subject the message sometimes gets lost.  So I decided to create a visual to help illuminate what is really going on…

Link to the full interactive Congressional Dot Map.

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Viable electoral college reform?

Artist Neil Freeman published a map of the United States redrawn to have 50 states with equal population, an art project that addresses what he says is “the fundamental problem of the electoral college”: “that the states of the United States are too disparate in size and influence.”

Fifty States with Equal Population

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New redistricting move proposes big changes to Virginia Senate districts

On Monday, the Virginia Senate narrowly passed (20-19) a new redistricting bill that will dramatically change the boundaries of the current Senate districts drawn just two years ago.  The plan, passed by Senate Republicans on a party-line vote when a Democratic Senator was away on Inauguration Day, has been criticized by Democrats as an overt attempt to give Republicans an advantage in future elections by “packing” and “cracking” black communities in Virginia in order to dilute their voting power.  Republican Sen. John Watkins, the legislator who sponsored the redistricting amendments, instead says the new plan would defuse possible Voting Rights Act legal challenges by creating a new minority-majority district and also cited improvements in district compactness.

The move by Senate Republicans is unusual, as such massive changes to a district map are typically reserved for redistricting sessions right after the decennial census.  As a result, this recent redistricting drama has garnered much national attention this week and was a top-ten story on Politico.com Wednesday.

The Virginia Public Access Project has made the proposed HB259 plan available for viewing on their interactive maps:

Virginia Map of Senate Redistricting Plan HB259

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