There I fixed it: Ungerrymandering West Virginia

Continuing our gerrymandering series: Almost Heaven…

Suggested new Congressional Districts for West Virginia (red and green), along with the boundary between the official new districts (white). Click for a larger view.

Usual deal with this map: my fixed districts are shown by color: red for District 1 and green for District 2. The white line shows the boundary between the state’s two districts, adopted by the state legislature and signed into law by Republican governor Jim Justice.

Last week, we met the first state in my list to gain a representative in the House: Montana. Today, we meet the first state to lose a representative. West Virginia lost population between 2010 and 2020 – nearly 60,000 people, mostly from moving to other states – and so the state goes from three Congressional districts to two.

There’s not much to say about the strategy for redistricting one of only four states where the majority of the population lives in rural areas. Although Jefferson County at the tip of the Eastern Panhandle is part of the Washington, DC metropolitan statistical area (MSA), the largest MSA mostly within West Virginia is Huntington (+Ashland, Ohio), which ranks 150th in the country; the MSA containing the state capital of Charleston ranks 190th.

Huntington and Charleston both end up in District 1, both by my accounting and by the officially legislated districts. Either way, the district border splits the state in half, north and south. Like the entire state, both districts are heavily Republican, and will produce little drama in the general election this November.

What will be interesting is that the loss of a district means that two sitting representatives – David McKinley (R-WV-1) and Alex Mooney (R-WV-2) must now run against each other in the Republican primary in the northern district. Mooney is a darling of former President Trump, which would seem to make him the favorite, but because of the way the lines got drawn, most of the new district overlaps with the old district that McKinley represented, where is quite popular. So who knows. We’ll find out when the primary happens on Tuesday May 10, 2022.

Ten states fixed, forty to go.

There I fixed it: Ungerrymandering Rhode Island

Continuing my ambitious project to fix the 435 U.S. House districts, today we come to the first state that is obviously, stupidly gerrymandered:

Suggested (colors) and official (white line boundary) new Congressional Districts for Rhode Island. The black box shows the area of the inset around Providence; the yellow line shows the boundary of the city of Providence. Blue areas are water. Click on the image for a larger version.

Why would you have the boundary between your two Congressional districts run right down the middle of the largest city in your state? Ask the Rhode Island state legislature, which approved this new redistricting plan on February 17, 2022. The new districts are nearly identical to the districts used for the last five House elections.

In the map above, notice how the boundary between District 1 (to the right of the white line) and District 2 (to the left) aggressively jumps to the east to split the city of Providence – Rhode Island’s largest city, containing about 20 percent of the population of the state. That jump is even clearer in the inset map of Providence in the top right; compare the district boundary (white) to the city boundary (yellow).

Compare that weirdness with my plan for redistricting Rhode Island. Remember the rules: beginning in the middle of the largest metro area in the state, I start assigning census tracts to a district until that district has accounted for the target population I am looking for: the total population of the state divided by the number of districts. So for Rhode Island, I started in Providence and worked my way out until I had 549,802 people in the district.

The result was that the entirety of the cities of Providence, East Providence, Pawtucket, Warwick, Cranston, and Central Falls are in my District 1, along with several tracts outside of any city just to the north of Providence. This map shows how my fixed districts line up with city borders:

Cities in Fixed District 1 (yellow outlines, with city names labeled)

In all the states I have fixed – and I have far more than I have shown so far – I have tried to keep cities together in the same district, and I have succeeded nearly every time.

With Rhode Island fixed, it’s now nine down, forty-one to go.

The bigger the states get, the more fun the ungerrymandering gets. Stay tuned!

Join the Defense

This one goes out to everyone, all over the political spectrum. Progressives, conservatives, liberals, Marxists, libertarians, moderates, anarchists, and whatever else I might have forgotten. I have friends of all these ideologies (I work hard to keep them) – and chances are, you identify more or less with some of these. This one’s for you.

By now I’m sure you have heard the story of the defenders of Snake Island.

Ostriv Zmiinyi (Ukrainian for Snake Island) is a tiny island in the Black Sea, just off the coast from the Danube Delta. See the satellite image below, from Google Maps. In normal times, the island is home to about 30 people who work at either at a scientific research station.

Snake Island, Ukraine (from Google Maps)
Click on the image for a larger version, or view the island in Google Maps

But these are not normal times. When Russia invaded Ukraine last Thursday, the island was occupied only by thirteen border guards – not professional soldiers. That day, at around 6 PM local time (1600 GMT), the Russian missile cruiser Moskva approached the island. The ship radioed to shore and the following conversation ensued, livestreamed by one of the guards (whose name has apparently been withheld, but if it gets releases, I’ll add it here):

Moskva: This is Russian warship. Russian warship to Zmiinyi Island, this is Russian warship. I propose to lay down your arms and surrender to avoid bloodshed and needless casualties. Otherwise we will strike. Zmiinyi Island, this is Russian warship, I repeat. I propose to lay down weapons, surrender, otherwise you will be bombed. Do you read?

Border Guard (to fellow guard): Well, fuck these too, right? Just in case…

Border Guard (to Moskva):

Russian warship, go fuck yourself!

Something about that line… it stuck. Maybe it was the contrast between the formal language of “Russian warship…” and the defiant message of “…go fuck yourself.” A meme was born, and a rallying cry. What “Remember the Alamo!” had been to the Texas Revolution and “¡No Pasarán!” had been to the Anti-Fascists of the Spanish Civil War, “Russian warship, go fuck yourself” had become to the defense of Ukraine.

And, against all odds, the defense of Ukraine seems to be working. As it continues, “Russian warship, go fuck yourself” will embed itself deeper and deeper into the public consciousness. And that brings us back to the purpose of this post.

Even if the defense of Ukraine succeeds and the Russians fuck themselves all the way back to Moscow, that’s not going to be the end of this. Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin will remain firmly in charge in Russia, arresting and murdering opponents with impunity. Russia still has a powerful disinformation campaign to influence public opinion to its cause.

Kim Jong-Un (left) and Xi Jinping (center) arrive in Moscow for a summit with Vladimir Putin (right)

And, most worryingly, authoritarianism is taking hold all over the world. Politicians in multiple countries – even here in the United States – are saying that they can fix the world’s problems if you only give them more power, and are talking openly about ignoring the results of elections.

And then there’s China.

The danger posed by authoritarianism is bigger than it has been any time since at least the end of the Cold War.

That’s why I am asking everyone, of all the political stripes I mentioned above: please, let’s set aside our differences and fight the shared threat that authoritarianism represents. Because if we don’t, our differences will no longer make a damn bit of difference. We won’t get to debate how to run the world, and we won’t have the option of making our voices heard through our votes and our advocacy. All decisions will be made by leaders that we did not elect and cannot speak out against.

Please, let’s set aside our differences, and all shout together:

Authoritarianism, go fuck yourself!


Authoritarianism didn’t work out so well last time either.
Read more about it at 11:11/11+100: A Snapshot in the Family Album.

There I fixed it: Ungerrymandering Montana

Continuing our gerrymandering series with the the sideboob of the Rockies, the state that’s all up in Idaho’s personal space:

Suggested new Congressional Districts for Montana (red and green), along with the boundary between the official new districts (white). Click for a larger view.

Montana has major reason to celebrate this year. For the past 30 years, they have had only a single representative in the U.S. House, currently Republican Matt Rosendale. Their population has increased enough that they now get a second.

Two Congressional districts means they have to draw them on a map, and mapping districts means the potential for gerrymandering. And the potential for gerrymandering means the potential for me to do it better.

Except I don’t think I did this time. Montana was the easiest state for my arranging of proposed districts; I was able to do it all at the county level. I divided Montana into a western District 1 (red) and an eastern District 2 (green). About 60 percent of the way down the boundary, my District 1 juts to the left, just south of Montana’s capital city of Helena. Helena, and all of Lewis and Clark County, is in District 2 – but Jefferson County immediately to the south is in District 1.

Montana, like Idaho, has a bipartisan independent redistricting committee. Their results are shown with the white dividing line in the image above, with District 1 on the left and District 2 on the right. Notice how their line gives much more space around Helena – I think they did a better job drawing districts than I did.

Don’t worry, that’s unlikely to happen again.

There I fixed it: Ungerrymandering Idaho

Continuing our series on gerrymandering and its effects: last time I announced my ambitious project to fix the 435 U.S. House districts, one state at a time. Today is where things get interesting. Who da ho?

Suggested new Congressional Districts for Idaho (red and green), along with the boundary between the official new districts (white). Click for a larger view.

Idaho has two House districts to plan. The map above shows both the districts I came up with (red is District 1 and green is District 2). The white line shows the boundary between the new districts that were approved by Idaho’s independent, bipartisan redistricting commission in a public meeting on November 5th, 2021.

I made my “there I fixed it” map without consulting the official new districts set by the redistricting commission, because I wanted to get a fresh and independent look at the solving the problem of dividing up the state into reasonable electoral districts. My approach, as I outlined on Monday, is to start with the largest metropolitan area in the state and move out until I fill up one district. In the case of a state like Idaho that has only two districts, that’s all I need to do: filling up one district will automatically set the other, which will include all census tracts not selected.

There is only one reasonably large metropolitan area in Idaho: Boise. The 2010 Idaho Congressional Districts map annoyingly split the city of Boise, so I wanted to make sure to keep the Boise metropolitan area as part of the same district. I kept it all in District 1. I ended up having to put the dividing line across the Twin Falls metropolitan area – and indeed, the city of Twin Falls (Idaho’s eighth-largest city). But I managed to put most of Twin Falls into District 1, with only the northeastern edge in District 2.

What about the actual map that will be used for Idaho’s House elections from 2022 to 2032? It’s not too bad. It’s actually a big improvement over the 2010 edition, which split the city of Boise. The new map features almost all of Boise in District 2, except for a small area in the southwest in District 1.

Montana is creepy

So that’s one more state ungerrymandered. Including Idaho with the six one-district states means that we are now at seven down, forty-three to go.

Up next: Idaho’s frenemy, Montana.

There I fixed it: Ungerrymandering America

Recently we’ve been looking at gerrymandering, the practice of drawing the borders of legislative districts for the benefit of a political party or some other group. So far, we have looked at the history of gerrymandering, introduced a simple measure of how gerrymandered a district is, and mapped and measured all the House of Representatives electoral districts across the United States.

You might wonder why I am discussing gerrymandering now, and you might already know the answer to that question: states are right now in the process of redrawing their Congressional districts to reflect the composition of the U.S. as measured by the 2020 Census.

Just Say No to salamanders!

In some states, independent commissions draw the boundaries; in others, state legislatures do. Because state legislatures are controlled by one or the other of the USA’s two political parties, this provides an excellent opportunity for the parties that control state legislatures to draw districts to their advantage. Redistricting won’t happen again until the results of the 2030 Census are released in summer 2031 – meaning that the districts being planned right now are the districts that will be used in the next five house elections, thus shaping American democracy for an entire decade.

Now is the time to talk about gerrymandering because now is the time for gerrymandering.

We’ll return to the main post series soon, to look at some of the strategies these legislatures are using, and which party will benefit most from the upcoming changes. But today, we’ll start a new series that answers the question that state independent commissions ask, and state legislatures should ask: how to we draw districts fairly?

I’m here to find out.

I am at a major disadvantage compared to the state legislatures and independent redistricting commissions that are actually doing the redistricting. They have proprietary mapping software and highly-paid consultants to deliver the desired result; I’m just Some Guy on the Internet. But I have two major advantages. First, I have access to a virtual supercomputer through my institute’s flagship product, the SciServer Science Platform (and so do you – it’s free to everyone online!). Second, I am very, very stubborn.

I retrieved the 2020 reapportionment data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s website. This is exactly the same data that the redistricting commissions and state legislatures are now using to plan their new districts for 2022-2032. It’s important to note that I don’t have to download the entire 23 Gigabytes of data to my laptop – I can transfer all the data by FTP or Globus and store it all in the Terabytes of temporary space available in SciServer Compute. If I don’t use the data in 30 days, it will be automatically deleted; but that’s no problem, I can just transfer the data again, free.

Once I get the data, what do I do with it? I’ll go into much more detail later, but basically, I start with whatever is the largest and/or most centrally-located city of the largest metropolitan area in the state. That’s the center of a district. I assign that district a number, usually the district number of that city had in the 2010 district map (for example, downtown Miami is currently District 27, so I assign downtown Miami as District 27 and go from there). I choose census tracts for that district until I reach the target population for each district (which is published as part of the Census data). I continue until I have covered the entire metropolitan area with districts. Then I move on to the next-largest metropolitan area in the state, then the next, and so on. At some point, I run up against either a nearby metro area or the edge of the state and I start filling in a new district there.

This is mostly a manual process, and it’s a bit time-consuming, but I’ve got scripts to automate the parts that can be automated, and it’s kind of fun. I’ll go through each state, one state at a time, to show you the following three maps:

  1. What the state’s Congressional districts look like now (based on results of the 2010 Census)
  2. What the state’s new Congressional districts look like, if the state has finalized them; if not, what the proposals are
  3. What the state’s Congressional districts should look like from my method

We’ll start with the easy ones: Alaska, Delaware, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming have one seat each. Thus they have one Congressional district, and the boundaries of the district are the same as the boundaries of the state.

Six down, forty-four to go.

Next up: Idaho