Tuesday, March 01, 2011

DrawCongress.org - What Non-partisan Congressional Redistricting Looks Like

Tip of the OOTJ hat to colleague Kent McKeever at Columbia. He passes along news of Columbia Law Professor Nathaniel Persily, who teaches a class in "Redistricting and Gerrymandering." His class project just came out with a website, DrawCongress.org. The students are working on an Internet depository of non-partisan maps of possible Congressional redistricting lines for every state in the Union. Prof. Persily says, and asks for feedback:

This website and associated project have three goals.

First, the project seeks to educate both the students involved and the general public about the redistricting process. We hope that the maps and redistricting plans contained there depict what is possible in the current round of redistricting and what nonpartisan plans might look like.

Second, we hope that these plans serve as a benchmark against which incumbent-drawn plans can be assessed. While not passing judgment on the plans states adopt this redistricting cycle, we hope that the plans contained there illustrate alternative paths not taken and, therefore, both the promise and potential pitfalls of nonpartisan redistricting.

Finally, for those states that fail to craft redistricting plans, this website provides ready-made legally defensible congressional plans.

Thus far, we have plans up for Virginia, New Jersey, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland, Oklahoma, Iowa, and Arkansas. Each posted plan includes a statewide map, individual district maps, plan statistics and reports, and a block equivalency file that can be downloaded and placed into any mapping program.

Take a look and tell me what you think......

Nathaniel Persily
Charles Keller Beekman Professor of Law and
Political Science
Columbia Law School
Jerome Greene Hall
435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
(917) 570-3223
I went and looked at the site. For various states, you get more than one offered redistricting plan. They are offered with notations, like
"Least Change,"
"Goo Goo" (which stands for Good Government, oddly, "that attempts to draw compact districts based on political subdivision lines, such as counties and cities," or
"Max Com" for maximum competition, creating as many districts as possible evenly split between parties,
"PR, for proportional representation, and
"Portfolio, which is a catch-all category for "a plan that attempts to harmonize two or more of the principles described above or that adheres to principles insufficiently captured by the previous categories."

The name of the student, or other author of the plan is attached to each map, which you can reach by first clicking on a "pushpin" in the U.S. map to choose a state. So far, there are only a few states finished. I can only imagine the work that goes into one of these maps. There is an explanation of the software used on the homepage, and a credit for the source of the political data, to the Harvard Election Data Archive. Cool project. Now, we'll have to see if ANY state uses it!

The image decorating this blog post is the 1812 political cartoon of the original Gerrymander, named for Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, who was attempting to re-draw voting districts to favor his own Democratic-Republican Party candidates over the Federalist party. There is some controversy over where the word first was used, but it is a portmanteau word conflating Governor Gerry's last name with "salamander," which some observers said the new district resembled. This was not the last time (and probably not the first) such shenanigans occurred trying to benefit one party over another by drawing voting district lines!

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