End gerrymandering? Here’s a radical solution

Why not just divide the United States in slices of equal population?

End gerrymandering? Here’s a radical solution

The contiguous U.S., horizontally divided into deciles (ten bands of equal population).

Image: u/curiouskip, reproduced with kind permission.
  • Slicing up the country in 10 strips of equal population produces two bizarre maps.
  • Seattle is the biggest city in the emptiest longitudinal band, San Antonio rules the largest north-south slice.
  • Curiously, six cities are the 'capitals' of both their horizontal and vertical deciles.

Sweeping re-alignments

Printed in March 1812, this political cartoon was drawn in reaction to the newly drawn state senate election district of South Essex created by the Massachusetts legislature to favor the Democratic-Republican Party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists. The caricature satirizes the bizarre shape of a district in Essex County, Massachusetts, as a dragon-like "monster". Federalist newspaper editors and others at the time likened the district shape to a salamander, and the word gerrymander was a portmanteau of that word and Governor Gerry's last name.

The original cartoon of the 'Gerry-Mander', published in 1812 in the Boston Centinel.

Image: Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835), Public Domain.

One way for a political party to manipulate the outcome of elections is to 'gerrymander' electoral districts: manipulate their boundaries to increase the likelihood of a favorable outcome (see also #53).

The term is almost as old as the United States itself, and the practice continues to disfigure the electoral map to this day. Perhaps these maps can serve as the inspiration for a radical solution.

They show the contiguous United States (i.e. without Alaska and Hawaii) sliced latitudinally and longitudinally into ten straight-bordered bands of varying size, so that each contains exactly 10 percent of the population.

Although certainly not intended as a reflection on electoral redistricting, it's tempting to see these sweeping re-alignments of the U.S. as a suggestion with some potential in that direction.

United Strips of America

Reddit user curiouskip used U.S. Census population data to divide the 'Lower 48' into deciles (ten equal parts), each representing about 30.8 million people. Each decile is consigned its most populous city as 'capital'.

The contiguous United States, divided into horizontal and vertical deciles.

Image: u/curiouskip, reproduced with kind permission.

Reddit user curiouskip used U.S. Census population data to divide the 'Lower 48' into deciles (ten equal parts), each representing about 30.8 million people. Each decile is consigned its most populous city as 'capital'.

Looking at the top map, which divides the U.S. into 10 longitudinal strips, we see

  • Seattle rules the northernmost slice of territory. It is the broadest, and therefore also the emptiest one.
  • The Chicago, Omaha, New York City and Indianapolis strips complete the northern half of the country. And indeed: 50 percent of the population occupies roughly one half of the country, from north to south.
  • The dividing line between the top and bottom halves of the country runs from just north of the San Francisco Bay to halfway across the Delmarva Peninsula.
  • Capital cities of the southern strips are San Jose, Charlotte, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Houston.
  • The Houston Strip is divided into two non-contiguous areas. Florida maintains its panhandle, albeit much reduced.

The bottom map shows the U.S. divided latitudinally into 10 bands of equal population.

  • San Jose and Los Angeles both retain their capital status, this time of the two westernmost strips.
  • San Antonio is the main city of the Big Empty, more than twice as wide as the second-broadest band.
  • The dividing line between America's eastern and western half, population-wise, is far off-center: it skirts the eastern edge of Chicago, making the western half much bigger than the eastern one.
  • Houston, Chicago, and Indianapolis also remain the largest cities in their respective bands.
  • Further east, Jacksonville and Philadelphia get to rule over their strip of America, while Charlotte and New York City keep winning, both vertically and horizontally.

Redistricting a country into zones of equal population – and that being your only criterium – will create districts that are randomly diverse, and perhaps also, at least in this case, unmanageably large.

However, mixing up the political map with a bunch of straight lines as the only instrument is something that has been considered before. Usually, the objective is the wholesale removal of age-old divisions.

Perfectly square departments

\u200bCh\u00e2ssis figuratif du territoire de la France partag\u00e9 en divisions \u00e9gales entre elles, proposition annex\u00e9e au rapport du 29 septembre 1789 \u00e0 l'Assembl\u00e9e nationale de la commission dite Siey\u00e8s-Thouret

France divided into 80-odd geometrical departments: failed proposal by Jacques-Guillaume Thouret (1790).

Image: Centre historique des Archives nationales – Atelier de photographie; public domain.

In 1790, the French revolutionary Jacques-Guillaume Thouret proposed doing away with France's old provinces by replacing them with about 80 perfectly square departments. The plan lost its main proponent when Thouret lost his head during the Reign of Terror in 1794 (see also #159).

European Pie

In this rather outlandish proposal, continental Europe's 24 cantons center on Vienna.

Image: PJ Mode Collection of Persuasive Maps, Cornell University.

And in 1920, an anonymous author – possibly the Austrian P.A. Maas – proposed slicing up Post-World-War-I Europe as a pie, into 24 slices that would center on Vienna's St. Stephen's Cathedral. Each of those slices would be made up of a wide and random variety of linguistic, ethnic, and religious groups – and that would be the point: the better to unite them all into one massive superstate (see also #851).

Needless to say, both plans never left the drawing board. Would a proposal for the longitudinal and/or latitudinal redistricting of the U.S. have more traction?

Coast-to-coast precedents

Illustration of the Connecticut Charter boundary, 1662

Putting the 'connect' into Connecticut: the Nutmeg State extending from the Pacific to the Atlantic.

Image: Connecticuthistory.org

Well, for one, coast-to-coast polities have some pedigree in America's past: some of the first colonies had claims that extended from the Atlantic all the way to the Pacific.

If history had gone entirely the way Connecticut would have wanted, the state would include such inland cities as Detroit, Chicago, and Salt Lake City, and extended to what is now the northern part of California.

Is such geopolitical weirdness reasonable or feasible today? Absolutely not. But in its randomness, would it be it as unfair as gerrymandering?

Decile maps of the contiguous United States reproduced with kind permission by u/curiouskip; found here on Reddit.

Strange Maps #1054

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

A brief history of human dignity

What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.

Credit: Benjavisa Ruangvaree / AdobeStock
Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
  • That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
  • We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
Keep reading Show less

Astrophysicists: Gamma-ray jets exceed the speed of light

Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.

An artist's drawing of a particle jet emanating from a black hole at the center of a blazar.

Credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab (used with permission by Astronomy Picture of the Day, which is co-managed by Robert Nemiroff at Michigan Tech).
Surprising Science
  • Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
  • The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
  • The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists find the "magic number" that links forces of the universe

Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.

The Universe and the fine-structure constant.

Credit: Adobe
Surprising Science
  • A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
  • This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
  • The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
Keep reading Show less

A new system separates oxygen and hydrogen from Mars’ water

Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.

Illustration of Mars' long-gone Jezero Lake

Technology & Innovation
  • Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
  • Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
  • The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.
Keep reading Show less

How officials will ensure the COVID-19 vaccine stays cold enough in transit

Pfizer's vaccine needs to be kept at -100°F until it's administered. Can caregivers deliver?

Scroll down to load more…