Is Gerrymandering getting worse?

As I was doing research for a future post, I came across this project website by Jeffrey B. Lewis, Brandon DeVine, Lincoln Pitcher, and Kenneth C. Martis, researchers at UCLA, that is a great source for historical Congressional District boundaries.

What caught my attention as I was reading the home page of the site, though, was an animation it contained of all U.S. Congressional District boundaries since the beginning of the republic. As I was watching this animation and focusing on the states that are most egregiously gerrymandered today, it seemed to me that the political mischief got much worse in the last 20 years. If so, perhaps this results from a combination of urbanization (which makes gerrymandering more obvious on a map), along with increasing technical and political sophistication among the special interests who drive gerrymandering.

Take a look at my blow-up of Texas since the Civil War, taken off Lewis et al’s website: to me this looks like an animation of gerrymandering taking a dark turn for the worse after 1990. Do you see what I’m seeing?

[wpvideo PUwtJm5R]

Video captured from, approximate dates added. Source is Jeffrey B. Lewis, Brandon DeVine, Lincoln Pitcher, and Kenneth C. Martis. (2013) Digital Boundary Definitions of United States Congressional Districts, 1789-2012.
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2 Responses to Is Gerrymandering getting worse?

  1. irmabob says:

    I see you had a problem trying to reach my Facebook page. Gerrymandering–Lets Get Serious should be up and running. Your video is terrific for my purposes, which is spreading the word to the ordinary voter that good work is being done towards reform of the redistricting process. While you are rightly concerned with the details of the math, I need to translate some of the terms into plain English for the public.

    My goal is to keep the discussion in the public eye while we have a chance, well before the next census, to get a movement going that will eventually tip the US to reform. I agree with Brian Olson that compactness (or simply compact) is preferable to optimal proximity. Does that sit OK with you? What’s another word for algorithm? Formula? Equation? Let’s discuss.
    Thanks, Irma Sheon (also reachable at

    • noahkennedy says:

      Irma- I think Brian Olson has a very good thing going there- I could spend hours looking at his graphics. If we could get to the point where it is generally accepted that some type of ‘hands-off’ redistricting is obviously what is needed, and we’re just debating the best technique for doing it, that would be a huge step forward. So please promote whatever makes the most sense to you. (Though I also intuit that OPRA and Brian’s alogorithm will tend to give similar results.)

      My sense is that at some point, the public is not only going to be outraged but also aware that there are really practical ways to do this without any special interests at all being involved. At that point what seems impossible to bring about is going to happen very quickly. So let’s keep working on awareness!


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