How to cure gerrymandering: Draw all districts to look like South Carolina


Easily the most beautifully shaped of all the states.

End of last week, Bryan Caskey shared with me this link to an MSNBC host (apparently, his name is Touré — no last name) seeming to suggest that some red-state U.S. senators were voting more conservatively because they live and govern “in a gerrymandered world.”

Which seemed to suggest that this guy thought that, you know, states were gerrymandered.

This caused Bryan to riff, “Yup. I’m OK with redrawing some state lines, though. Who knows, it might be fun.”

To which I responded, “Not SC, though. It has the most aesthetically pleasing shape of all the states.”

Which it does. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve grooved on SC’s beautiful, kinda-but-not-exactly-regular triangle shape. (There were several irregularly-shaped paving tiles outside my grandparents’ back door, and one of them looked just like SC, which to me had some sort of cosmic significance.) If it were a perfect, equilateral triangle, it would be less beautiful. It’s more of a naturalistic triangle. I like the cockeyed top, which makes it seem to be wearing a hat rakishly tilted to the side.

And then it occurred to me — if all districts (as opposed to states) had to be drawn to look more or less like South Carolina, gerrymandering would be dead. A district that looked like SC in shape terms would also look like real communities in a demographic sense, rather than having these super-white and super-black districts side-by-side.

And there would be relatively few “safe” Democratic and Republican districts. Which means elected representatives on the federal, state and local levels would have to reach out to voters across the political spectrum. Gridlock would end, and sensible, pragmatic legislation would be a commonplace.

And we’d all live in a better country.

I like this idea more and more…

15 thoughts on “How to cure gerrymandering: Draw all districts to look like South Carolina

  1. Jeff

    Even better- get rid of districts and states for representation. If I think Thad Cochran or Tom Harkin best represents my views, I should be able to vote for him no matter what state I live in. If he gets 180 million votes and another senator got 300 thousand votes, then one senator’s vote should count 600 times as much as the other’s. Then the guys in the middle politically will have all the votes, and the crazies won’t really get a voice, right? We also need to be able to go online and switch our votes at will, not just on election day. Anyone who represents more than 0.1% of the American public gets to speak on the floor and vote.

  2. Michael Rodgers

    Within a state there’s almost no geographic requirement to defining districts. There’s supposedly a compactness requirement. It seems only to mean contiguous. There’s supposedly a community of interest requirement, but — for example — since the US House has to be based on EXACTLY equal districts within a state, it’s a wonder they don’t divide husbands and wives and adult children etc in single-family houses (they already divide precincts)!
    The US Supreme Court needs to rule that any state — for example South Carolina — that wants to emulate the federal government by establishing a geographically-based upper house and a (within-geography) population-based lower house is establishing a republican form of government.

    1. Michael Rodgers

      For the US House, the US Supreme Court needs to rule that, within a state, there are no districts at all. Thus, in South Carolina, we should all get 7 votes, 1 for each of the for 7 US Rep offices from SC. (Similarly for the SC House: SC should — as we actually do in our overruled-by-federal-law State Constitution — apportion the number of SC House reps by county population, and then the vote should be county-wide for however many.)

      1. Norm Ivey

        Giving each voter 7 votes wouldn’t change anything. You’d likely have 7 candidates with similar views representing only those who voted for them and ignoring everyone who did not vote for them. Instead allow each voter 1 vote (as it is now), but have the top 7 vote-getters represent their respective constituencies (whoever voted for them wherever they live in the state). And do away with party affiliation indicators on the ballot.

  3. Bryan Caskey

    I was thinking we could have some fun “cleaning up” some odd state lines like:

    1. Let’s clean up the little notch in the southeastern corner of Georgia; make it a straight line.
    2. Also, while we are on the subject of Georgia, let’s fix the inaccurate Georgia-Tennessee border. (Seriously, it’s in the wrong place.)
    3. Let’s give Oklahoma’s panhandle back to Texas. Texas only gave it up because of the Missouri compromise, and since the slavery issue is moot, it’s time to give it back.
    4. We should probably give the Northwest Angle in Minnesota back to the Canadians. It’s one of the very few places in the USA that is not contiguous. You have to go through Canada to get there unless you’re taking a ferry.
    5. That little northern point of West Virginia that goes up into Ohio? We’re getting rid of that.

    And that’s just for starters. See, you can have some fun with this.

    1. Norm Ivey

      6. Eliminate Rhode Island entirely. Let Massachusetts and Connecticut fight over it.
      7. Fix the tail left over from the Missouri Compromise.
      8. Cut California in halves and Texas in quarters.
      9. Take the line created by Wyoming’s western border and extend it upward through Montana, making Montana smaller and giving that chunk back to Idaho.

      1. Bryan Caskey

        I think you could eliminate Rhode Island entirely and no one would notice. Also, if Connecticut and Massachusetts got into a scrap, my money is on Massachusetts winning by knockout in the first round. Connecticut seems soft.

  4. Mark Stewart

    The best looking state was Massachusetts before some people somewhere loped off its rodent head (Maine).

  5. Brad Warthen Post author

    You know what drives me nuts, as a guy who has tried to write about our problems with redistricting over the years?

    The fact that we don’t have a word for the way districts SHOULD be shaped, rather than being gerrymandered.

    It’s not “compact.” That suggests small, but not necessarily properly shaped. I mean, I get what Michael is saying when he says “compactness,” but I don’t think it’s necessarily descriptive enough to make everyone understand it.

    There’s got to be a word for something with a more-or-less regular shape, like vaguely circular or square or rectangular, with a lack of lengthy extensions leading off from it…

    For instance… I think most of the counties in SC would make pretty good-looking districts (which they did, before single-member districts came along), although Lexington, Calhoun and McCormick have some odd little appendages. And Charleston’s pretty weird. I don’t see why it has to run up the coast like that.

    But I don’t know a really good word for describing the feature or factor or element that makes them look like good districts… Which is maddening.

    “Compactness” is about as good as it gets…

    1. Chris

      Why not just draw them along county lines? Each county gets one state senator, each county gets 1-3 representatives based on population.

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