How do you know when you've seen a gerrymandered district? Maybe it looks like a duck or a snake, or a pair of earmuffs. Or maybe there's no obvious sign that the mapmakers played games with the contours in order to ensure a particular electoral outcome inside those boundaries.
The last contests using the current set of congressional maps are a year away. After that, the results of the 2020 census will be used for the redistricting of the entire country — assuring a fresh burst of gerrymandering by politicians with the power to draw maps designed for keeping themselves in power. (The North Carolina districts mentioned below are very likely to get altered before the next election, however, to settle a lawsuit alleging the current map favors Republicans so much as to violate the state Constitution's "fair elections" clause.)
We asked half a dozen people who have studied the way American political maps are drawn to reveal their best examples of the most flagrant current gerrymandering. Of course there are plenty of ways to approach that task. In some cases, the really odd shapes make it easier. In others, experts need to dive deep into demographic data to discover the most egregious examples of packing and cracking.
While Democrats are emphasizing their big victories in neighboring Southern states as warning signs for President Trump, advocates for fixing democratic systems are hailing those same elections Tuesday as major opportunities for their cause.
The most significant triumph came in Virginia, where Democrats reclaimed control of the General Assembly and, along with Gov. Ralph Northam, won unified control of state government for the first time in a quarter-century. That will open the door in January for a long roster of democracy reform proposals that have been languishing in Richmond — from tightening the state's campaign finance rules to stopping the partisan gerrymandering of its electoral maps.
The election of Democrat Andy Beshear as governor of Kentucky, meanwhile, allows him to make good on a promise to end that state's status as one of the harshest places to be a felon who wants to be a voting member of society after serving time. (That's if his win stands up — the incumbent, Republican Matt Bevin, has not conceded.)
A long quest has formally begun to add battleground Nevada to the roster of states where the election districts are drawn by non-politicians.
Advocates for ending partisan gerrymandering nationwide filed a proposed state constitutional amendment on Monday with officials in Carson City. It would create an independent commission to draw both state legislative and congressional districts — with a mandate they be geographically compact, give minorities a fair shot at representation and be as "politically competitive" between the major parties as possible.
The earliest that could happen is four years from now, however. That's because, even if advocates gather the necessary 98,000 signatures by June to put the measure on next November's ballot, and even if it succeeds then, a second statewide vote reaffirming the first one is required in 2022 before the new panel could get to work.
A redistricting reform group is petitioning for Oklahoma's legislative and congressional maps to be drawn by a multi-partisan commission.
Through the petition, filed Monday, People Not Politicians aims to take the partisanship out of Oklahoma's mapmaking process. Currently, districts are drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature and approved by the governor, who is also a Republican.
People Not Politicians is a bipartisan coalition of redistricting reformers, headed by the League of Women Voters of Oklahoma and Let's Fix This. The group will have 90 days to collect almost 178,000 signatures to have this redistricting commission measure placed before voters on the ballot in 2020.