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.
Most people have never had a direct conversation with any of their elected representatives — and if they have, it was likely during campaign season. This interpersonal disconnect leaves too many Americans' concerns unheard, something a 22-year-old recent college graduate has a plan to fix.
While knocking on doors for a state Senate candidate near his college campus last year, Tino Fragale says he heard voters complain time and again that their concerns were routinely ignored by politicians except in the runup to an election.
"I always felt a sort of cynicism going door-to-door from my end as a canvasser. It felt like there was a lot more value we could be giving people at their doorsteps. We could be helping people a lot more," he said.
So Fragale committed himself to starting an organization that will act as a middleman between elected officials and their constituents — particularly in the months between elections. After graduating from the University of Maryland in May (he created his own major in advocacy and organization building) Fragale launched the nonprofit Everyday Canvassing to offer this sort of democracy mediation service to elected officials — for free.
A handful of laws that took effect Tuesday in Maryland are designed to boost voting, political process transparency and civic engagement.
Maryland is a reliably Democratic state, and virtually all its elections won't happen for another year. But its proximity to Washington, and the fact that it's home to so many federal policymakers and advocates, means changes in the name of democracy reform get an outsized degree of attention from both fans and critics.
Like 20 other states plus D.C., Maryland will from now on permit people to both register and cast ballots on Election Day, so long as they can prove residency when they get to their polling location. The move to so-called "same day registration" will cost the local governments conducting elections a combined $2 million upfront and $600,000 each year after 2022, Patch reports.
Maryland is opening the door for increased civic engagement among children, allowing students starting in sixth grade to help out election judges on Election Day. Through what's dubbed the Page Program, younger poll workers will be trained and take an oath before they start service.
Montgomery County, Md., gave campaign finance reform a test drive during last year's election when candidates could opt in to a matching funds program. A recent report from Maryland PIRG deemed the program's inaugural run a success.
The nonpartisan public interest research group outlined in its report, released Thursday, how Montgomery County's program led to greater participation and small-dollar donations. The matching funds boosted fundraising for qualifying candidates to make their average contribution totals comparable to non-participating competitors.
Average contributions for qualifying candidates totaled $306 — almost $10 more than the average donations given to non-participating candidates.