How Fast Can You Put These Ridiculously Gerrymandered Congressional Districts Back Together?

A partnership of Slate and the New America Foundation.
Aug. 21 2013 5:30 AM

Can You Solve Slate’s Gerrymandering Jigsaw Puzzle?

Put the ridiculously gerrymandered congressional districts back together.

Districts in Iowa tend to be competitive due to strong laws against gerrymandering. By law, the nonpartisan state agency responsible for redistricting must draw districts that are square, rectangular, or hexagonal and match city and county boundaries as much as possible. The agency cannot consider voter registration records and previous election results in the process. In 2012, the state's four congressional seats were split evenly between the two parties, with no candidates winning more than 60 percent of the vote. Although Republican U.S. House candidates won about one-third of the vote in Maryland in 2012, they grabbed only one of the eight seats because Democratic state legislators had packed conservative voters into the 1st District and given the 2nd District, 3rd District, and 7th District pieces of the Baltimore area to make them safely Democratic. The 3rd District has been described as "a crazy quilt," "a blood spatter from a crime scene," and a "broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state." An Ohio State University political scientist said Ohio's adopted plan was "the most grotesque partisan gerrymander that I, as a political scientist, had ever seen." Although Obama beat Romney by two points, Republicans took 12 of the state's 16 House seats because the Republican-controlled state legislature had packed Democratic voters into the 3rd District, 9th District and 13th District. In what Real Clear Politics called the "Gerrymander of the Decade," Republican state legislators in Pennsylvania packed the 1st District, 2nd District, and 14th District with Democratic voters while drawing other districts to protect Republican candidates. Although Obama won Pennsylvania by 5 points in 2012, Republicans won 13 of the state's 18 U.S. House seats. Although Democratic House candidates in North Carolina received a majority of the vote, Republican candidates won nine of the state's 13 House seats because the Republican-controlled state legislature had packed the 1st District, 4th District, and 12th District with Democratic voters. A geographic analysis showed that the 12th District is the least compact congressional district in the country. Obama carried Michigan by nine points. Even so, Democratic House candidates, who themselves received a majority of the vote, only won five of the state's 14 seats. That's because the Republican-controlled state legislature packed as many Detroit-area Democrats as they could into the 13th District and 14th District. Democratic candidates in those districts each won more than 80 percent of the vote.

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The Gerrymander Quiz

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* Voting percentages in tooltips are the percentages of the total votes for Democratic and Republican candidates. Source: Clerk of the House of Representatives

Gerrymandering, the practice of redrawing congressional districts after a decadal census to favor one political party over the other, is getting a bad rap, especially after Republicans used it to maintain a majority in the House despite losing the majority vote in the last election. Sure, gerrymandering may be a way for parties to gain unfair political advantage at the cost of true democracy, but who doesn’t love the crazy congressional district shapes it makes? With a little imagination, Ohio’s 9th District isn’t just a place for the GOP to cram Democratic voters—it’s also a terrible serpent! Pennsylvania's 16th District is a flexing bodybuilder, Ohio’s 12th a loyal pup, and Maryland’s 3rd a “broken-winged pterodactyl.” With Slate’s gerrymandering jigsaw puzzle, gerrymandering is more exciting than ever. How fast can you put the pieces of the electorate back together?

Correction, Aug. 22, 2013: The text accompanying the Maryland puzzle in this interactive originally stated that Maryland has seven congressional districts. It has eight.

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