The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The increasingly ugly gerrymandering of America — in 7 maps

We are re-upping this post from last month in light of Monday's Supreme Court decision.

One year ago today, we looked at the most gerrymandered congressional districts in America. There are some doozies, including a few tortured souls that inspired us to hold contests to give them names. (Examples: "Goofy Kicking Donald Duck," "The Praying Mantis," "Beavis Eating Pizza," "The Upside-down Elephant.")

It was North Carolina, though, that would have earned the designation "most gerrymandered state," given that three of the 10 most gerrymandered districts were contained within it. Only a few decades ago, though, that wasn't the case. North Carolina's districts were (relatively) compact and centralized. Here's how the state's districts have changed at the beginning of each decade since 1991. (Congressional districts are redrawn after the Census every ten years.)

In 1991, the districts contained relatively few jagged lines. In 2013, they were a mess.

Given that, we decided to see how district lines had evolved in other areas, too. In some places -- Wyoming, the Dakotas -- they never change over time (because there is only one district). In urban areas, with tightly-packed populations comprised of different constituencies, the lines move a lot.

But for the most part, they only started oscillating wildly in the past few decades.

(All of the historic maps used below come from UCLA's great archive.)

New York

Los Angeles


San Francisco Bay Area

Central Florida


Why is this happening? In part because technology makes it much easier to create districts that meet particular demographic compositions, no matter how ugly the resulting map. And, in part, because there's increased acceptance of using carefully-if-messily-crafted districts to achieve political ends.

With America's population increasing and the number of House seats holding steady, we're not going to see a return to cleanly divided districts any time soon. We'll just have to get used to the idea that your congressional district might not include any of your neighbors, or be centered around particular features of your community. Politics is too important for considerations like that.