Dan Corkery: Congressional districts come in all shapes, sizes

Dan Corkery: Congressional districts come in all shapes, sizes

If you think Illinois has a crazy, gerrymandered congressional district map, you'd be right.

But that doesn't mean Illinois has salamander-shaped districts and other states' are made up of orderly rectangles. Hardly.

According to a recent Washington Post blog post, Illinois is competitive — but not a leader — in gerrymandering (visit washingtonpost.com and search for "America's most gerrymandered congressional districts"). The leaders in creative map-making: GOP-led North Carolina and Democratic Maryland. And the two states with the least-gerrymandered districts were also split along party lines: Republican-controlled Indiana and Dem-dominated Nevada.

The Post's Christopher Ingraham, who researched the topic for Wonkblog, calculated the compactness of a district by taking "the ratio of the area of the district to the area of a circle with the same perimeter." The higher the number, the less compact and more gerrymandered the district is. Illinois' 4th Congressional District ranked eighth on the Post's list of the 10 worst. My colleague Jim Dey says that district, represented by Luis Gutierrez, is shaped like headphones. I don't think Beats will be copying the design.

The Post also has nicknames for some other districts. My favorite: "Goofy kicking Donald Duck" (Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District). I wonder if Disney lawyers know about that.

Locally, our 13th Congressional District, represented by Rodney Davis, ranked in the top two-fifths, with a score of 81.71, which is a bit below the state average of 83.66.

So what would happen if we not only took partisanship out of the process, but also removed human judgment about "communities of interest"? What if we let a computer do the job, with the goal of compactness and equal population?

The Washington Post has an answer for those questions (go to washingtonpost.com and search for "computer programmer solved gerrymandering").

You can see what software engineer Brian Olson came up with and what his Illinois maps look like compared with the current congressional and legislative maps at bdistricting.com/2010/IL/.

Dan Corkery, managing editor for administration, is a member of The News-Gazette's editorial board. His email is dcorkery@news-gazette.com.

Sections (2):Columns, Opinion