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If you look at Maurice Hinchey's Congressional District, it makes no sense:

http://www.govtrack.us/congress/findyourreps.xpd?state=NY&distr...

Why does it snake from Ithaca New York to Downtown Poughkeepsie? Why doesn't it represent an actual community? If our elected representatives are to serve us in Congress, shouldn't their opinions reflect a coherent idea of what community they represent? Does it make sense to yank downtown Poughkeepsie out of Dutchess County and yoke it with a Finger Lakes city? Is that a fair representation of the interests of our area, of any area?

Of course not, And it's done on purpose, it's called gerrymandering:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerrymandering

The point of gerrymandering is to weaken your political opposition by dividing your opponent's voices. For example: If you have an urban area that votes one way, and a rural area that votes another way, you could create two districts of equal population size: one representing the urban area, one representing the rural area, and thereby fairly and accurately represent communities in decision making processes.

Or, you could split the urban area in two, give half to one rural district, half to the other, and ensure the urban voice is a minority in both districts. Then decisions are made where the urban voice is completely neglected, because they have no fair representation, because their election districts do not accurately represent any real community. That's just one example. And Democrats and Republicans having been doing this for decades, whenever they are in a majority at the state level decision making apparatus after a national census, when redistricting happens. The Supreme Court in fact just agreed to rule on the issue in Texas, where it apparently is getting really heated:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/10/us/politics/supreme-court-to-hear...

Well, after the recent 2010 census, it's time to define New York State's districts again. This is where you come in:

https://districtbuilder.redistrictny.org/districtmapping/plan/0/view/

Select 2. plan type shared, then 3. select a plan (pick one at random), and then 4. view plan. You are looking at a random citizen's attempt to define New York State's Congressional Districts.

Look at what district Beacon is in. Go back and look at another citizen's plans. Look at what district Beacon is in. Do you want our interests to be yoked with the Catskills? Or do you want our interests to be yoked with Westchester County? Why not both? Why not a Hudson Valley Congressional District?

So: make your own map using this software. What a great tool.

This is not a pointless exercise: the upcoming redistricting of New York will be a heated battle, and you can make your voice heard, not in an abstract way, but with actual maps of your own.

http://politics.slashdot.org/story/11/11/20/1637208/open-source-too...

http://www.thirteen.org/metrofocus/news/2011/08/new-york-state-redi...

http://www.ballotpedia.com/wiki/index.php/Redistricting_in_New_York

http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/11/25/new-york-looks-to-fair-redis...

The website, using free software developed at George Mason University, is the basis of college competitions that will also be used to try to shape the lines drawn for states. They’re done by legislative leaders, governors who must approve the lines or courts where many disputed redistricting efforts are resolved.

Through the contest, Fordham’s Center for Electoral Politics is trying to get the public more involved in the process that will help define politics for the next 10 years.

“Once you get into it, it’s sort of addictive in a way,” said Tyrone Stevens, 23, of Poughkeepsie. He’s a graduate student on one of the Fordham teams redrawing New York congressional districts.

“I’m fascinated by looking at ways of representing different communities,” Stevens said. “It makes something that is a very dry process and turns it into something that is more hands-on and interactive. And it’s as fundamental to democracy as it gets.”

Fordham’s project “shows that it is not rocket science for districts lines to be drawn fairly and impartially,” said Dick Dadey of the Citizens Union good-government group. “It’s when you add partisan interests to the map-making process that it gets more difficult.”

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Tags: congressional district, gerrymandering, politics, redistricting

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Comment by Steve Partlow on December 16, 2011 at 12:56pm

A little game that I found fun and useful for understanding the basics of gerrymandering is http://www.redistrictinggame.org/index.php?pg=game . It's less practical than Ben's links but interesting way to see how a fictional area could be divided in different ways to unfairly advantage the incumbents.

Enjoy.

Comment by Anna West on December 11, 2011 at 5:41pm

Thanks for this Ben, in Brooklyn there is a "Bullwinkle" district, shaped like the cartoon including communities that have nothing in common.

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