Map Lust

So I’ve always loved maps.  I think it began in kindergarten at Ronald Knox Montessori school when I used to trace maps of the world because there were “puzzle” maps where you could take the pieces out and then trace the different countries.  They had this not just for the US–but for each and every continent.

This imprinted itself on my 3-6 year old brain in a primal way and it has never left.  Although I never majored in Geography, the love of maps certainly got its fair hearing in my love of history, international relations, and military history.  I even wrote my personal statement/essay on my fascination with maps for my application to Harvey Mudd, which was a hardcore engineering school.

And I got in. (although I then went to a different school…)

Anyway–a couple weeks back I came across an awesome map in my blog reading.  It was either at Andrew Sullivan or at Talking Points Memo–but the map was generated by the idea of rearranging US State boundaries so that they would each have an equal population.  The point of this was to try and rectify the inequalities in voting power that have come about because of how each state–no matter how big or large–has 2 senators and how even in the House of Representatives, you have a range between 500k to 900k per Representative district because of the fixed number of seats.

In other words–votes are not necessarily equal.

Here is the map that was presented:

At first glance, this is pretty cool.  You see how some current states have to be merged with a number of others just to become 1 new state (with about 6.2 million people).. whereas other states get broken up into a number of other states (Chicago/Cook County +Dupage county would be it’s own state…).

Now–I wasn’t actually all that entranced with the name choices–but that’s relatively arbitrary.  If you go and google “map of 50 states with equal population” (or at least if you are me and do this…), you can find a number of maps that do the same trick as above.  One map that was done in 2010 by the same guy has names that I like better–but which is not all that different.

Now.. while this idea is cool when you glance at it–with a little bit of thought, one can see how unworkable this would become in practice.  Crucially, this map may have equal populations now, but 10 years from now, and worse, 20 years from now it would have to be redrawn again as populations shifted.

Now–maybe that doesn’t sound so bad, but any business owner and lawyer might be able to tell you how crazy it would be to suddenly find yourself in a new state being subjected to different state laws, different tax rates, and entirely new legislative/political alignments.

That would be madness.

It would also not just be an economic nightmare, but could easily be a personal one.  Take Illinois and Wisconsin, for example.  These two states have radically different divorce laws related to the custody of children.  In IL, it is almost always single custody and from what I’ve heard–it’s usually with the mother.  In WI, on the other hand, the default is joint custody and joint placement if both parents live within the same school district.  The only reason why there would not be joint custody in WI is that there is some legally compelling reason (namely a criminal record of child abuse) for their not to be.

Now what would happen in the above map situation if the boundary suddenly changed every 10 years and couples who were not doing well found themselves in a district with a different set divorce laws.  It could get nasty fast.  Furthermore, considering that they’d need lawyers, you’d see vast migrations of lawyers following state boundaries any time there was a census and realignment.

This just would not work.  Cool idea to think over–but it wouldn’t work in practice.

A better solution would be just to abolish the senate entirely and to have an expandable number of representatives to be based on multiples of the state with the lowest population.  Currently, that is Wyoming with only around 575,000 people.  Take that number–i.e. set 575,000=1 Representative–and then do the math.  This would, for example change the number of representatives for the 50 states as follows:
State/Current Representatives/New Representatives
Total/ 435/544
New York/29/34
North Carolina 13/17
New Jersey 13/15
South Carolina/6/8
New Mexico/3/4
West Virginia3/3
New Hampshire/2/2
Rhode Island/2/2
South Dakota/1/1
North Dakota/1/1
District of Columbia/0/1

Now.. that would still have some issues–the vote totals would not be 100% equivalent everywhere.. but they’d be a lot better.

Interestingly–if you were to use the new numbers as the electoral votes of each state (remember we abolished the senate), the result would have been 345-199, Obama over Romney–which was pretty close to the actual result (332-203).

And that’s what I have to say about maps today.. time to go get some other housework done.


About Prof. Woland

I contain multitudes. Come meet us.
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1 Response to Map Lust

  1. Oh man, I’m a map dork so hard! This post kicks ass. I suggest you pick up a book called “How the states got their shapes” for some really fun reading 🙂

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