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    Is This How We Equalize the United States?

    Written by

    Daniel Stuckey


    Looking around the US map, we see the lines of latitude and rivers that make logic of its divisions. When I reach for the words to explain my studies in geography, I often depend on the words of Ruthie Gilmore, a high-ranking scholar in the field, "Geography isn't where is Kansas, it's why is Kansas." But it can often seem so arbitrary and mathematically devised. And it is, more or less. So why do we love the shapes of our states so much? If you walk around Williamsburg on a sunny day, everybody has a little Ohio–or whatever flyover state they hail from–tatted on their arm. 

    It's weird, right angles hardly ever occur in nature, but we're in love with them. In love with them to the point of an unyielding sentimentalization. I think that sentiment, above and beyond any political pondering (a product of scrutinizing and defending those invisible lines), is why our eyes pop out at the sight of Neil Freeman's new map, published on his Fake is the new Real blog.

    Via Neil Freeman

    (To see a larger version, with Freeman's annotation, click the map.)

    Bam! For anyone that's paid a speck of attention to the tedium of political redistricting, which happens while a state grows unevenly, (and must dynamically respond to density, electorate disparity, natural resources and ridgelines, etc.), this is straight out of some psychedelic dream. For Democrats, it could be straight out of a nightmare. That's because Freeman's map necessitates 50 equally populous United States. His methods for creating the map are explained thusly: 

    The algorithm was seeded with the fifty largest cities. After that, manual changes took into account compact shapes, equal populations, metro areas divided by state lines, and drainage basins. In certain areas, divisions are based on census tract lines... The suggested names of the new states are taken mainly from geographical features.

    The new 50 states would be equally potent in terms of voting, but how many would be red? I made this layered GIF of Romney vs. Obama by county to try and figure things out:

    While Freeman's map is supposed to combat the idea of gerrymandering, the process of manipulating boundaries to win a higher populations for political parties, it might have an undesirable effect for Democrats. Making tiny states around dense urban areas, on which Democrats depend to swing a state like Florida to the blue side, the map's suggested partitions each contain an average of 6,174,911 people. So in the case of Florida, the new states 'Canaveral' and 'Tampa Bay' would probably become two red states whereas the state of 'Miami' would be a Democratic hotspot.

    Imagining the consequences of enacting such a shift of statehood has me wandering down many different cull-de-sacs of thought. Just looking at that giant 'Ogalalla' state and knowing it contains as many people as the 'Atlanta' state, I thump my head thinking of how the demographics, cultural values and natural landscape might be newly described and compared. Then I see that Hawaii has been conglomerated with the ex-Northern-California-Southern-Oregon, or 'Shasta' state, or the ultimate pothead-surfer haven, but what do people in Eugene care about increasing tourist-turnout at an exotic island luau?

    After reviewing the map, I'm asking, "Why 50 states?" I'm jonesin' to see the version of this map that has 438 equally populous states and 100 senatorial administrative districts (to make up the 538 electoral votes).

    As the confusion over how this might function continues to boggle my mind, I'm driven to bid the same point, "It's not where is Kansas, it's why is Kansas." So if Kansan boundaries are demarcated by some arbitrary lines of latitude (37º N and 40º N), then it's not far fetched to reckon with the fact that American States (and countries around the globe) already live in the very paradigm this map asks us to consider.


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