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Tag Archive: redistricting

OpenGov Voices: Lack of Transparency and Citizen Disenfranchisement


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed by the guest blogger and those providing comments are theirs alone and do not reflect the opinions of the Sunlight Foundation or any employee thereof. Sunlight Foundation is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information within the Dan Moulthropguest blog.

Dan Moulthrop is a co-founder of The Civic Commons, a social media environment group designed explicitly for civil civic dialogue and brings communities together with conversation and emerging technology based in Cleveland, Ohio He is also CEO of The City Club of Cleveland, the Citadel of Free Speech for more than 100 years.

I've long been obsessed with maps. When I was a kid on road trips, I loved tracking our journey in the road atlas. When I lived in Brooklyn in the 90s, I covered my bedroom walls with AAA state maps with my then-recent three month cross country journey traced out on them. Maps always provided me with a way to locate myself in space and a way to understand my trajectory. In the last couple of years, I've started to see them differently. The maps I'm thinking about don't locate us or help us see a trajectory of growth or journey. They trap us. Specifically, they keep us attached to elected representatives that don't often have our best interests in mind.

Residents of Cleveland, Ohio, were just subjected to a redistricting exercise. I say subjected to because very few of them participated in the exercise. The last census triggered a charter-mandated remapping of ward boundaries, and, given the population decline, city council is to be reduced by two seats. The need for this had been in front of city leaders since census results were released, but there was no comprehensive, strategic public engagement process to discuss what factors ought to be taken into account as new ward configurations were considered, no draft maps shared with the public, no clear process for providing input. Instead, Cleveland's city council president worked with consultants behind closed doors and met with his colleagues on council individually to make deals and divvy up the city's population.

It has been said that we live in a time when voters don't pick their representatives; rather representatives pick their voters. In this case, the council president appears to have picked voters for his colleagues.

The Civic Commons

I don't actually know if this map will be good for Cleveland or not. Nobody knows. Those who voted for the first version of the map have had to backstep a little when Cleveland's small but significant Hispanic community challenged the map as a possible violation of the Voting Rights Act. Now that that detail has been addressed, for all we know, this could actually be the best map we ever could have hoped for. Here's the problem: we'll never know.

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New Districts in Sunlight Congress API


Good news if you were one of the users waiting on our Congress API to support the newly drawn congressional districts! As of today it is possible to pass the districts=2012 flag to the Congress API's districts.getDistrictFromLatLong method to instruct the API to return the district in effect for the 2012 elections.

As you may recall, the data wasn't previously available in a uniform format but thanks to a recent data release from we were able to get this data loaded, with days to spare until the election.

The default will remain to return the districts in effect for purposes of representation until the swearing in of the 113th Congress in January 2013 at which point the temporary districts=2012 flag will be retired (but it will be safe to continue to pass the parameter indefinitely).

This change does not yet impact other Sunlight API methods. The Open States district methods and the ZIP code related methods will be updated as that data is available, as described in our last update.)

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What Redistricting Means For Sunlight’s APIs


Gerrymandering political cartoon

With the election 4 months away we're starting to get questions about when our various APIs and projects that depend upon them will return the newly redistricted legislative boundaries.

The short answer is that we will most likely not be able to support new district boundaries until after the November 2012 election (but before they technically go into effect for the purposes of representation in 2013).

If you're interested in the reasoning behind this decision, read on, but be warned, redistricting is a lot more complex than "the state has released new boundaries, let's load them."

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Better Draw a District


High school civics classes teach that democracy is in the hands of voters. This view, though empowering, only tells part of the story. To really understand a democracy, you need to understand how votes are counted. One must shed light on the very machinery that powers our representative democracy: the sometimes bizarrely-shaped geographic boundaries called congressional districts.

One day, there will be a brilliant, easy-to-use tool that enlightens our citizenry on the intricacies of gerrymandering and the political machinations therein. But that day is not today. Today we launch the crude, far-from-serious, yet very fun Better Draw a District, the last and longest-awaited in the series of projects we created as part of our Labs Olympics teambuilding event.

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Redistricting Decision May Trigger New Fundraising


Look for new infusions of federal money into state politics following the Supreme Court’s decision this week on the Texas redistricting case. Though the justices did roll back the borders of one district that unfairly diluted the power of Hispanic voters, they upheld – by a decisive 7-2 vote – the right of states to redraw their congressional district boundaries any time they want, rather than only once after each new census.

If I were a party chairman in one of the states that has a close balance of power in the state legislature, I’d have been on the phone to Washington within minutes after the decision, noodling with federal party officials over how to turn this decision into a serious fundraising opportunity.

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