Bushmanders and Bullwinkles: How Politicians Manipulate Electronic Maps and Census Data to Win Elections

"Spotting Bushmanders" introduces Bushmanders and Bullwinkles, Mark Monmonier's new book examining political cartography and the redrawing of congressional districts. Click on the names of congressional districts to see silhouette maps; please note that the maps are not drawn to the same scale.

Praise for the book:

"With the 2000 census completed, congressional districts will soon be redrawn. And how they are redrawn may determine who controls the next Congress. Monmonier instructs readers in the complexities of the remapping process and explores its possible outcomes. . . . This is a timely and important book."—Publishers Weekly

"With the House almost equally divided and a new round of redistricting about to start, this book could not be more timely. Control of the House, all House Committees, and many state legislatures is at stake. While witty and thoughtful, Prof. Monmonier delivers a powerful wake-up call to citizens that could be, in effect, disenfranchised by maps drawn for partisan reasons. Bushmanders and Bullwinkles is not just for scholars but for office holders, journalists, political strategists, and any American concerned with fair elections and the protection of civil rights."—Congressman Charles B. Rangel, Ranking Member, House Ways and Means Committee

Some related websites:

The US Census:
Census homepage
Redistricting data
Cartographic Boundary Files, GIS files for Congressional Districts

News about redistricting:
Election Data Services

Redistricting software:
Caliper Corp.
Digital Engineering Corp.

Spotting Bushmanders

Mark Monmonier
author of Bushmanders and Bullwinkles: How Politicians Manipulate Electronic Maps and Census Data to Win Elections

For political geographers the biggest question of 2001-02 is whether the congressional districts drawn up using the Census Bureau's new small-area data will surpass the contorted congressional districts of the early 1990s. Under pressure from the Justice Department, legislatures in several states responded to the 1990 Census with contorted congressional districts that drew ridicule from pundits and politicians. Largely in the South, these states were under special scrutiny because of past abuses of minority voting rights.

The Constitution triggers a reconfiguration of congressional boundaries every ten years, and for areas with a history of illegal discrimination, the Voting Rights Act requires Department of Justice (or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia) approval for all changes in voting procedures, including new district boundaries. If a state failed to win "preclearance" in time for the 1992 elections, the courts could impose their own redistricting plans, typically drawn up by apolitical Special Masters who might put two or three incumbents into the same district. Committed to increasing the number of black and Hispanic members of Congress, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division withheld preclearance when states failed to maximize the number of districts in which a minority group was the majority. Often the price of preclearance was an irregular boundary that lassoed the necessary number of minority voters.

I call these districts Bushmanders, after George Herbert Walker Bush, our country's CEO during 1991 and 1992, when Justice Department lawyers urged state legislatures to send more blacks and Hispanics to Washington. (Historians will recognize a parallel with Elbridge Gerry, governor of Massachusetts in 1812, when his party delineated the prototypical Gerrymander.) Although enlarging the Congressional Black Caucus might seem an odd pursuit for a Republican administration, the new boundaries disadvantaged many white Democratic incumbents and helped the G.O.P. capture the House in 1994. Even so, many of their twists and turns represent machinations of Democratic political cartographers trying to hold onto electoral leverage.

Thanks to electronic computers and block-level census data, Bushmanders are far more contorted than the original Gerrymander. Geographic information systems make it easy to swap a few blacks here for a few whites there and still keep districts contiguous.

Journalists and political gadflies responded with a barrage of clever names like "Bullwinkle District" for a New York district with a boundary resembling the snout and antlers of the amiable cartoon moose. A search of the Lexis-Nexis database turned up 98 newspaper articles invoking shape metaphors for specific Bushmanders. The most common label was "snake," applied relentlessly to North Carolina's 12 district, which the Supreme Court struck down in 1993. Others were comparatively clever and colorful, as demonstrated by my top-eleven list of deliciously pejorative district labels, listed here with district numbers keyed to their silhouette illustrations. (Actually, the eleventh is my own—too good an opportunity to pass up.)

  1. Bullwinkle  (New York's 12th; Hispanic majority)
  2. Pair of Ear Muffs  (Illinois's 4th; Hispanic majority)
  3. Mark of Zorro  (Louisiana's 4th; black majority)
  4. Flying Fossilized Reptile  (Texas's 30th; black majority)
  5. Bird with Plumage  (Texas's 29th; Hispanic majority)
  6. Gnawed Wishbone (Florida's 3rd; black majority)
  7. Jellyfish Tentacle  (North Carolina's 12th; black majority)
  8. Microscopic View of a Disease  (Texas's 30th; black majority)
  9. The Sphinx  (Iowa's 3rd; nearly all white—what else in Iowa?)
  10. Ketchup Spill  (North Carolina's 12th; black majority)
  11. French Poodle Attacking with a Hatchet  (Georgia's 11th; black majority)

Look for some equally colorful appellations in the months ahead. In a series of close decisions, the Supreme Court banned race as a primary redistricting criterion. But by not overturning several highly irregular white-majority districts, the high court seems willing to endorse contorted boundaries that promote non-racial partisan ends. Because geographic information systems are more powerful than ever, political cartographers might well create a new linguistic sport: spotting and defaming Bushmanders.

Mark Monmonier is Distinguished Professor of Geography at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs.

Copyright notice: ©2001 by Mark Monmonier. This text appears on the University of Chicago Press website by permission of the author. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that Mark Monmonier and the University of Chicago Press are notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of Mark Monmonier.

Mark Monmonier
Bushmanders and Bullwinkles: How Politicians Manipulate Electronic Maps and Census Data to Win Elections
©2001, 220 pages, 44 halftones, 14 line drawings
Cloth $25.00 ISBN: 0-226-53424-3

For information on purchasing the book—from bookstores or here online— please go to the webpage for Bushmanders and Bullwinkles.

See also: