Is GIS Creating More Gerrymandering?

Redistricting is a process that is mandated every ten years, in every state, counting the number of citizens living in the United States by the US Census Bureau (US Constitution).  These districts are redrawn and go into effect immediately for the first election following the census.  Our country’s population totaled around 309 million citizens according to the 2010 US Census.  Currently, the United States House of Representatives contains 435 elected members who run for office every two years.  The state with the greatest population will contain the most Congressional Districts, while a state that has a population of 550,000 will contain only one Congressional District.  Ohio has eighteen Congressional Districts, but starting with the 2012 elections, Ohio will now have only sixteen (US Census).  Although the population for the state of Ohio did go up over the last ten years according to the 2010 US Census, population growth was comparably slower compared to several fast growing states such as Arizona and Texas; which gained Congressional seats.  The average number of residents for a Congressional District ranges from 550,000 for a state such as Wyoming to 990,000 such as Montana where both states only have one Congressional District (US Census).  States that have more than one Congressional District often pit racial, urban and suburban areas, and class being major factors in creating Congressional Districts that one could view as gerrymandering.


In the previous Congressional Redistricting before 2011, Franklin County was spilt into three Congressional Districts: the 7th, 12th, and 15th Congressional Districts (Figure 1).  This was to ensure Columbus would remain entirely in Congressional Districts seated by Republicans.  One could view this process as not gerrymandering; however, this is a different variation of gerrymandering called “cracking” (Amy).  Political viewpoints of residents shifted away from the Republicans in Columbus over the last ten years.  This case was seen in the 15th Congressional District, where attempts were taken to unseat the political party that occupied that district in the previous three elections.  Representation by Democrats in the Columbus area became evident. The redistricting committee decided to assuage their demands and to preserve the other two districts currently seated by Republicans (Wehrman).

Starting with the upcoming 2012 Congressional Elections, Franklin County will be once again spilt into three Congressional Districts: the 3rd, 12th, and 15th (Figure 1). The 3rd Congressional District is entirely inside Franklin County.  The area that compromises this Congressional District includes Grandview Heights, Worthington, Whitehall, Bexley, parts of Reynoldsburg, and a majority of Columbus (Figure 2).  Even though the area has a mixture of middle class, upper class, and lower class along with racial and ethnic backgrounds, these areas tend to align with the Democrats.  This is a process of gerrymandering called “packing” (Amy).  The 12th Congressional District rings around northern Franklin County which contains the wealthier suburbs of Westerville, Dublin, Gahanna, and New Albany (Figure 2).  Counties included are Licking, Delaware, and Morrow Counties and parts of Marion and Richland Counties.  These areas usually align Republican and the district is currently seated by Republican Congressman Pat Tiberi.  The 15th Congressional District encompasses southern Franklin County which includes Upper Arlington, Hilliard, Grove City, Groveport, and Canal Winchester (Figure 2).  Counties included are Highland, Hocking, Madison, Morgan, Perry, Union, and Vinton Counties and parts of Athens, Clark, Fairfield, Muskingum, and Ross Counties.  Although these areas are currently seated by Republican Congressman Steve Stivers, this area could align either Republican or Democrat due to the range of the population in future elections.  For example, the population of Athens usually votes Democrat due in part to the location of Ohio University, whereas the suburban population in Franklin County usually votes Republican in an election.  With GIS, we are seeing more polarized Congressional Districts revealing extreme ties to both Republican and Democratic sides for their districts.  How does a redistricting committee create these Congressional Districts?

In gathering the research and analyzing the data, TIGER Files were downloaded from the US Census.  There are two types of Census data that may have determined how Congressional Districts were redistricted in the first place: blocks and tracts.  Due to the complexity of the 3rd Congressional District, the Redistricting Committee primarily used Census blocks instead of tracts (Figure 3).  Census blocks are more complex and vary in size, especially areas with high population density.  However, the use of Census blocks instead of Census tracts would create more gerrymandering.  Some Congressional Districts show an anomaly of shapes and have one or two Census blocks wide connecting larger areas, often associating with race and class. The PDF released by the Redistricting Committee shows the redistricted Congressional Districts (Ohio Secretary of State[link]).  Those two sources were vital when mapping out the new Congressional Districts in Franklin County.


In creating the new Congressional Districts, several physical boundaries were used. Physical boundaries such as rivers, freeways, railroads, or major streets can divide one side in one Congressional District; whereas, the other side is in another Congressional District. One of the most notable boundaries on the northeast side of Franklin County is the Interstate 270 Outerbelt (Figure 4). This boundary is used to separate the 3rd and 12th Congressional Districts from one another. Historically, interstates and freeways have been used to segregate race and class such as Clintonville and Linden neighborhoods were physically separated and access between them was consolidated when Interstate 71 was built. Once again, these boundaries are lucid as the Outerbelt separates the wealthier suburbs and the middle and lower class neighborhoods of inner city Columbus. Another historical boundary is the use of the railroad to separate Congressional Districts. Examples include a railroad line on the south side of Columbus and another railroad line on the eastside of Columbus which separates race and class from each other (Figure 4).

Relying on the same GIS technology, Three Scale was able to create the redistricted Congressional Districts in Franklin County by producing brand new shapefiles for the map. Many hours were consumed in editing and creating the shapefile. As time goes on, we hope to create more Ohio Congressional Districts to reflect the newly redistricted areas over the course of the next several months. The US Census will not be releasing the new Congressional District shapefiles until 2013 when the 113th Congressional begins their session. Already we have seen the effects of gerrymandering in Franklin County alone when creating the maps. Other parts of the state such as Lucas and Cuyahoga Counties have also been gerrymandered in order to preserve or cannibalize several Representatives. This proves GIS technology is becoming more complacent in the realm of politics in the United States. Are the results becoming more stratified and harming the need for more competition between political parties? Are having more extreme politicians representing our Congressional Districts in Washington the direct outcome from this?


1. “The Constitution of the United States,” Article 1, Section 2. <>.

2. “Apportionment Population 2010 Census,” US Department of Commerce, US Census Bureau. < on%202010.pdf>.

3. Amy, Douglas J. “How Proportional Representation Would Finally Solve Our Redistricting and Gerrymandering Problems,” Mount Holyoke College PR Library. <>.

4. Wehrman, Jessica & Torry, Jack. “Congressional Map Could Send Kilroy Back to Washington,” Columbus Dispatch. Tuesday September 13, 2011. < congressional-district-franklin-county.html >.

5. “Tiger/Line® Shapefiles and Tiger/Line® Files,” US Census Bureau. <>.

6. “Enacted Congressional District Map,” Ohio Secretary of State. < districtsBW.pdf >.