Election district Google/Yahoo/whatever maps mashup?

I was looking for a mapping resource for U.S. electoral districts recently, a resource that would provide maps or map overlays for congressional or state assembly election districts. I could find nothing like. Out of curiosity I checked into how hard it is to find maps of my own districts. It turned out to be quite difficult. I did find some fuzzy maps at the Boulder Clerk and Recorder Elections site, but you would really have to know your county's geography like the front of your hand to get a lot from those. Also, it seemed difficult to raise that site by going through any of the major search engines using likely search terms. Finally, I assumed that knowing how to get the district maps from Boulder would be useless for other counties, and I tested that assumption by visiting a few neighboring counties such as Weld. I could always find the maps, but it took very different site navigation, and the resulting maps differed hugely in format (embedded image vs PDF download) and detail.

With all the talk of Web mash-ups, I wonder whether anyone has any sort of site or tool for overlaying elections district information over mapping services. I suppose one big problem is that there isn't much commercial prospect for such a service, but surely this would be a prime candidate civic service mashups, funded by government or philanthropes. Another question is whether districting information is available in computer-readable form regular enough for inexpensive implementation of such overlays.

I still don't know why the U.S. insists of complicating its nation/state/county/municipality breakdown with a Klee-canvas of congressional, state assembly (and sometimes even educational) districts. Why aren't town or county the basic units? If we want more house reps than there are counties, why not have multiple per overall country, much as we have two senators per state? Wouldn't it reduce gerrymandering and save resources to not invent temporary bantustans every ten years as electoral units? Anyway, these last naïve thoughts are topic for another entry another day.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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3 responses
There are a number of reasons:

1) Incumbents tend, naturally, to favor rules which favor incumbents, and incumbents tend to believe that not changing anything mostly favors them.

2) The Senate is a constitutional special case.  For all other elections, the rules are designed to approximate one-man-one-vote (that is, each district should be of approximately equal population so that each representative represents roughly the same number of people).

3) At-large elections have notoriously been used to disenfranchise city voters by including a large number of suburban voters in the at-large district, such that all candidates wind up being elected from and by the suburbs.  Similarly, if a diverse city like New York didn't have neighborhood representation on its City Council, many groups (Manhattanites, e.g.) would go utterly unrepresented.

In any case, all this is a state issue: the federal government sets basic standards and specifies the number of congressmen, but not how the districts are set.  State legislatures, with more or less interference by the courts, do it all.

w.r.t your 3 points:

1) nod.  That's why I admitted it was a naïve thought.

2) I understand the proportional representation requirement, but I don't see why my idea does not allow for this.  The number of reps per county could be allocated based on census.  Sure, this would result in some rounding error, but there is in the current system as well, anyway, and, besides, a little rounding is far less pernicious than the current cynical rot, IMO.

3) Interesting point.  But isn't this something that that most parliamentary systems already have to deal with?

Anyway, it was but a partly cooked thought, and thanks for the additional fuel.
Sounds like a topic for the RDF-driven website of GovTrack.us (or something similar, anyway).