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To understand gerrymandering, take a shot at this mini golf course from hell

The interactive data visualization from The Washington Post articulates gerrymandering in a way that words can’t.

To understand gerrymandering, take a shot at this mini golf course from hell
Play the game here. [Screenshot: The Washington Post]

In November 2022, Americans will vote to decide who controls the U.S. House of Representatives. While the practice happens every two years, this year is particularly noteworthy. That’s because once every decade states can redraw the lines of their congressional voting districts. This practice enables gerrymandering, or the sorting of voters into strategic districts to tip elections one way or another.

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Play the game here. [Screenshot: The Washington Post]
Wrapping your head around gerrymandering and the whole idea of voting districts can be tricky, but mini golf is not. That’s why The Washington Post made an interactive data visualization that transforms the strange lines of voting districts into completely absurd, even seemingly unbeatable mini golf courses that you can play in your browser.

Play the game here. [Screenshot: The Washington Post]

The game starts off simple, in Wyoming, where a single congressional seat is up for grabs, so there’s a single voting district. The one district is literally the big rectangle of Wyoming. Sinking a put is no problem in this logical course.

But by the time you reach hole number 3, you’re in Ohio, where Republicans divided Cincinnati (a Democratic stronghold) into three separate districts through a technique dubbed “cracking.” You get to play a course that starts in a large, red, rural area, cuts through the heart of the city through a tiny, almost impassable gate, and then land in more country. This course makes no sense. This map makes no sense. And that’s the idea. Good luck making par. (I couldn’t!)

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Play the game here. [Screenshot: The Washington Post]
However, looks can be deceiving. You can’t simply glance at a map and see gerrymandering every time. In the case of Oregon, its craggy, tapering edges might look like gerrymandering at work, but they are actually born from the natural landscape of the area. Meanwhile, Indiana features a clean box wrapping around Indianapolis that appears to be perfectly objective in its presentation. Yet in this case the maneuver quarantines the blue-voting city to have a say over only one seat.

Republicans aren’t the only gerrymandering party. Democrats have split Maryland up into a complicated, mutant amoeba maze to maximize blue votes that puts pretty much all other gerrymandering maps to shame. But as The Post points out, Republicans have a significant advantage in redrawing districts into the next election (along with all sorts of other laws they are passing to make voting harder in battleground states).

In any case, it’s absurd that our democracy hangs in the balance of a few zany mini golf courses drawn by politicians. Which is exactly why we need to support laws that protect voting rights for everyone.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company who has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years. His work has appeared at Gizmodo, Kotaku, PopMech, PopSci, Esquire, American Photo and Lucky Peach

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