IntroductionThe BCR Guide to State Legislative and Congressional Districts and Maps

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“All politics is local”
Tip O’Neill

The BCR Guide to State Legislative and Congressional Districts and Maps provides links to each state’s legislature, maps of each state’s house, senate, and US Congressional Districts, and services to identify local legislators for each political unit. Sources vary from state to state but generally speaking legislatures provide services to identify legislators while district maps are frequently provided by the office of the Secretary of State.

Many states have a web page or web site that provides information on redistricting plans required by law in response to changes in population, and these sites now provide information on the current arrangement of political districts in the state. Maps of political districts are frequently generated by Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Some states have their own GIS departments to provide maps of political, environmental, social and other data about the state. Many states now use interactive maps in place of lookup procedures to help constituents identify both their legislators and their districts. Consequently in some states one or two links provide access to district maps and legislator identification while in other states four or five links are required to access the same information. This BCR Guide provides links to these resources in a standardized format for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Available maps vary in image quality, the amount of information they contain, file size, and other attributes. Some states provide maps of individual districts as well as a map of all the districts. Legislator lookup services also vary, employing such different devices as search engines, tables, and interactive maps. Additional resources are provided by public interest organizations, vendors, and the US Census. While many congressional district maps are available in PDF format, the US Census and both provide fine quality preview maps of congressional districts in easy to load .gif format. The NCEC Redistricting Resource Center monitors the designation and redefinition of state and congressional districts. Project Vote-Smart is another valuable resource, providing its own lookup service to identify legislators and access to state-level political resources and media. This BCR Guide provides access to these and other resources for identifying and characterizing state legislative and congressional districts.

Maps of political districts are valuable tools for citizens, students of political science, and political organizers. Identifying legislators is a fundamental part of lobbying at the state and national level. But identifying legislative districts is the starting point and foundation of political organization.

Legislative district maps are the guide to the action for both spectators and more interested observers of American politics. Our political system is organized in terms of spatial units. At the federal level, for example, a major difference in the Senate and the House of Representatives is the size of the territory each legislator represents. In many cases differences in regional interests provide powerful explanations of voting behavior. The organization of effective political parties often follows the organization of regional political units; national political parties, for example, are organized at the national, state, county, and precinct levels. At the county and precinct level effective political organizations are able to reorganize as needed for different election cycles and different combinations of local territory in districts for the state and federal legislature.

District maps provide useful information. Maps help citizens identify their various representatives and hold them accountable, especially by helping citizens identify and contact fellow citizens who share an interest in holding their fellow representative accountable. Maps of legislative voting by district helps to define and explain the political and legislative coalitions that form and reform according to different issues and different votes. District maps are also valuable exhibits of the challenges that face political organizers and lobbyists. Maps are essential tools for political organizers because they provide a means to visualize the conditions that define success.

Politics is local, and district maps identify the local characteristics that define and ultimately determine our national political culture.