Congressional districts are required to be redrawn after every census that occurs every decade. They have to be contiguous and to represent a limited range of numbers of people but beyond that the process is pretty much up for grabs. Whoever has the power to draw the lines can do so to achieve their own goals, such as to create safe seats for one party or to unite (or disperse) a particular ethnic or racial group, and so on.

What this can result in are districts that look bizarre, and the term used to describe the result is gerrymandering. The word apparently originated after Elbridge Gerry, a governor of Massachusetts, in 1812 signed a bill creating a district that looked like a salamander. Here are five strong candidates for the ugliest (i.e., most obviously gerrymandered) districts.

ugliest-mdMy favorite is Maryland’s current 3rd district, shown on the right, that has been given the nickname of ‘The Pinwheel of Death’. Although it may look like it is non-contiguous, all that is necessary is for a tiny strip of land or a beach or a bridge to connect different parts to qualify. A reporter said it took nine hours to drive from one end to the other. Why was it drawn this way? “Sources speculate [current Congressman John Sarbanes] wants to lay the groundwork for a Senate bid someday, and the pinwheel shape puts him in nearly all of the state’s key media markets.”

Jason Jones of The Daily Show talks to one of the people who draws such districts and takes great pride in the results, describing them as works of art.

(This clip aired on December 10, 2013. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)