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With all the talk of gerrymandering of late, I was looking up North Carolina's past election maps. And man, the 2016 map which caused the court case looks downright normal compared to some of the ones they've had in the past.

But something caught my eye in the 1993-1998 map. I was under the impression that congressional districts were required to be connected sets, which is why so many districts on that map have narrow corridors connecting them. But I just don't see how districts 1, 3, and 7, or districts 6 and 12, can possibly all be connected.

So I guess I have two related questions

  • Are congressional districts required to be connected? If not, how often have disconnected districts appeared?
  • Are districts in the 1993-1998 map actually disconnected, or is there some geometric wizardry going on at scales that image doesn't resolve?

For this purpose, connection through territorial waters is acceptable, so places like Hawaii or Michigan's upper peninsula that are divided by water don't count.

1993-1998 map

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  • Crazy district shapes. Move your leg to the right and jump over three districts kind of shape. Jul 11, 2019 at 21:23

2 Answers 2

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You're talking about contiguity, which refers to the idea that a district is one piece (physically adjacent). A district with a section located in another district – like an island – is not contiguous.

Like the related matters of compactness and preservation of subdivisions, the issue of contiguity is left to the discretion of each state. The U.S. Constitution and Federal law simply mandate that congressional districts be based on population. Per the Reapportionment Act of 1929, states are allowed to determine the size and shape of congressional districts.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), it looks like 29 states require contiguous congressional districts, including North Carolina. So I guess there's a road keeping those pieces in your map attached.

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    But did North Carolina require contiguous districts in 1993, when that map was made?
    – Brythan
    Jul 9, 2019 at 18:23
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    It looks like for NC the contiguous condition was added in 2017, so it wouldn't apply in 1993 for that map.
    – lazarusL
    Jul 9, 2019 at 18:28
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    @Draco18s Through gerrymandering all things are possible: my city's airport is connected to the city by a 1-foot-wide strip which meanders around the edge of the city in which the airport physically sits.
    – manveti
    Jul 9, 2019 at 21:36
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    What you see in that map are the extremes politicians go to in order to pick their voters. In an ideal world, the reverse would be true. Jul 9, 2019 at 21:39
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    "Contiguity" is a very weak requirement. You can always find a thin uninhabited strip of land to join two disparate regions to technically comply with the law, as @manveti has noticed.
    – dan04
    May 20, 2022 at 15:16
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This is more of a too-long comment than a specific answer, though the short answer would be that district contiguity is a growing, but not yet universal, trend.

Looking backwards, discontinuous congressional districts aren't the half of it. In the early years of the US, even states weren't necessarily contiguous. For example, what we now call Maine was for several decades part of Massachusetts, with New Hampshire in between. Maine, (after being left virtually defenseless to British invasion and occupation in the War of 1812), grew disgruntled and seceded in 1820. But strategic political redistricting played a significant role:

  • On the state level, Massachusetts' ruling Federalist party didn't want the competition in state politics from the rival Jeffersonian party preferred by Mainers.

  • On a national level, the pending statehood of Missouri as a slave state, (with new congressman and senators), threatened to nudge the balance of power of the US Congress toward the slave states. Maine's statehood restored the status quo.

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