Once every decade, the solemn task of redrawing the nation’s congressional districts begins again.
Millions of dollars are spent. Politicians debate endlessly over fair representation. Political consultants with sophisticated modeling software toil away on district designs.
And yet, the resulting maps have failed to impress 9-year-old Araliya Rubin of Chevy Chase.
“I thought they just look like someone was really tired and decided to draw lines,” Araliya said.
Perfect material for a coloring book, she and her mother, Nilmini Rubin, decided.
Araliya and her mother spent about a year researching and writing about the redistricting process and its history before publishing the coloring book, “The United Shapes of America.” The book went on sale for $8.99 on Amazon in September, just as the U.S. Supreme Court prepared to take up a landmark case on partisan gerrymandering.
The high court case that centers on Wisconsin’s congressional districts could give courts the authority to toss out a voting map if it seems too skewed to the benefit of one political party or the other.
Maryland is considered to have some of the most blatant examples of gerrymandering in the U.S., including the 3rd District, which has been likened to “blood spatter from a crime scene.”
Araliya started wondering about district shapes when her dad, Joel Rubin, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2016. Rubin took his daughter with him to campaign stops across the 8th District, which sprawls from Potomac to the Mason-Dixon Line and also has elements of gerrymandering.
After trying to answer her daughter’s questions, Nilmini Rubin searched for a coloring book on districts to help explain the concept.
“I looked around, and there wasn’t anything. As a former Hill staffer, I was pretty surprised,” she said.
That was the beginning of the duo’s publishing project.
“The United Shapes of America” devotes a coloring page to each state and its congressional districts, but it also explores the history behind the maps and even explains how the term “gerrymandering” was coined. (Spoiler: It has to do with salamanders and a 19th-century cartoon about Gov. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.)
Nilmini Rubin said she tried to explain districting in an objective way and let Araliya and other readers form their own conclusions about the twisting lines on the page. Araliya couldn’t recall exactly which state could claim credit for her favorite shape, but said one particular district looked “as if someone wanted to draw a snake that had really short squiggles.”
When asked if the voting boundaries make sense, Araliya pauses before answering.
“If you thought about it for a long time, you would probably understand it,” she replies.
But her head-start in comprehending government hasn’t convinced the Potomac Elementary School fourth-grader to pursue elected office once she’s reached adulthood. She said she’ll “probably stick to space and nature.”