The political geography of Sangamon County

Maps fascinate me. They’re not only useful for navigating physically, but also mentally. I think studying (and producing) maps enhances a person’s sense of direction, spatial reasoning and appreciation of scale. In practical terms, maps can help you make sense of things.

To illustrate the 2014 election results in my county (Sangamon County, Illinois), I made a series of maps depicting party predisposition by precinct. (Alliteration!) It took a lot of work, and it would not have been possible without the awesome work of the folks in the GIS department at the Sangamon County Clerk’s office. They produced the shape files that define the precincts, which allowed me to assign the data to physical areas. For this project, I learned how to build a web scraper with Outwit Hub, which collects data from websites and compiles it into a handy table.

The map below depicts which way each precinct leans politically. To do this, I collected all of the election results by precinct in the races for governor, U.S. Senate, 18th Congressional District, 13th Congressional District, 48th Illinois Senate District, 96th Illinois House District and Sangamon County Sheriff. Next, I averaged the percentage for all Republican candidates and all Democrat candidates in each precinct. That allowed me to see which precincts voted more for Republicans than for Democrats and vice versa. The map illustrates that all precincts outside the City of Springfield leaned Republican, while several within the city leaned Democratic. An interactive version of the map is here:

red blue

While that map shows a concentration of Democratic support in the northeast quadrant of Springfield (which I reported on here), there is no sense of degree here. Looking at that map alone might lead the viewer to conclude that all the red precincts supported Republicans in equal measure. Continue reading


LGBT equality in U.S. cities

I’ve been really into making maps lately. Today, I got an email from the Human Rights Campaign about their 2014 Municipal Equality Index, which grades U.S. cities on LGBT equality. I began to wonder about which areas of the U.S. are most friendly or unfriendly to the LGBT community, so I had to map it. I reorganized and geocoded the data to match the city names with their (approximate) geographical locations, then used CartoDB to convert the table into a visual representation of the points. An interactive version of the map is available at

lgbt map

I also made a few maps of the election results for Sangamon County, Illinois, but I’ll save those for another post.

Black and white – On race, cops and traffic stops

Some white people think that just because the slaves were freed and the Jim Crow laws were repealed, racism in America is over. Ask almost any black person, however, and they’ll tell you a different story. We middle-class white people live in a different world from most black people, so sometimes it’s hard for us to comprehend why they feel our laws and society in general are discriminatory. My article “Black and white” deals with one small facet of that discrimination: traffic stops.

Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson of Springfield. Photo by Patrick Yeagle.

“Every time you pass a cop car, you’re always looking out your rearview mirror,” he said. “You don’t know if they’re going to pull you over, not because you have something on you or you’re doing something illegal, but because growing up, that’s what we’ve seen, and that’s what was happening to us.”

He says that paranoia creates a feeling of inequality, which is compounded by seeing a traffic courtroom full of people who already live in poverty paying hundreds of dollars in fines and court fees for minor traffic violations.

“You feel like there’s no hope, and it’s mentally damaging,” he said. “You carry that every day. Even now, if I see a cop, I look in the mirror. I hate it, but I do. I see my peers and other people in my culture do the same thing.”

The article didn’t solve any problems by any means, but I hope it gave some white people insight into the frustration that black people deal with in many aspects of life. This is the kind of reporting I enjoy the most; it’s challenging for me and hopefully for the reader, too.