New Representative Lookup!

GeoLocate IconAFGE2032 has just added a state-of-the art lookup tool for finding out who represents you in Congress. This is kind of big news, because it adds a new level of sophistication and functionality to our newly rolled-out website. Even if you know who your representatives are, go try out our new toy, just for fun! As always, submit any feedback to .

 

YOUR REPRESENTATIVES: Every state has two senators. So it’s pretty easy to know who they are: just go to the Who Are My Representatives? page and plug in your address. Your senators names will be returned. In addition, every state has at least one representative, apportioned based on population. If a state has only one representative it is called a representative “at-large,” meaning that that congressperson represents all of the people in the state. Almost all states have more than one representative, each representing the residents of a geographic area called a “district.” Most districts include nearly 700,000 people. The reason that some states only have one representative is because there are some states that don’t have enough population to support two or more representatives. At this writing (2013), seven states had only one representative. U.S. territories and districts (e.g. Puerto Rico, District of Columbia) do not have senators, but may have representatives with limited voting rights. Finding who your representative is in one of the 43 states that have multiple representatives is not an easy proposition, because districts lines are usually drawn – for a whole host of reasons – to make very complicated shapes. And zip codes are a whole different issue (see below). So an application that can find your representative based on your address is actually a bigger deal than it may seem.

 

TECHNICAL INFORMATION – PROGRAMMING: This new tool is based on Google Maps GeoCoding API and Sunlight Foundation APIs, brought together in a brilliant WordPress plug-in called CongressLookup. Your erstwhile website administrator was pretty deep into an application using JSON, CORS, and Javascript that would have worked (thank you very much!), but would also have been far inferior to the really cool plug-in he found by chance (never even thought of just looking directly. Duh!).

 

TECHNICAL INFORMATION – MAPPING & GEOCODING: Anyone interested enough to read this probably knows that zip codes are not a good way to find a particular place on earth, but for those who are just the curious type and may not be aware, here’s why (from the Sunshine Foundation):

 

[Z]ip codes and congressional districts aren’t the same thing. A zip code can span more than one district (or even more than one state!) . . . [and] things are actually more complicated than that. Most people don’t realize it, but zip codes describe postal delivery routes — the actual routes that mail carriers travel — not geographically bounded areas. Zip codes are lines, in other words, while congressional districts are polygons. This means that mapping zips to congressional districts is an inherently imperfect process. The government uses something called a zip code tabulation area (ZCTA) to approximate the geographic footprint of a given zip as a polygon . . .  But it really is just an approximation — it’s far from perfect.

 

But what about house.gov’s ZIP+4 congressional lookup tool? . . . It’s true, many House offices use this tool to determine who your representative is (and whether you’re allowed to email them). Unfortunately, just because this tool is on an official site doesn’t mean it’s perfect.  . . . [A Sunshine Foundation employee] (who lives in Maryland) can’t write her representative because the ZIP+4 tool gives incorrect results.

 

So latitude and longitude coordinates are really the only reliable way to find where you belong on the political, congressional district map. Since very, very few people know the exact latitude and longitude coordinates of their house, it’s very fortunate that there are several databases that cross-reference street addresses with latitude and longitude coordinates. Which is where the Google Maps GeoCoding API comes in. So basically, what happens is that when you put in your address, the lookup tool converts your address to a latitude and longitude, then finds the right representative information. If you just put in a zip code, the application will use the ZCTA to find an approximate location, and the results won’t be as accurate.