In recent years, we’ve seen the issue of changing US state borders come up repeatedly. For example, activists in some Colorado counties in 2013 proposed breaking off to form a new state. Since 2021, a similar idea has persisted in having Weld County, Colorado join the State of Wyoming. In 2016, California activists sought a vote on splitting the enormous state into 6 states. It failed to get enough signatures, but in 2018, a similar proposal for 3 new states did get enough signatures. A statewide vote was only avoided because the State Supreme Court panicked and pulled the measure from the ballot with little legal justification.
This year, voters in San Bernardino County in California approved a proposal to “study” secession as a first step in separation. Meanwhile, in Oregon, voters in 11 counties have voted to direct county officials to pursue “relocation of the state border.” In Illinois, activists in Madison County (near St. Louis) have led an effort in which voters in three counties have voted to “explore” secession from Illinois.
When activists propose changes to the current boundaries of US member states, a common reaction from supporters of the political status quo is to scoff. “Not gonna happen” is what they often say, and it’s assumed that such measures are both impractical and unnecessary. As usual, we’re told that “democracy” will somehow magically solve any conflicts that have been growing between the states’ metropolitan cores and their distant, outlying frontiers far from the seats of power.
The knee jerk opposition we so often encounter to such measures is rather odd given that the nation’s current state borders were drawn, in most cases, well over a century ago. In many cases state boundaries were drawn more than two centuries ago. During that time, changes in migration, demographics, and political institutions have re-drawn the political landscape in a myriad of ways. Nonetheless, state boundaries are often treated as if they were created by the hand of the Almighty, and that it would be an unspeakably radical move to simply allow modern state boundaries to reflect modern demographics and populations.
This policy of clinging to the lines on a map drawn many decades ago is a recipe for political conflict and resentment.