1902: State Borders

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State Borders
A schism between the pro-panhandle and anti-panhandle factions eventually led to war, but both sides spent too much time working on their flag designs to actually do much fighting.
Title text: A schism between the pro-panhandle and anti-panhandle factions eventually led to war, but both sides spent too much time working on their flag designs to actually do much fighting.


In this comic, graphic designers take control of the United States, but the only thing they do is to change the state and national borders, using primarily aesthetic criteria, see details in the table below. State and national borders have generally emerged from some combination of political decisions, natural boundaries, control of natural resources, and, to some degree, from chance. As the comic implies, some borders originally resulted from surveying errors, but became encoded by law and tradition, and thus were never changed.

Despite the caption's rather blasé reaction to the graphic designers' master plan, the changes they propose could be rather tumultuous. Political boundaries are difficult to change because rewriting them places entire populations in different states or even different countries. Even within the US, changing a population from one state to another has serious implications. A different state means different laws, tax obligations, public benefits, business regulations, infrastructure support, etc. It would also mean that control of some very substantial natural resources would be transferred from one state to another. More significantly, the suggestion to cede portions of the US to Canada and Mexico would be a much bigger deal, forcing residents of those areas to either leave their homes, businesses, and communities or surrender their current nationality and apply for citizenship in another country. The joke behind the comic is that graphic designers would tend to ignore these practical concerns and pay more attention to a map looking orderly.

This comic hints at the fact that Randall actually wants to see these changes made, since there have been other comics containing red annotations over a complex and established structure that he wants to change.

In the title text, the graphic designers have a civil war between the ones that favor "panhandles" in the borders (such as the Oklahoma one which is enlarged in the map, the Florida one which is removed in the map, and maybe others such as the Texas region known as the "Texas panhandle") and the ones that don't. However, as graphic designers, they get too caught up in making the flag designs for their faction to actually fight. Randall has shown interest for vexillology (the study of flags) in the past, such as in 1815: Flag.

Table of changes[edit]

Proposed change Explanation
Give to Canada Minnesota has a small northern exclave (the Northwest Angle) which is sparsely populated (with only about 120 residents), and is accessible from the rest of the US only via water (the Lake of the Woods) or by traveling through Canada. This land being part of the US is the result of a geographic error during the original negotiations over the border, and its irregularity would naturally bother someone concerned with clean and logical boundaries. The new borders suggest giving this territory to Canada to simplify the state and national border. In fact, during the Covid pandemic that hit the US in 2020, the US/Canada border was closed to nonessential travel, and so many of the Angle’s residents struggled to make ends meet, as the cross-border tourism that typically supported them largely disappeared.
This should be Wisconsin Michigan is divided into two parts by Lake Michigan. The graphic designers suggest eliminating a boundary line by assigning the upper peninsula of Michigan to Wisconsin. The upper peninsula of Michigan was given to Michigan as part of a compromise to end the Toledo War.
Move Long Island to NJ or CT, or make it its own state Connecticut and New Jersey are very close to each other but don't actually border, separated only a few miles by New York State. Long Island is part of New York State, which visibly juts out into the Atlantic (extending so far to the east that it gives New York a maritime border with Rhode Island) and apparently drives graphic designers crazy who see an association with New Jersey or Connecticut or even becoming its own state more logical than being a part of New York State. This would have some issues, not least of which is that Long Island contains two of New York City's five boroughs (Brooklyn and Queens) and more than half the city's population.
Unlabelled cleanup at the eastern border of New York, northern border of Massachusetts, and northern border of Connecticut Straighten the eastern border of New York from New York City to the southern tip of Lake Champlain, straighten the northern border of Massachusetts, and straighten the northern border of Connecticut.
Align to Grid Most of the Western states are variations on "large box", but there's something a bit irregular about them. Never fear, the Design Team has fixed it! In the process, they've also changed the border between Idaho and Montana from a natural boundary following the Continental Divide into an arbitrary squiggle.
Clean Up (Maryland/Ohio/Pennsylvania/Virginia/West Virginia) Maryland's western panhandle and both of West Virginia's to the east and north would be smoothed out to have nice, straight, shorter lines. The Mason-Dixon Line that forms the current border between Maryland and Pennsylvania would also be extended east to the border between Pennsylvania and Delaware, which the latter in real life cuts into Pennsylvania a little bit via the Twelve Mile Circle.
Enlarge Rhode Island & Delaware Rhode Island and Delaware, the two smallest U.S. states by area, are often difficult to make out on a map of the United States.

Expanding Delaware to occupy the entire Delmarva peninsula eliminates some boundary lines the designers apparently consider excessively fiddly, as well as solving another "Michigan" problem, as the "VA" of "Delmarva" refers to its Eastern Shore, which is separated from the rest of Virginia by the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. The two parts of Virginia are connected by the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, while Maryland's two bay shores are connected by U.S. Route 50. Rhode Island is not indeed entirely an island, and the mainland portions are the focus of the graphic designers.

Expanding Rhode Island eastward would make it easier to see on a map. Giving the former Plymouth Colony to Rhode Island would have the additional advantage of making Massachusetts a more neatly rectangular state.

If we're going to have a panhandle, why not commit to it? Oklahoma has a "panhandle" to its west, which is a kind of Salient. The obvious fix would be to give it to Texas. In a twist, the graphic designers suggest extending it even further, across the northern parts of Arizona and New Mexico. This would make the Four Corners Monument obsolete, since Arizona and New Mexico would no longer border Utah and Colorado respectively, let alone all four states sharing a corner.
Fix this thing The border of Missouri cuts into Arkansas, in the so-called Missouri Bootheel. The Design Team has awarded that piece to Arkansas, straightening the border.
Unlabelled cleanup at the junction of Kentucky/Virginia Virginia's western border is shifted east to align it with the borders to the north and south, forming a continuous line along the Appalachians.
Unlabelled cleanup at the junction of Nevada/Arizona Continue the line of Utah's western border and Arizona's far northwestern border south (replacing part of the Colorado River boundary), transferring part of Arizona's Mohave county to Nevada.
Unlabelled cleanup at the junction of Texas/Oklahoma/Arkansas/Louisiana Square off Southwest Arkansas, and move Louisiana's northwest border to meet up, presumably because square corners are better.
Clean up (Arizona/New Mexico/Texas) One of New Mexico's borders should be extended into a single line. This results in ceding some land to Mexico, having El Paso split across New Mexico and Texas, and Highway 62 alternating between two states.
Straighten to fix survey errors (Tennessee) Tennessee's southern border is supposed to be the 35th parallel north, but due to surveying errors made in the 19th Century the marked border is one mile south of that line. At many times since, Georgia has sought to fix this by various means (at least partly because doing so would net them some rights to the water from the Tennessee River) including bringing its case to the US Supreme Court - with the Design Team in charge, they wouldn't need those lawyers any more. Farther westward, Tennessee's actual southern border suddenly juts south at the Tennessee River between Alabama and Mississippi - again, the Design Team would rather see it smoothed out. Tennessee's northern border with Kentucky has similar hitches that prevent it from being a straight line that the Design Team wants to address.
Good Curve! Keep. (Florida/Georgia/South Carolina) The only thing the design team likes already about the shape of the US is the shape of the Atlantic coast in northern Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, as it seems to bend into the US smoothly. Unfortunately for them, the curve is coastline; whether or not we get to keep it is up to the whims of Mother Nature [citation needed]. Fortunately for them, they like it as is, so it doesn't matter that they can't change it.
Let's be honest, this should be Canada too Southeast Alaska should be given to Canada, presumably because it more neatly fits with British Columbia. This is slightly problematic, as the current state capital, Juneau, is within this section. Presumably, the state capital would be moved to Alaska's most populous city, Anchorage.
Why should Florida get Alabama's coastline? It has plenty.

The Florida Panhandle borders southern Alabama denying the state all but a sliver of coastline. Given that Florida already has an abundance of coast, the Graphic Designers consider the present arrangement unfair. Ceding the Florida counties west of the Apalachicola River has actually been raised since the 19th century. This change would have the additional benefit of more neatly aligning Florida's western border with that of neighboring Georgia. As a sidenote, this would have significant political implications, as Florida is a closely divided "swing state" whose votes can easily determine the outcome of US Presidential elections. Ceding the largely rural and conservative population of the panhandle would likely tilt the rest of the state in favor of the Democratic candidate in future elections. Such an upset of the power balance is one reason why these kinds of changes would be aggressively opposed.


[An outline map of the United States is shown, including state boundaries. There are several proposed edits in red.]
[Minnesota's Northwest Angle is circled]
Give to Canada
[Border between Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula is crossed out]
This should be Wisconsin
[New York's Long Island is circled, with arrows and question marks pointing to New Jersey and Connecticut]
Move Long Island to NJ or CT or make it its own state
[New York's eastern border has been straightened]
[Wyoming's western border is moved to align with that of Colorado. The Montana/Idaho and Idaho/Utah borders are extended to reach the new border. Similarly, Colorado's eastern border is moved to align with that of Wyoming, and the Nebraska/Kansas border has been extended]
Align to grid
[West Virginia's northern panhandle has been given to Ohio and part of its eastern panhandle has been given to Maryland. In return, Western Maryland has been given to West Virginia. The altogether effect is that West Virginia and Maryland have more compact shapes]
Clean Up
[Rhode Island has been enlarged to encompass southeastern Massachusetts, and Delaware now takes up the entire Delmarva Peninsula]
Enlarge Rhode Island & Delaware
[The Oklahoma Panhandle has been extended west until it reaches Nevada, taking the northernmost parts of Arizona and New Mexico with it]
If we're going to have a panhandle, why not commit to it?
[The Missouri Bootheel has been given to Arkansas]
Fix this thing
[The part of Virginia west of the Appalachian Mountains has been given to Kentucky]
[The southwestern and eastern borders of Nevada have been extended into Arizona until they meet a point. A part of California is slightly extended to reach the revised border]
[Parts of Arizona and New Mexico have been ceded to Mexico, and part of Texas has been given to New Mexico, so that the southern borders of Arizona and New Mexico and the northern border of the Trans-Pecos area of Texas collectively form a straight line]
Clean Up
[Parts of northeastern Texas have been given to Arkansas and Louisiana]
[The northern and southern borders of Tennessee have been straightened]
Straighten to fix survey errors
[A line has been traced along the coasts of South Carolina, Georgia, and northern Florida]
Good curve! Keep.
[Alaska's southeastern panhandle has been circled]
Let's be honest - this should be Canada, too.
[The Alabama/Florida border has been erased, and Alabama's eastern border has been extended south until it meets the Gulf of Mexico]
Why should Florida get Alabama's coastline? It has plenty.
[Caption below the panel:]
It was scary when graphic designers seized control of the country, but it turned out they just wanted to fix some things about the state borders that had always bothered them.


  • Here's how the outline map of the United States (excluding Hawaii) will look like if the suggested border changes are done:


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Let's be honest- it should all be Canada. 12:24, 13 October 2017 (UTC)

Or... Indigenous people's land? 04:27, 15 October 2017 (UTC)

Could Arizona, New Mexico be a reference to Trump? Like, make the border straighter so it's easier to build a wall? Herobrine (talk) 12:35, 13 October 2017 (UTC)

More likely the joke is that conceding territory to Mexico is about the last thing Trump would do AnotherAnonymous (talk) 13:04, 13 October 2017 (UTC)
I don't think there's a Trump joke here. Randall doesn't tend to be political. Jkshapiro (talk) 05:49, 24 June 2018 (UTC)

My first thought is to wonder if it would be possible to arrange the map such that all internal borders are "straight lines" that span the entire country, to satisfy as many criteria as possible:

  • The number of states remains unchanged
    • …and they all get to keep their capitals (probably quite difficult)
      • …or (and?) each state manages to keep either its current population, land area, or coastline length
  • Or all internal borders are parallels or meridians
  • Or all states have the same land area
    • …or population; or population density
  • Or if you're allowing more (or fewer) states than the present layout, what's the greatest number of states possible such that they all contain at least one complete city?

Which of those criteria would be the most interesting challenge? And which could you construct an algorithm to solve? I really should refrain from trying to build those algorithms, because I'm supposed to be working --Angel (talk) 13:28, 13 October 2017 (UTC)

I'd like to see what a map of the US would look like with each house gerrymandered by their legislative preferences... Borders everywhere, and wow what a nightmare of litigation it would generate as people cross from one district to another!
More to your query: I don't see any modifications you could make that would keep the population unchanged. Some people would inevitably end up in a different state.
How about a map where every state has an equal number of spiders? 04:39, 15 October 2017 (UTC)
Population as in number of people; not necessarily the same people. --Angel (talk) 10:28, 15 October 2017 (UTC)
Oh... Hm, that doesn't sound very useful or aesthetically satisfying... I think mapping the regions where various spider populations dominate might be more interesting. 10:46, 15 October 2017 (UTC)

There are some great videos on YouTube about weird State boundaries. There are some REALLY weird oddities out there. Take for instance the "Give to Canada" piece - that's the Northwest Angle in Minnesota. It's really an accident that it ever ended up in the USA at all, and doesn't make any sense! Martini (talk) 13:40, 13 October 2017 (UTC)Martini

I wouldn't call the NW Angle an accident as much as a slightly illogical solution in order to maintain the terms of the original border agreement in the face of the Mississippi River's inconveniently located headwaters. My recollection is that it said roughly: the border goes west of <this> point until reaching the Mississippi river [which all parties assumed continued that far north]. 14:13, 13 October 2017 (UTC)

I believe Randall's overall point is that though a large part of the individual United States have straight boundaries, especially in the West, or other features that are aesthetically pleasing, as in the S Carolina/Georgia/Florida coastline, there are a good number of internal inconsistencies. Many of these (most of the untagged "fixes") can be attributed to the concept that "Rivers make good logical boundaries", but even then, if you look closer, there are some really puzzling bits:

  • The "Give To Canada" bit of Minnesota is almost all Indian Reservation land, so that kind of makes sense...
  • The "Fix this thing" in Missouri is even stranger than it initially looks - while the notch in Arkansas is caused by the Mississippi River, there is a large bight of land in the middle of the Missouri-owned bit that is actually Kentucky (yes, there's an island of Kentucky that is separate from the main Kentucky state and entirely surrounded by Missouri)
  • Not edited, but equally odd is the dip Florida cuts into Georgia near the east coast - there's no apparent town or natural features there to cause that irregularity

I don't happen to think the Arizona/New Mexico bits are political commentary, just "the entire rest of the state is a box, make this a straight line, too." cleanup. I mean yes, it would make wall-building easier, theoretically, but the Chinese showed the world centuries ago that straight lines are not needed to build a big fricking wall. 14:23, 13 October 2017 (UTC)

- While I agree it probably isn't conscious political commentary, its interesting that there are not places the border increases; always concessions, never gains. May take into account its easier to give than take territory? --Jgt (talk) 19:32, 13 October 2017 (UTC)--Jgt (talk) 19:33, 13 October 2017 (UTC)

I'm surprised Randall didn't suggest cleaning up Point Roberts as well [1]. 14:33, 13 October 2017 (UTC)

Presumably the graphic designers are okay with that, since it maintains the 49th Parallel as a nice, tidy border. Wwoods (talk) 20:18, 13 October 2017 (UTC)

I'm shocked he didn't support fixing the Idaho/Wisconsin/Montana/Oregon border. That top part should be either given to Montana, or split between Washington and Oregon... I wonder if he left out certain things in order to avoid offending certain groups of people. Like suggesting that Rhode Island and Connecticut should probably be one state, or that Vermont and New Hampshire should be as well. Kashim (talk) 17:03, 13 October 2017 (UTC)

Some of the suggestions are ironic, for example Michigan's upper peninsula actually used to be part of the Wisconsin territory, but it was ceded to Michigan in exchange for the port of Toledo being ceded to Ohio. "why does Florida get Alabama's coastline" is actually because Alabama got part of Florida's coastline so it wouldn't be landlocked. The bit of Nevada that he wants to fix it so Nevada has territory along the Colorado River 17:18, 13 October 2017 (UTC)

Nobody seems to have noticed that Delaware's curved northern border has been flattened (removing Wilmington). 21:31, 13 October 2017 (UTC)

One significant thing about this map is that, under this map, Hillary Clinton may have won the 2016 election. Citations needed, but I've seen it said that if the Upper Peninsula were moved from Michigan to Wisconsin and the Florida Panhandle were moved to Alabama, Clinton would have won Michigan and Florida, giving her an Electoral College majority. I don't think the Upper Peninsula has enough population to cost Michigan an electoral vote, and I think Florida would lose two electoral votes, putting Clinton exactly at the 270 needed to win. Perhaps the changes around Colorado and Nevada would make a difference, although there were also five faithless Clinton electors who might have voted for her if it would have made a difference. 01:45, 14 October 2017 (UTC)

  • There's a tool out there that allows you to at least approximate these changes (you can move counties from one state to another. It's not perfectly straight lines.) http://kevinhayeswilson.com/redraw/ The changes that are potentially electorally-significant with respect to 2016 were: The Upper Peninsula to Wisconsin, the Florida panhandle largely to Alabama, the expansion of DE, expansion of RI, cleanup of WV/MD, and shifting of Long Island*. (Almost all the other changes occur in very unpopulated areas and involve states that were not particularly close in the last election.) I get a 277-261 Clinton victory on this map. As you note, the Upper Peninsula and Florida Panhandle shifts do change the outcomes in the remaining portions of MI and FL respectively. The change to WV and MD does not appear to change either state's results (I assigned Wheeling to Ohio, which only makes Ohio slightly redder). Expanding Delaware does not quite flip it red - the Maryland Eastern Shore and Virginia bay shore are not sufficient to change DE, although it became an extremely close race - Clinton won by 2,000 votes out of 1.4 million in the expanded state of Delmarva, so if Wilmington becomes part of PA, it probably moves DE and its now 4 electoral votes to Trump (273-265 in that scenario). The NYC area however is the catch here - depending on how it's sliced, it could cause Upstate New York to flip red and therefore flip the overall map back to a Trump victory. (New York north of the northern border of Westchester County is a Red State!). It doesn't appear to matter whether NYC itself ends up in CT, NJ, or divided between the two - adding a blue city to a blue state doesn't change the outcome much, aside from potentially varying the electoral vote sizes. The tool doesn't allow you to add a new state, but the State of Long Island's 2 extra EVs from a Senate seats would not change the overall outcome of the election either - if Westchester is part of Long Island State, Trump wins - if it remains in New York State, Hillary wins. As Westchester County Goes, so goes the White House -- 05:25, 18 October 2017 (UTC)

Good curve! The curve is called the Georgia Bight, or less euphoniously, the South Atlantic Bight. 03:34, 14 October 2017 (UTC)

"Align to Grid" refers to the option to have icons snap to a grid on a Windows desktop. The idea is that the states become "aligned" like icons on a desktop. FakeCrash (talk) 17:59, 14 October 2017 (UTC)

More likely, since this has been drawn up by graphic designers, it refers to functionality in most design/drawing tools that allows you to drag elements into the drawing and have them snap to a notional grid, so that they align nicely with previously added elements. 11:11, 18 October 2017 (UTC)

It would be really useful if this could link to somewhere that described why the various panhandles and oddities exist. 21:04, 14 October 2017 (UTC)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_the_States_Got_Their_Shapes Silverpie (talk) 21:26, 15 October 2017 (UTC)

They should be called geo-graphic designers Jaalenja (talk) 06:53, 15 October 2017 (UTC)

Randall had no references to Trump here. Get over it. I mean really. Why does everybody think everything about the country has to do with Trump winning? That's right, Jacky720 just signed this (talk | contribs) 14:24, 15 October 2017 (UTC)

For the sentence: "Many U.S. residents will be made to live in new states, and thus be required to pay different taxes and obey different state laws, and even root for different sports teams." It should be expanded to explain that people are indeed required to root for sports teams in the state they live in⸮ -- 21:11, 15 October 2017 (UTC)

The map looks great, but you didn't include all 50 states. 05:36, 16 October 2017 (UTC)

[https://img ur.com/a/Tnjts I tried my hand at creating this map] 01:23, 16 October 2017 (UTC)

In the "explanation" column of the grid the entry for Rhode Island says "Expanding Rhode Island eastward would reduce the number of land borders it has to two [...]" This confused me a great deal, and I triple-checked to confirm that Rhode Island currently has two land borders, so how would making it bigger reduce the number (which is currently two) to two? 04:15, 16 October 2017 (UTC)

• Original writer - my bad for poor writing. I had the fact that Rhode Island's current border with Massachusetts has two clear lines on the mind: an east-west border to RI's north and a north-southish border to RI's east, with the latter being erased under the DT's proposals.

A description of the change to the eastern Massachusetts/New Hampshire border is missing.

The border between the Province of Québec and the States of New York and Vermont should also be straightened and aligned on the 45th parallel and, while we're at it, extended all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The Northeastern border would then be a nice straight line, like the Northwestern border. New Hampshire would lose its extreme Northern tip (not a big deal), and Maine all of its Northern territory (which is mostly uninhabited anyway).

• He missed an opportunity regarding the Erie_Triangle.

T for Texas, T for Tennessee: There is an actual [Horrors] OMISSION, given that he is correcting a surveying error in Tennessee, he should also correct the surveying error that put the New Mexico-Texas state line about 1 xkcd line-width too far west (as scaled on the map), unnecessarily expanding Texas.

With regards to the Alaskan panhandle section - to the best of my knowledge (and based on a quick online search) the capital of Alaska has always been in Juneau. It certainly has never been in Anchorage. There were several referendums over the past four decades to move the capital to Anchorage or near Anchorage; however, most were defeated. Also, the two (I think it was two?) that passed, were effectively defunded in the legislature. Also, most of us Anchoragites (damn, we need a better name for ourselves) would be more than happy to give Juneau to Canada... some of us would pay them to take it.

In the vein of "Give X to Canada," Port Roberts needs addressing. Nobody else really cares enough to make it happen. 05:43, 20 October 2017 (UTC)

As a Wyomingite, I strongly object to the 'Align to Grid' changes. Not because I mind Jackson being lost, but because Idaho and Montana have been laying claim to Yellowstone for years. We can't let them actually have it! 05:22, 25 October 2017 (UTC)

The Wyoming align to grid changes move Evanston over to Utah, and Jackson Hole over to Idaho. Given that Wyoming is already the least populous state by a pretty decent margin, I think it would make sense to just split the remaining land between Colorado and Montana, continuing the arbitrary squiggle that was previously extended to remove Yellowstone. Colorado would become a much taller and slimmer state. While we're at it we could merge the Dakota's into one state as well. Stickfigurefan (talk) 16:56, 4 June 2019 (UTC)

I think the border between Idaho and Montana is already, for the most part, an arbitrary squiggle.Jkshapiro (talk) 06:26, 24 June 2018 (UTC)

In "Align to Grid", those aren't "arbitrary squiggles", those are cross-out lines—he's just trying to move the existing straight lines. 13:53, 30 January 2020 (UTC)

If the curve changes, we could reclaim land to fix it. Easy as pie. 14:13, 10 May 2022 (UTC)

We, The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, just want to be our own state, Da UP! AlabroX201 17:34 (Earth Standard Time), 6th of Oct. 2022

Series page[edit]

Should this be a part of a series? There was 2258: Solar System Changes and 2351: Standard Model Changes. Maybe even 2356: Constellation Monstrosity or 2639: Periodic Table Changes. His changes to these typical models are all denoted by red, which could be a defining feature of this series. SilverTheTerribleMathematician (talk) 09:52, 2 January 2023 (UTC)

(As just mentioned in an edit-comment for the Standard Model one...) I was thinking of a Category called "Amended diagrams", or even something like "Red-pen Edits". Add the one with state boundaries and probably some more that I'll remember only when I scan through the list of Images With Color to refresh my memory. If anyone wants to. 14:10, 2 January 2023 (UTC)
I was thinking they would be called "Randall's Changes". SilverTheTerribleMathematician (talk) 21:10, 2 January 2023 (UTC)
See Category:Compromise. --ColorfulGalaxy (talk) 21:29, 12 January 2023 (UTC)
Edit: No. Sorry. "Solar system changes" was there because of the Jupiter-Saturn merger, and not because of the red lines. --ColorfulGalaxy (talk) 21:50, 22 February 2023 (UTC)
Category:Comics with red corrections was created. 00:52, 26 May 2023 (UTC)