Mesmerizing Data Visualization Reveals the Utter Chaos Of Lawmaking

Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes watching C-Span (before falling asleep) knows that passing laws can be a drawn out, excruciating process. This data vis tool called the Legislative Explorer reveals exactly how insane this process can really be.

Created by researchers at the University of Washington's Center for American Politics and Public Policy, the Legislative Explorer shows you data about the journeys taken by 250,000 bills and resolutions introduced from 1973 to the present. When most of us think about the legislative process, that classic Schoolhouse Rock video pops into our heads. But the process that bill takes is a gentle ride compared to what most experience.

Each dot represents a bill, so you can follow its movement through the legislative version of Chutes & Ladders. Focusing on just one bill—particularly a significant one—gives you a unique, sped-up perspective of the wheeling and dealing that takes place in Congress.

The progress of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 is captured in the video above. The bill (represented by a blue dot) was introduced by House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank on December 2, 2009, and simultaneously referred to several House committees. After passing the House on Dec. 11, it was referred to just one Senate Committee (Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs) chaired by Christopher Dodd. The bill was then passed by the Senate on May 20 before ping ponging back and forth between the chambers as a conference committee resolved the differences. On July 21 the President signed the bill into law.

And, unlike members of Congress, you only have to endure the entire saga for 30 seconds.

Want to see more? You can play with the data yourself. According to the University of Washington:

Users can drill down through the graphically presented data in lots of ways, including by type of legislation, sponsors, party or chamber of origin. The tool also has filters allowing users to sort results many ways, including by gender of sponsoring legislator, committee affiliation and — perhaps most helpful of all — whether the legislation is considered major or minor.

The left half of the image represents the U.S. Senate, with senators sorted by party (blue=Democrat) and a proxy for ideology (top=liberal). The House is displayed on the right. Moving in from the borders, the standing committees of the Senate and House are represented, followed by the Senate and House floors. A bill approved by both chambers then moves upward to the President's desk and into law, while an adopted resolutions (that does not require the president's signature) moves downward.

Visit the Legislative Explorer