United States Elections Project



The United States Elections Project is moving to a new home


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The information here and more can now be found at The Public Mapping Project, a project to create greater transparency and public participation in redistricting by providing the public with the data and tools to draw legal redistricting plans. The project produced the DistrictBuilder software, the only open-source web-based redistricting software. DistrictBuilder was deployed in several states and localities during the last round of redistricting to aid public interest partners to achieve their advocacy goals.

Policy is made by those who represent their constituents in legislatures. Every ten years following the release of new census data, legislative districts are adjusted to reflect updated population numbers so that districts remain of relatively equal population. Unfortunately, all too often, the people responsible for redistricting are the same legislators who are elected to represent the districts. This creates an obvious conflict of interest, which often manifests itself in contorted lines that are meant to further the interests of incumbents and their political parties rather than the people they represent. Redistricting is such a powerful tool that representatives can often guarantee their reelection, or in other words, representatives select voters rather than voters elect representatives.

A Call for Greater Transparency and Public Particiption in Redistricting

The resources provided here support the idea that there should be greater transparency and public involvement in the redistricting process, as Micah Altman and I describe in this Washington Post opinion-editorial.

Sound Redistricting Reform

Funded by the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based charitible organization, the Sound Redistricting Reform initiative is a joint project between Professor McDonald at George Mason University and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. The project is combination of original research and public education to better inform the public and policymakers about redistricting.

A Citizens Guide to Redistricting by Justin Levitt and Bethany Foster of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law is a comprehensive guide that unlocks the intracies of this seemingly arcane process for those unfamiliar with redistricting. Those familiar with redistricting will find the guide a valuable resource to refresh their memory.

The Citizens Guide has detailed desciptions of each state's redistricting process for their state legislative and congressional redistricting. For a snyopsis of state redistricting institutions and how politics played out within states following the 2000 census, please see "A Comparative Analysis of U.S. State Redistricting Institutions" by Michael McDonald. Free on-line access is graciously provided by State Politics and Policy Quarterly.

The Midwest Mapping Project by Michael McDonald of George Mason University describes how application of redistricting criteria potentially affect congressional and state legislative districts in the five Midwestern states of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Application of seemingly-neutral criteria such as compactness or respect for political subdivisions may have predictable political consequences. However, these consequences vary among states and even for congressional and state legislative districts within the same state.

The lesson applicable to all states is that care should be taken in devising a list of criteria to govern redistricting. Do not assume that a politics-blind process will produce a fair redistricting plan

The Midwest Mapping Project report is available for download. To manage the file size, image resolution has been reduced. If you desire a printed copy of the report with greater image resolution, please contact Michael McDonald at the information listed at the bottom of this page.

Midwest Mapping Project Full Report (all state chapters)

Individual State Chapters

Public Education Forums

To disseminate information from the Citizens Guide for Redistricting and the Midwest Mapping Project, a series of public education forums will be held in Midwestern states in the upcoming months. The first of these forums was held Oct 22, 2009 in Chicago, Illinois. This event was attended by over 60 state legislators, reporters, legislative staff, non-profit public interest organizations, and redistricting experts. Clips of two sessions on Redistricting 101 and the Midwest Mapping Project and the accompanying Powerpoint presentations are available for viewing.

Public Education Forum Image

Oct. 22, 2009

REDISTRICTING 101: Justin Levitt, the Brennan Center for Justice  
Section 1: What is it and when does it happen?  
Section 2: Why should you care about it?  
Section 3: Who actually draws the lines?  
Section 4: Where do they draw the lines?  
Section 5: How can you influence the census and redistricting?  
Powerpoint Presentation  
MIDWEST MAPPING PROJECT: Michael McDonald, George Mason University  
Section 1: Redistricting Criteria  
Section 2: Redistricting Practicalities and Census Geography  
Section 3: Census Geography and Election Boundaries  
Section 4: Racial Communities  
Section 5: Existing State Constitutional and Statutory Rules  
Powerpoint Presentation  
Section 1: See Link for Description of Questions  
Section 2: See Link for Description of Questions  
Section 3: See Link for Description of Questions  
Section 4: See Link for Description of Questions  

Future forums are planned for the following locations. Dates will be annouced when logistics are finalized.

Other redistricting events:

BARD: Better Automated ReDistricting

A frequently suggested solution to the redistricting problem is to program a computer to perform redistricting. Micah Altman of Harvard University and Michael McDonald of George Mason University have created the first open-source program that automatically draws districts for the R statistical programming language. We call the program Better Automated ReDistricting, or BARD, which aficionados of Tolkien's The Hobbit will recognize the as the slayer of perhaps the most fearsome of salamanders, the dragon Smaug. Those wishing to investigate this program for themselves should install the R program freely available from the R project website and then install the BARD R module through R's automated module installer. The R source code is available through SourceForge.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation has generously provided funding to further BARD's capabilities to enable citizens to draw redistricting plans through a web browser. This software is currently under development, and is expected to be available for beta testing in mid-2010. The software development is guided by a statement of principles for transparency and public participation articulated by our advisory board.

The Marketplace of Democracy: Electoral Competition in American Politics

The Electoral Competition Project was a joint effort between John Samples of the Cato Institute and Michael McDonald through his Brookings Institution affiliation. The project brought together an array of top academics to explore the various inputs into what creates a competitive election, redistricting among them. The project resulted in an edited volume, The Marketplace of Democracy: Electoral Competition in American Politics.

State Redistricting Websites and Other Resources

Many states provide redistricting information and data on state-run websites. Some of these sites have become defunct. As states gear up for the 2010 round of redistricting, this information will be updated.

The National Conference of State Legislatures provides detailed information about the redistricting process. Of particular use is the 50-state profile, maintained by Minnesota's Geographic Information Services.

The Rose Institutes's Redistricting in America: A State-by-State Analysis.

The Gerrymandering documentary film.

Prof. McDonald's Redistricting Experience

In addition to the activities outlined above, for the past two decades Prof. McDonald has drawn lines or been involved in redistricting litigation in Alaska, Arizona, California, Michigan, and New York. He has consulted with legislators and interest groups about potential reform proposals in many states. He has spoken about redistricting to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Council of State Governments - West, Common Cause National Board of Directors, the League of Women Voters of the United States and the Maryland and Virginia chapters, the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, the Claim Democracy Conference, and the Midwest Democracy Network. He is an informal advisory board member to Americans for Redistricting Reform.