The redistricting process is one of the most important — yet least understood — aspects of the US political system. It's full of smoke-filled back room dealmaking by political insiders with little public input. The result? Districts are often drawn by the policial parties themselves — usually the majority party — AKA gerrymandering. Because of this, district lines are altered by lawyers and politicians in ways that don't accurately reflect the citizens. It's a rigged process and the public has the power to get involved and keep government in check, but we need to first learn more about how it works.
The Public Mapping Project is an open-sourced software tool created to help the public better understand the redistricting process. It also enables users to make their own congressional maps which can be submitted to local government. Users as young as 10 have been drawing maps that are widely recognized to be better than proposals from the state. The tool was designed by Michael McDonald of George Mason University and Micah Altman of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at, Harvard.
Colleges and universities throughout the country are now using this software to launch student mapping competitions. For example, next month Fordham University will host a New York state redistricting competition where teams of students throughout the state will design their own congressional and state legislative districts. These maps will then be judged by a panel of experts, the winning ones sent to Albany for consideration.