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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Multidisciplinary approach for redistricting knowledge

Gerrymandering – the intentional drawing of legislative district lines to benefit one party over the other – presents questions at the core of democratic legitimacy that reach into every area of representation and governing. The Supreme Court’s rejection of partisan gerrymandering claims in federal courts raises the stakes in the next round of redistricting. The 2020 Census will trigger another round of reapportionment and redrawing of district lines. This flexibility comes at a time of improvements in computing capacity, information availability and mapping technologies that offer new capabilities of drawing maps intended to produce specific electoral outcomes.

From a research perspective, understanding redistricting involves a multitude of disciplines: political science, computer science, geography, data science, demography, mathematics, statistics and law. While scholars from different areas have studied the issue, very little work crosses disciplinary boundaries. Disparate scientific communities define the problem differently, use vastly different methods, and rarely even speak a common analytic language.

The project establishes a research and data hub that will prompt broader research across fields and make the UW–Madison a center of this work. The project will be of value to groups working to improve the redistricting process and create more neutral maps, and provide information to broader public audiences. The study of gerrymandering is an emerging area that will get great attention over the next decade. This project will gather data of a variety of types that will facilitate analyses that will undoubtedly be conducted, by scholars for several different disciplines. It’s a topic that attracts the interest not just of scholars but of journalists, politicians, and the public.

Kenneth Mayer, professor of political science

Barton Miller, professor of computer science

Adeline Lo, assistant professor of political science

Jin-Yi Cai, professor of computer science

Song Gao, assistant professor of geography