Common Cause “Gerrymander Standard” First Place Winners

Written by Norm Ornstein & Dan Tokaji on June 3, 2015


We are thrilled to announce the first place winners of the Common Cause “Gerrymander Standard” writing competition. Michael D. McDonald and Robin E. Best of Binghamton University (SUNY), authors of “Unfair Partisan Gerrymanders in Politics and Law:

A Diagnostic Applied to Six Cases,” are the inaugural winners of this competition. Earlier in the week, we announced the second and third place entries.

The winning paper seeks to shift the conversation of partisan gerrymandering away from whether a political party wins a “fair” share of seats to a focus on individual rights. Read a summary of the paper here and look for the entire paper in Election Law Journal this fall. McDonald and Best argue that the key question is whether a map creates an unequal weighting of votes for Americans of one party versus another. They also create a diagnostic test based on this perspective to apply this idea to real-world maps. The authors make the case that the vote-weight measure leads to a manageable standard and important insights into whether gerrymandering unconstitutionally causes the votes of some individuals to be worth more than the votes of others. 

Using the diagnostic test the authors created, the paper scrutinizes six different Congressional maps that generated controversy when passed. The test identifies partisan gerrymanders in Michigan and Ohio while emphasizing that Florida’s Congressional districts after the 2000 census constituted a sufficiently severe gerrymander that it should have been ruled unconstitutional. The authors couple their fresh perspective on this topic with a rigorous application of their theory to a variety of maps. Their clarity and creativity provide invaluable insight that will help political and legal advocates end the undemocratic practice of gerrymandering.

Thank you again to Common Cause for organizing this competition, all of the authors for their outstanding entries, and to our fellow judges who took time out of very busy schedules to participate. Finally, congratulations to all of the winners. Keep an eye out for details about a forum Common Cause will host this fall in Washington, DC featuring all of the winners and for the launch of the second annual Common Cause Democracy Prize writing competition.

Office: Common Cause National

Issues: Voting and Elections

Tags: Redistricting

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