New Tools to Destroy Partisan Gerrymandering Recognized in Common Cause Writing Contest

LOS ANGELES, September 24, 2018 — As Common Cause takes its quest to end partisan gerrymandering to the U.S. Supreme Court in Common Cause v. Rucho, it is also promoting a toolkit for courts and advocates to determine whether partisan gerrymandering has effectively taken away voters’ voices. A new and important tool, a “Swiss Army knife” paper written by Princeton University neuroscientist Samuel S. Wang and his team, pulls together several different legal and math approaches and explains how they all work together. Today he is named the winner of Common Cause’s third Partisan Gerrymandering Writing Competition.

For his winning article, “An Antidote for Gobbledygook,” Wang lands a cash prize and a publication byline in the Election Law Journal. The rest of the country stands to gain from his redistricting toolkit, which empowers judges and advocates to evaluate whether certain political viewpoints are being suppressed using pencil-and-paper math and more advanced analysis.

The toolkit could be used in states such as North Carolina, whose map is currently being challenged in Common Cause v. Rucho. A three-judge federal district court panel has twice ruled the map an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander this year. The case is speeding its way to the Supreme Court.

“We are on the brink of a breakthrough in the fight against partisan gerrymandering,” said Kathay Feng, national redistricting director for Common Cause. “Advocates, scholars and the courts are all working toward a shared agreement on why people, not politicians, should draw voting districts, and how to evaluate whether partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional. We congratulate the winners of our Partisan Gerrymandering Writing Competition and thank them for designing ways to give voters the power that our founding fathers intended them to have.”

The winners of the Partisan Gerrymandering Writing Competition are:

1st Place: Sam Wang of Princeton University claimed the competition’s top prize with a paper that gives judges and advocates a toolbox of mathematical tests to evaluate a map. Professor Wang explained, “We perceived two challenges. First, we wanted to sort out the many mathematical tests to make them intuitive for lawyers and judges. Second, we wanted to get the math to fit with not just the Constitution but also state law, since the Supreme Court might not be an effective route to limiting extreme partisan gerrymanders. … We hope our framework can help power court challenges under state constitutions. We also hope these ideas can be translated into reform legislation in a way that avoids pitfalls that come from imprecise drafting.”

2nd Place: Second place went to Michael D. McDonald, professor of political science and Director of the Center on Democratic Performance of Binghamton University, whose paper proposes two paths forward for establishing manageable standards to identify partisan gerrymanders in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Gill v. Whitford.

3rd Place: John Curiel and Tyler Steelman of the University of North Carolina took third place with a paper that argues that preserving ZIP Codes in redistricting processes produces a substantive reduction in partisan bias and protects the constituent-representative link.

Common Cause sponsored the third Partisan Gerrymandering Writing Contest to encourage innovative scholarship to assist the Supreme Court, lawyers, and advocates in better understanding and measuring partisan gerrymandering. This year as Common Cause v. Rucho and other cases made their way through the courts, participants were asked to think creatively about ways to assist the courts in developing greater legal clarity around how to determine what is an unconstitutional gerrymander.

Past year’s winners have contributed to scholarship to end partisan gerrymandering by using their ideas in litigation. For example, Common Cause collaborated with the winners of the first contest on an amicus brief that assessed the partisan fairness of maps submitted to replace an illegal racial gerrymander in Virginia. The efforts were crucial to ensuring that the special master appointed by the federal court had the information at his disposal to choose a map that did not give an unfair advantage to any political party.

The second-place winner of the second annual contest served as an expert witness in Common Cause v. Rucho and successfully demonstrated to the court using 1,000 computer simulated maps that the legislature’s map was a statistical anomaly that must have been an intentional partisan gerrymander.

The judging panel for the third annual Partisan Gerrymandering Writing Contest included UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Office of Congressional Ethics Board of Directors member Allison Hayward, Brennan Center for Justice Senior Counsel Michael Li, and Tufts University associate professor of mathematics Moon Duchin.

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