2018 Partisan Gerrymandering Writing Competition

The Contest

For the third year, Common Cause organized a Partisan Gerrymandering Writing Competition. This year, Common Cause broadened the call for academic papers that defended, critiqued, or expanded on existing legal theories for partisan gerrymandering cases or that proposed new legal theories. As cases make their way through the courts, we looked to stimulate scholarly research and writing to assist courts in developing greater legal clarity around how to determine what is an unconstitutional gerrymander.

2018 Winners

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.  Read the paper here.

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. Read the paper here. 

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. Read the paper here.


On October 3, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, an appeal of a landmark trial court decision holding that Wisconsin’s assembly maps are an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Redistricting maps have previously been ruled to be unconstitutional due to racial discrimination or maldistribution of the population. The lower court’s decision in Gill marked the first time in American history that a federal court had issued such a ruling against a single-member district map on partisan grounds. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Benisek v. Lamone, a partisan gerrymandering challenge to a congressional district in Maryland.

In North Carolina and Pennsylvania, citizens are challenging congressional maps as illegal partisan gerrymanders, with each making their way through the courts. Each proposes different approaches to what constitutes a partisan gerrymander. These cases are also likely to be heard by the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has stated that “partisan gerrymanders are incompatible with democratic principles.” At least five justices are open to articulating a constitutional standard for when partisan gerrymanders can be challenged. With increasingly precise mapping technology coupled with extreme partisan gamesmanship, the stakes are high for how our representative democracy will look in the future.

Submission Details: Papers were due by 11:59 PM PST on Sunday, April 1, 2018. Detailed submission requirements can be found here. Papers will be screened by Common Cause legal staff and finalists will be sent to a judging panel of election law experts. Winners will be published in Election Law Journal and receive a cash prize of $5,000 (1st place), $3,000 (2nd place), or $2,000 (3rd place).

2016 Winners

1st place – Wendy Tam Cho and Yan Y. Liu, University of Illinois

Toward a Talismanic Redistricting Tool: A Fully Balanced Computational Method for Identifying Extreme Redistricting Plans

2nd place – Samuel Wang, Princeton University

Three Practical Tests for Gerrymandering: Application to Maryland and Wisconsin

3rd place – Theodore Arrington, University of North Carolina – Charlotte (emeritus)

A Practical Procedure for Detecting a Partisan Gerrymander

2015 Winners

1st place – Michael D. McDonald and Robin E. Best of Binghamton University (SUNY)

“Unfair Partisan Gerrymanders in Politics and Law: A Diagnostic Applied to Six Cases”

2nd place – Jowei Chen from the University of Michigan and Jonathan Rodden of Stanford University

“Cutting through the Thicket: Redistricting Simulations and the Detection of Partisan Gerrymanders”

3rd place – Anthony McGann from the University of Strathclyde, Charles Anthony Smith and Alex Keena from UC Irvine, and Michael Latner from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo

“A Discernable and Manageable Standard for Partisan Gerrymandering”

See the distinguished judging panels from previous years.

Next Campaign

Redistricting Reform in Missouri