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The Contest

For the third year, Common Cause organized a Partisan Gerrymandering Writing Competition. Many papers have focused on quantitative measures of partisan gerrymandering. These approaches have served as vital underpinnings of cases that have transformed the conversation around how to legally curb partisan gerrymandering. Common Cause sought academic papers that defend, critique, or expand on existing legal theories for partisan gerrymandering cases or that propose new legal theories. As cases make their way through the courts, we look to stimulate scholarly research and writing to assist courts in developing greater legal clarity around how to determine what is an unconstitutional gerrymander.


The Supreme Court of the United States will hear two cases in 2019 that could decide the fate of partisan gerrymandering. Common Cause is a plaintiff in Rucho v. Common Cause, a challenge to a Republican gerrymander of North Carolina’s congressional districts, and is supporting plaintiffs in Lamone v. Benisek, a challenge to a Democratic gerrymander of Maryland’s congressional map.

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

2018 Winners

1st place
Samuel Wang et al.

An Antidote for Gobbledygook: Organizing the Judge’s Partisan Gerrymandering Toolkit into Tests of Opportunity and Outcome

2nd place
Michael D. McDonald et al.

Making a Case for Two Paths Forward in Light of Gill v. Whitford

3rd place
John Curiel
Tyler Steelman

Redistricting Out Representation: Democratic Harms in Splitting Zip Codes

2016 Winners

1st place

Wendy Tam Cho
Yan Y. Liu

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

2nd place

Samuel Wang

Three Practical Tests for Gerrymandering: Application to Maryland and Wisconsin

3rd place

Theodore Arrington

A Practical Procedure for Detecting a Partisan Gerrymander

2015 Winners

1st place

Michael D. McDonald
Robin E. Best

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

2nd place

Jowei Chen
Jonathan Rodden

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

3rd place
Anthony McGann
Charles Anthony Smith
Alex Keena
Michael Latner

A Discernable and Manageable Standard for Partisan Gerrymandering

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