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The Contest

For the third year, Common Cause is organizing a Partisan Gerrymandering Writing Competition. In previous years’ submissions, papers have focused on quantitative measures of partisan gerrymandering. Many of these approaches have served as vital underpinnings of cases that have transformed the conversation around how to legally curb partisan gerrymandering.

This year, Common Cause is broadening the call for 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. Potential partisan gerrymandering topics could include discussions of:

  • The partisan gerrymander tests proposed in Gill v. Whitford (WI), Common Cause v. Rucho (NC), Benisek v. Lamone (MD), and other cases;
  • The use of the First vs. Fourteenth Amendment as protections against manipulation of districts (or the relative importance of showing intent vs. impact to prove a partisan gerrymandering claim);
  • The relationship between partisan gerrymandering claims and the Voting Rights Act;
  • Possible other avenues for creating constitutional protections against partisan gerrymandering, such as Article I, section 2 of the Constitution (allowing the “People of the several States” to choose members of the U.S. House) and Article I, section 4 of the U.S. Constitution (providing that state legislatures “determine the times, places and manner of election” of members of the U.S. House of Representatives).


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 previously have been ruled unconstitutional due to racial discrimination or maldistribution of the population among districts. 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. At least one of these cases also is 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 at 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
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
Robin E. Best

Binghamton University (SUNY)

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

2nd place

Jowei Chen
University of Michigan

Jonathan Rodden
Stanford University

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

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

A Discernable and Manageable Standard for Partisan Gerrymandering

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