March 24, 2011 — Two teams of University of Virginia undergraduates took first or second place in every category in the Virginia College and University Redistricting Competition.
Sixteen teams representing 13 Virginia colleges and universities entered the contest, seeking to redraw political boundary lines in the wake of the 2010 census – as state legislators will do in the coming weeks.
Winning teams were announced Tuesday at a reception at the Library of Virginia, adjacent to Capitol Square in Richmond. The maps were displayed at a reception hosted by the League of Women Voters of Virginia.
Two government professors organized the contest – Quentin Kidd, associate professor of government at Christopher Newport University, and Michael McDonald, associate professor of government and politics at George Mason University, who created the redistricting software.
Every 10 years, after the U.S. Census, state legislatures must redraw their congressional districts to account for population changes. Previous redistricting maps have led to "safe" districts for incumbents of both political parties. This year for the first time, McDonald's software was made available to the public so that anyone could try their hand at redistricting.
"The Virginia college student teams have produced a number of attractive redistricting plans without bending to the interests of incumbent officeholders," Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution, one of two judges, said. "They have shown the way for the public to participate in a crucial task of our democracy heretofore dominated by insiders."
The two U.Va. teams completed redistricting plans for Virginia's 11 congressional, 40 Virginia Senate and 100 House of Delegates districts. Charles Kromkowski, politics professor in U.Va.'s College of Arts & Sciences and social sciences data librarian in Alderman Library, and Chris Gist, GIS specialist in the library's Scholars' Lab, served as faculty advisers. The students are enrolled in Kromkowski's course, "Virginia Elections."
Also judging the competition was Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute. The students won cash awards totaling $6,250; prize money was raised from individual donors.
The best maps will be considered by the Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting created by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.
The competition had two divisions:
• In the Governor/Commission Division, teams followed only the criteria guiding the Independent Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Redistricting, which will make recommendations to the General Assembly on April 1. Those criteria call for districts that are equal in population, contiguous and compact, that adhere to the federal Voting Rights Act and that respect communities of interest with minimal disruption of existing city and county boundaries.
• In the Competition Division, teams also used previous voting patterns to draw districts that would enhance competition and fairness.
"I'm very proud of the dedication and hard work of every student in my 'Virginia Elections' course," Kromkowski said. "Many of the students spent a good portion of their spring breaks finishing their maps and narratives. The public recognition they've received only partially reflects their efforts."
Students found the redistricting process illuminating and empowering, if a bit tedious and frustrating. "One of the things that surprised me was just how much time and effort is required to make maps that meet only the minimum standards required by law and then how much extra effort is necessary to produce maps that are electorally competitive," said Adam Gillenwater, a fourth-year government major in the College.
Fourth-year government major Matthew Cooper agreed. "By the end, the map's boundaries are a collection of thousands of nearly random decisions that you make to satisfy much broader ideas," he said.
Kelly Clifton, a third-year student majoring in government and urban and environmental planning, said visitors at the reception took the maps personally. "They asked us, 'What about Roanoke?', 'Where did you put Lynchburg?', and 'Let me find my home town.' Redistricting really does have a deep-rooted impact on how citizens think about their voices as constituents."
Alexander Roark, a fourth-year government major, predicted that a Hispanic majority-minority district will likely be needed after the next census. And Joe Revercomb, also a fourth-year government major, said his team's House of Delegates map did a better job of keeping localities intact than did the 2001 redistricting.
The competition bridged classroom and real world for many students. "It was one of the first times in my college experience where I felt like I was able to learn and apply the knowledge gained at the same time in class," Emily Bowles, a third-year government major, said.
Here are the winners, with links to images of the maps and some summary statistics.
First place: College of William & Mary Law School
Second place: U.Va. Team 1 (Larry Buckner, Kelly Clifton, Matthew Cooper, Brittany Jones, Hena Naghmi, Chloe Newschwander, Edward Quinn, Wes Revercomb, Elizabeth Robinette)
First place: U.Va. Team 1
Second place: U.Va. Team 2 (Emily Bowles, Ned Burns, Caitlin Connolly, Adam Gillenwater, Cherrie Kim, Joe Revercomb, Alexander Roark, Thomas Ruff, Cornelia Woodley)
First place: U.Va. Team 2
Second place: College of William & Mary Law School
House of Delegates Maps
First place: University of Richmond
Second place: U.Va. Team 2