NEW YORK—Winners for a project to let the public join the redistricting process were announced on Tuesday at Fordham University, and will be formally presented to the state Legislature.
The 2012 New York Redistricting Project was created to add new perspectives to the redistricting process, one that is typically controlled by legislators.
“The public is often poorly informed about the redistricting process and not very involved,” said Costas Panagopoulos, director of the project and assistant professor of political science at Fordham.
District Builder is an open source platform the project introduced to get people more involved. Users design their own district maps based on 2010 census data.
As part of the project, a competition was launched last fall challenging student teams to design a map, choosing from New York congressional districts, state Senate districts, or state Assembly districts.
The Winners: Congressional Map
A University at Buffalo Law School team won the congressional map section.
The team became interested in the subject after seeing a presentation at their school. Members were familiar with different parts of the state, such as Andrew Dean (Central NY and Utica), Eric Tabache (downstate), and Jacob Drum (Albany and upstate).
“I hope it raises awareness about redistricting initiatives, and it raises awareness about how easy it is to draw a sensible district logically when you take out partisan politics,” said Drum.
They focused on preserving existing communities and drawing lines based on geography, including rivers and freeways. The competition required all districts to have nearly equal populations— the team created districts of between 716,000 and 720,000.
Dean said he was shocked by the number of similar entries. “Maybe that’s the testament to what a congressional map is. Different groups using the same software, and if they come up with similar ideas, it must be fair,” he said.
The Winners: State Senate Map
Lee Sparrow, an undergraduate political science major at George Mason University, won the state Senate competition section.
Sparrow was given an assignment by professor Michael McDonald who has been involved with the project: do a 20-page paper or complete an entry in the competition.
He created a congressional map in one and a half days of work, but saw that many other entries had been entered. The state Senate maps had no entries. So he worked on a Senate map and won.
The legislator’s direct involvement in drawing maps was a surprise to Sparrow, an United Kingdom native, who said the U.K. system is more independent.
Highlights of Sparrow’s winning entry were Voting Rights Act compliance, splitting Long Island into North Shore and South Shore, and excellent handling of upstate urban areas, said Panagopoulos.
In New York City, Sparrow wanted to make district lines easily understandable. “I based my district lines on such things as major highways, [and] railway lines,” he said. “People know where 76th Street is, but they might not know where the line between the Bronx and Queens is.”The impact of the project is not clear: the New York State Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment didn’t return a request for comment by press deadline.
Daniel Goroff, program director for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the project sponsor, said, “I’d like to think that it raises the level of debate and clarifies some of the issues, and it makes it possible for people to judge the trade-offs between one map and another, because we’ve been able to generate dozens of them, as opposed to, in the past, one party would come up with one and one party would come up with another.”