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Complexities of Gerrymandering made simple.

The Challenge

Gerrymandering is a complex problem that impacts our election process in the United States. Because of the complexity of gerrymandering, many people are unaware of its prevalence and how it works. 

The team at GameTheory decided to tackle an internal project we recently launched.

We wanted to make a game that communicated how gerrymandering works in a simple, clear way. Gerrymandering is the process of strategically districting a population in order to skew an election in favor of a political party. Although gerrymandering is an important issue, it's a complex problem that's often hard to understand. 

We realized that by using a game, we could demonstrate gerrymandering in a way that's clear and easy to understand. GerryMander was inspired by the ongoing supreme court case, Gill vs. Whitford.

Games like GerryMander can be powerful tools that break down complex issues to make them more accessible.

The Audience: Anyone!

The Goal: Explain the complexities of gerrymandering with a simple game.

Share it: You can even include the game for free on your site or in an article. Just copy and paste the code below to embed the game.

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Summary

GerryMander is a simple puzzle game designed to show how gerrymandering can be used to rig an election. In GerryMander, you draw voting districts to favor your party and win the election. Players can use real-world strategies like packing (Squishing opposing voters into a single district) and "cracking" (Breaking up key voter groups into separate districts) to beat each puzzle. With these strategies, players can see how Gerrymandering works while learning about how it happens in the real world.

Goals

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GerryMander was inspired by the ongoing supreme court case, Gill v. Whitford.

The goal of GerryMander was to design a tool that demonstrates the bipartisan impact of gerrymandering through simple, easy-to-understand puzzles. By breaking down this issue into a simple game, we hope to make something that’s very hard to explain with written or spoken language more understandable and raise awareness about the impact of gerrymandering in the United States.

Making complex issues more accessible is an important step toward improving engagement within our democracy. By understanding the mechanisms behind gerrymandering, and redistricting, players can form their opinions on the issue and can take a stance.

We hope that GerryMander is used to open a dialogue between citizens, their representatives, and lawmakers about issues concerning democracy and representation. As part of the game’s functionality, players are able directly to reach out to their representatives about the bipartisan issue of gerrymandering. This makes it easier for players to voice their opinion and to promote fairer redistricting practices within their states.

Relevancy

US Census Bureau Nomination

The United States census, run by the US Census Bureau, determines which states will lose and gain electoral votes in the 2020 election. The President has moved toward nominating Thomas Brunell, the writer of “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America,” as Deputy Director of the US Census Bureau. This nomination could take an unprecedented step toward politicizing the US Census, a move that could encourage and enable gerrymandering within the United States.

Brunell, a political science professor, has been an outspoken critic of competitive elections and has testified in numerous lawsuits defending gerrymandering practices. Should Brunell be selected, he would be the highest ranking official at the US Census Bureau. Aside from determining the number of electoral votes each state receives, the census provides the demographic data that is used in redistricting. The Deputy Director has the ability to alter advertising from the Bureau and to include new questions to that census to decrease respondents from minority groups. Should steps like this be taken, the data collected from the census would be less accurate and would reduce political representation for minority groups.

Through GerryMander, we aim to raise awareness about the nomination for this important position. We hope that by raising awareness, more government officials will speak out against this nomination in favor of a non-partisan Deputy Director.

Gill v. Whitford

The ongoing supreme court case Gill v. Whitford will determine the constitutionality of gerrymandering. The case arose following the 2011 redistricting plan for the state of Wisconsin in which gerrymandering was used to mitigate democratic votes within the state. In this case, the Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of gerrymandering and whether metrics such as the Efficiency Gap can be used to determine partisan gerrymandering. The decision for this case is expected in June 2018.

The Process

We started by prototyping how the mechanic could work and landed on a simple grid-based puzzle game. We prototyped with paper and had a working initial version within a day that would start to iterate on.

We built out some initial levels and some basic UI to test the concept over the next week. The game worked well but needed improvement. We added more levels with larger grids to show how complex gerrymandering can become in larger populations. 

Next, we added educational content in the form of tips and hints to help players understand the real world impact of gerrymandering. These tips show examples of real gerrymandered districts, and explain strategies that are used to gerrymander during the redistricting process. 

As a final piece, we added a way for players to directly reach out to their representatives using the game. After playing and learning about gerrymandering, players can check who their representatives are and how to contact them. This gives players a way to reach out and make a change in their community. 

Want to learn more about the issue?

Democracy on the Line: Will the Supreme Court allow Republicans to continue to rig state elections against voters? - US News and World Report

Gill v. Whitford - Campaign Legal Center

Trump’s new Census Bureau hire could give the GOP a big boost - The Washington Post

Leading Trump Census pick causes alarm - Politico

Voting-Rights Advocates Monitor Who Trump Picks For Census Bureau Post - NPR

Everything you need to know about the Supreme Court’s big gerrymandering case - The Washington Post

 

Play GerryMander

Our HTML5 version is live! You can play, share, or even embed it on your own site. Give it a try!