Students from William and Mary and the University of Virginia split prizes in a unique competition pitting college students against one another in trying to draw up fair and reasonable congressional and state Senate districts in response to the 2010 Census.
Students from George Mason University and the University of Richmond also took prizes in the competition’s category for House of Delegates districts.
Winners were chosen by Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and Norman Ornstein, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and were honored with $13,500 in cash prizes Tuesday at a reception at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.
View all the winners and the maps they drew here.
The winning teams were among 16 groups of 150 students on 13 Virginia campuses who participated in the first-of-its-kind contest. The goal was to encourage students to use sophisticated software newly available to the public to draw congressional, Senate and House districts that are compact and represent communities of interest, and also abide by the terms of the Voting Rights Act, which require that the voting power of black voters is not diluted.
Students drew maps in two categories — in one, they were encouraged to try to make districts competitive between the two parties. In the other, they were to ignore partisan considerations and draw districts purely based on trying to keep communities together and compact.
Quentin Kidd, a professor at Christopher Newport University and a director of the competition, said the goal was to educate students about the critical once-a-decade political process — but also to educate the public about what legislative maps could look like if they were not drawn by politicians with a personal stake in the outcome.
“You can really see the seriousness of purpose and the extent to which the students worked to redistrict Virginia to reflect the criteria,” Kidd said. “It’s the best we could hope for from young people in terms of their commitment to a civil and democratic society.”
Students involved in the process spent dozens of hours meticulously drawing maps using specialized software.
Hena Naghmi, 21, a student at the University of Virginia, said the exercise taught her that it’s not always possible to draw maps with neat-looking compact districts while still abiding by the terms of the Voting Rights Act and trying to respect county and city lines.
“It’s easy to justify to the public when you have these very compact districts,” said Naghmi, one of nine students on a team with a winning map . “But Virginia’s not a square — it’s just not.”
Still, she said she thinks the maps drawn up by students avoid an inherent bias that will be present in maps that will be unveiled by politicians next week. The House and Senate plan to release their draft legislative districts early next week and then hold public hearings across the state.
“I really, really hope they take this into account,” Naghmi said.