Redistricting: The Trade Machine of Politics

Redistricting: The Trade Machine of Politics


When the smoke cleared after the 3 O’Clock High butt-kicking of Democrats in the 2010 mid-terms most voters went back to their regular lives.  But, political activists got to work.


Because the 2010 mid-terms weren’t about the fact that Republicans took over significant governorships and half a dozen state houses.  That’s just part of the game of politics. The new legislators would be in a position to re-write the American political playing field for a decade when new Congressional districts were drawn in the wake of the 2010 census.

Now the war is on to activate voters to stop or advance massive re-districting efforts in states across the country, which is a pretty tall order. However, the solution just might be to turn Re-Districting Politics into a game that everyone can play.

Fierce battles are raging in Ohio, and New York where congressional seats have been lost. Those states where Congressional seats have been gained – Arizona, Texas and Georiga for example – are also gripped with internal scuffles as the politicians’ competing desires to eliminate opponents but protect incumbents clash with hard math of making equal and legally justifiable districts.

Plus: getting voters excited about re-districting battles are tough. Many people don’t know who their congressional representatives are and many don’t care. While in the 1960’s and ‘70’s fierce political battles raged to create voting districts that did not marginalize or dilute black and minority voting strength (in some cases spilling blood), getting folks excited about shifting lines is a lot tougher in 2012. That is why The Re-Districting Game has become one of the hottest tools on the Internet for activists and academics alike trying to explain just how serious some of these post 2010 legislative efforts really are.

Redistricting games are similar to “Ultimate Trade Machines” on sports sites that allow fans to create their own outrageous player trades while working under the restrictions of salary caps and team payrolls. Most of the online re-districting games give citizens the opportunity to manipulate imaginary districts but a few, like this one about re-districting in Washington D.C., actually allows you to manipulate wards in the actual city. Activists can actually use the information from these online games to make petitions to courts about district fairness as well as inform voters about the real world consequences of legislative re-drawing.

In The Redistricting Game, a free game you can play here, you chose between being a Republican or a Democrat and then you have to complete several missions as a re-districting consultant. You have to shift lines in districts to make the populations equal, but if you cut too much, incumbents get mad at you or the governor may not sign off on your new changes. The missions get harder and harder as you have to account for different populations, income and legal restrictions on how districts can be made.

I must admit it was incredibly easy to learn and while not as addictive as Words with Friends, I will be playing this game in the airport. These types of games also teach a valuable and more visceral lesson about re-districting than is often put across by state activists clamoring for public support.

Recently, I spoke with Dr. Niambi Carter, a professor of Political Science at Purdue University who uses the Re-Districting game in her class.  She spoke highly of the program. “It gives students a way to see, just how these types of decisions can really affect people’s daily lives,” argues Carter.

“Especially in minority communities there is a history of how these actions have affecting voting strength of African Americans in particular,” she added. Dr. Carter is right, but getting local populations to pay attention to boring demographics is a pretty high order. However, if more party activists put the fate of the state in an easy-to-play and downloadable game they just might start the political revolution they’ve been looking for.