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March 21st, 2019, 8:45pm by Sam Wang

Until now, politicians had a monopoly on the data needed to draw district maps. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s data specialist Hannah Wheelen is helping to change that. Hannah oversees data collection for, our tool to let citizens talk back to redistricters. She’ll talk about our overall approach, especially our recent efforts in Virginia. We plan for OpenPrecincts to go nationwide in time for 2021 redistricting.

Also, we need partners nationwide. To get involved, write to us at! – Sam

When it comes to redistricting, the public is on the wrong end of a tilted playing field. I joined PGP to help level that playing field. This requires lots of data, including (i) where voting precinct boundaries are; and (ii) precinct election results and demographic information. You’d think this information would be publicly available – but it’s not.

US elections are administered locally, so the collection process is difficult. We have to inquire around a state for maps by email, phone, or sometimes even in person. Here is a paper map hanging on a wall in a trailer in rural Virginia. My PGP colleague Ben Williams put aside his legal analysis and drove the windy roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains to take its picture. There is only one copy of the map. They don’t even have cellphone service out there!

At PGP, we turn pictures like this into usable data. We convert everything to computerized shapefiles, marry it to election data, and release it freely to to the public. Our portal, ​(sneak peek below), allows us to coordinate with data teams around the country, boosting their efforts and generating a resource bigger than any one group can do alone.

We have national dreams: we plan to hit all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico in time for 2021 redistricting – and earlier in hotspots of legislation and activism. This will be the first integrated national database of its kind. We invite you to pitch in time to collect data, donate to fund your state’s collection efforts, or browse states like Virginia that are already completed.

Visit our beta site of today!

Tags: Redistricting

2 Comments so far ↓

  • Dave Watt

    Do you have information on what the back-end looks like? I imagine there are enough municipalities that have their own GIS data for this that you can get a lot of the information you need, once you know who to ask…

    • Sam Wang

      We have experience on this topic. There’s nothing like doing an entire state to get a perspective on the difficulty of the task. It’s not uniform at all. Some places are as easy as you imagine. Many are not.

      Most recently we did Virginia. At this point we are confident in our abilities to do this fairly efficiently – though of course there is always more to learn.

      As we recruit people in individual states, we will run training sessions, combining what we know and what other organizations know. We hope to combine everyone’s best practices to get this done as quickly and accurately as possible.

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