New York Student Redistricting Competition

Background and Purpose of Competition

The primary purpose of the competition is an educational exercise for the college and university participating students. A secondary purpose is to demonstrate that a non-partisan open process based upon objective criteria can produce fair legislative and congressional districts in the state of New York.


Each team will be tasked with drawing legislative lines for the New York State Senate, New York State Assembly, and federal congressional lines for the House of Representatives. Using the Public Mapping Project software, teams will produce for each body a redistricting plan with maps and a narrative explanation. 


The suggested team size is 8-10 students, and every team must have be sponsored by a faculty member. Teams will officially enter the competition by e-mailing the name(s) and contact information of the faculty sponsor(s) and a tentative roster of participating students to Tyrone Stevens ( no later than November 15, 2011. 


Submissions that best incorporate the judging criteria, as judged by a panel of redistricting experts, will earn a cash prize. A $1,000 prize will be awarded to teams who submit a winning congressional, state assembly, or state senate map.


Using 2010 Census data, teams will draw maps for New York’s congressional districts, as well as for the New York State Senate and Assembly that account for population shifts since 2000. Each map must include the appropriate number of districts (27 individually-numbered congressional districts, 150 individually-numbered Assembly districts, and 62 individually-numbered State Senate districts) that combine to cover the entire area of the state. No portion of the state may be omitted. The competition will enable teams to use voting precincts as the basic building block for districts, however, plans may split precincts as Census Bureau data is divided into smaller units known as census blocks.


(A) Contiguity – Contiguity means that every part of a district must be reachable from every other part without crossing the district’s borders. All districts within a plan must be contiguous. “Point contiguity” or “touch-point contiguity” where two sections of a district are connected at a single point is not permitted.

(B) Equipopulation – All districts within a plan must have nearly equal populations. The law does not require perfectly equal populations; however, the courts have said that districts must be as close in population as is practicable.

For congressional redistricting, the base population is the 2010 total population as reported by the Census Bureau.

For state legislative redistricting, New York passed a law requiring an adjustment of the 2010 total population reported by the Census Bureau by reallocating prisoners to their jurisdiction of origin. The New York Legislative Taskforce responsible for making this adjustment has not publicly provided this adjustment in time for our competition. In lieu of the official state adjustment, we have been provided with prison population totals by the advocacy group, Prisoners of the Census. We adjust the 2010 census total population by subtracting the prison populations, however we have no means to reallocate these prisoners to their jurisdictions of origin. Since this half-adjustment is closer to the adjustment required by New York law than no adjustment, we use the prisoner subtraction as the base population for state legislative districts.

(C) Federal Voting Rights Act – Compliance with the Voting Rights Act will be assumed if maps include a minority-majority district in any area where a minority group is (as described in Thornburg V. Gingles, 478 U.S. 30, 49 (1986)) “sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district.” A valid plan must contain at least the same number of African-American and Hispanic/Latino majority districts in the current plan for that legislative body, as measured by the 2010 census or 2000 census, whichever yields a greater number of districts. Since the current Assembly map also contains one Asian-American majority voting-age population district, we have decided to include a requirement for at least one such district, too. We have further analyzed Senate and Assembly redistricting plans produced by a coalition of voting rights groups, known as the UNITY plans, to determine the number of minority districts that may be feasibly drawn. This plan is available through the mapping software for inspection and single or multiple districts from the UNITY plan can be copied into another plan, allowing students to incorporate these districts into their own plans. We encourage teams to explore ways to further increase minority representation, while satisfying the other competition criteria. Competitions held in other states have illuminated methods to further increase minority representation beyond the threshold we require for a valid plan. 


African-American:         3

Hispanic/Latino            1

State Senate

African-American:         8

Hispanic/Latino            6

State Assembly

African-American:         14

Hispanic/Latino            14

Asian-American             1

(D) Communities of Interest that are respectful of existing political subdivisions – Counties, cities, and other political subdivisions give New Yorkers a sense of place and shared interests. For the purposes of this competition teams should seek to draw maps that minimize the division of counties, cities, towns, and Indian reservations between districts. At an intermediate zoom level, students can build districts out of cities, towns, and Indian reservations, what we call "Subcounty" units.

(E) Competitiveness – Democracy thrives when the marketplace of ideas is truly competitive. Competitiveness is increased when either major political party has the opportunity to win a particular district. Teams should seek to draw maps that contain as many districts as possible that are “heavily” or “generally” competitive.

For the purposes of this competition, the political competitiveness of a proposed new district will be determined using the results of the 2008 presidential and 2010 midterm elections to calculate projected political performance. Teams must determine for each district in a plan the “partisan differential” for each district. We have a limited number of elections available to us to construct the measure of partisanship, which we call the "partisan index." Based on our analysis of New York statewide elections, the closest approximation to the average of all statewide elections from 2002 to 2010 is an average of the Democratic and Republican votes for 2010 Governor, 2010 Comptroller, 2010 Attorney General, 2010 US Senate two-year term, 2010 US Senate six-year term, and 2008 President. A district’s “average partisan differential” is calculated by subtracting the Democratic “partisan index” from the Republican "partisan index." “Heavily” competitive districts are districts with partisan differentials of less than or equal to 5%. “Generally” competitive districts are districts with partisan differentials of greater than 5% but less than 10%.

(F) Proportionality – The counterbalance to competitiveness is assuring that a final redistricting plan does not unfairly bias one party over another. For the purposes of this competition, proportionality is increased when the percentage of districts a party would likely win (based upon the “partisan index” used to determine Competitiveness) closely mirrors that party’s percentage of the statewide vote, which is 61.8%.

(G) Compactness – Compactness is sometimes referred to as the “look” of a district, and assures that oddly-shaped districts are minimized. The geography of New York varies wildly, but teams should attempt to produce districts that look as compact as possible. We measure the compactness of districts using the Schwartzberg measure, which is ratio of the perimeter of the district to the perimeter of a circle with the same area as the district. The value ranges from 0 to 100%, which larger values indicating a more compact district.

Maps entered must address criteria A, B, C, D, E, F, and G.

Submitting Plans

1. Teams must submit the following for each plan through and shared by 5PM on December 5, 2011:

(A) A state map showing the boundaries of the districts, and district maps for each proposed district. The Public Mapping Project software will generate the required statewide and district maps.

2. In addition, teams must submit the following electronically to: by 5PM on December 5, 2011:

(A) A link to the online plan (provided by 

(B) A detailed narrative description no longer than 5-pages of how the plan satisfies the competition criteria. Each criterion should be addressed specifically and separately in this narrative.