Redistricting Algorithms, Law, and Policy

September 2021

Nicholas Stephanopoulos, Harvard Law School

Redistricting algorithms are among the most promising social science tools to emerge in recent years. They enable large numbers of district plans to be generated randomly based on whichever criteria are specified by the programmer. They were lauded by four Supreme Court justices in a 2019 decision, and they are on the brink of transforming redistricting just as a new mapmaking cycle begins. However, the existing literature on redistricting algorithms is both substantively limited and insufficiently helpful to lawyers and policymakers. Substantively, the literature has not yet addressed issues like designing plans compliant with the Voting Rights Act, assessing the tradeoffs between different criteria, and optimizing along selected dimensions. As a result, the literature is less useful than it could be to lawyers involved in redistricting litigation and to policymakers responsible for enacting district plans.

This seminar will begin to remedy these deficiencies by bringing together social scientists who work with redistricting algorithms, law professors familiar with redistricting law and policy, lawyers active in redistricting litigation, and practitioners who actually craft district maps. The seminar will aim to push the literature on redistricting algorithms in new, potentially more interesting, directions. The seminar will also build connections between the various players in this field so that practice may better inform theory and vice versa.