Drawing Maps that Comply with the VRA

Dave’s Redistricting App (DRA), which is free, has become an extraordinarily powerful tool in this decade for individuals and groups seeking to draw their own redistricting maps. Thousands of DRA users have created more than half-a-million Congressional, state legislative, and community maps in 2021 alone, and DRA is used by groups like Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. These maps can be drawn to show how a redistricting plan might maximize the partisan fairness of a map, or the competitiveness of districts, or minimize the number of counties split between districts. These maps can also be used to compare proposed or enacted plans to criticize those choices and propose realistic alternatives.

For understandable reasons, DRA does not limit the maps users can draw to those that would comply with the VRA. That’s in part because the VRA requirements are not easy to distill into a simple metric. But maps that do not comply with the VRA will not be useful for most purposes, since those maps could not be legally valid plans.

In order to enable DRA users to draw maps that will comply with the VRA, I have written this Medium post on the subject. The goal of the post is to distill the VRA requirements into relatively simple rules of thumb that mapmakers can use to draw maps that comply. These are meant to be rules that DRA users can implement relatively simply. For that reason, some of the rules are a bit overly simplified, and I do provide a fuller, more technical discussion of the legal standards in a few notes. My hope is that these simple rules of thumb — which I will revise if commentators have further good suggestions — will help DRA users draw legal maps. DRA is a great tool for this decade’s redistricting, and is not that many steps behind the software programs actual redistricters use.

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