Simulating Redistricting in the Classroom: A Binding Arbitration Decision Game Using Louisiana Census Data
by Peter Miller, University of California, Irvine, Steven Kimbrough, University of Pennsylvania, and Johanna Schacht, University of Pennsylvania
We report the design and implementation of a redistricting simulation in two classes at a large university. Simulations often include a high degree of abstraction, so instead we developed a binding arbitration game, based on the New Jersey bipartisan redistricting commission, in which groups of students used real Census data and a set of mandatory and discretionary criteria to design congressional districts in Louisiana and then advocate for their plan. The goal was to retain essential elements of the redistricting process in a way that would be salient, realistic, and accessible to the students and be considered a decision game by accurately reflecting real-world redistricting complexities. The student-drawn maps were, on average, more compact and preserved a larger proportion of places and parishes in a single district than the legislature-drawn map. The students were also able to tailor their plans, and the arguments they used in presenting the plans, to appeal to principles that would be attractive to a non-partisan commission. We envision development of a robust field of study and play of decision games in the social sciences akin to that already in place for military organizations. The Louisiana Redistricting Simulation Game is just one step in that direction.