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Can Data Defeat Gerrymandering?

Increasingly sophisticated mapping platforms have made redistricting easier—but data could also be the key to untangling the problem.
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Saul Martinez/Reuters

In 1788, John Adams wrote that the House of Representatives should be an “exact portrait” of the people as a whole. But as district boundaries are increasingly manipulated via partisan gerrymandering, that portrait starts to look like it was painted during Picasso’s cubist phase.

The question of how far mapmakers overstep their boundaries when drawing district lines will get a new test next week in a Supreme Court case that asks whether Wisconsin mapmakers engaged in unlawful partisan line-drawing. The topic has been scrutinized for two centuries, but the case, Gil v. Whitford, is the first in 13 years to reach the Supreme Court. This ruling could be especially influential now because mapmaking tactics have become dramatically more sophisticated. Officials have access to more detailed data than ever before, and are using that data for partisan means with needlepoint precision.