George Mason University

News at Mason

Mason Political Scientist McDonald Wins Award for Redistricting Software

November 2, 2012


Michael McDonald. Photo by Evan Cantwell

Michael McDonald, associate professor of public and international affairs, was recently recognized by the Strata Data Innovation Awards for his work on DistrictBuilder, free open-source, web-based software meant to increase public participation and transparency during the political redistricting process.

The project won the Data Used for Social Impact award at the 2012 Strata Conference in New York in October. The awards were established by technology publisher O’Reilly Media Inc. to recognize innovative technologies in data science.

“We are pleased to have been able to work with our partners to support them in their efforts to improve the redistricting process,” says McDonald, who was principal investigator on the project.

McDonald worked with Micah Altman, senior research scientist at Harvard University, on DistrictBuilder, which was developed in collaboration with the Brookings Institution and Azavea, a Philadelphia-based software design company. The project also received funding from a Sloan Foundation grant.

“Much too much politics are injected into the redistricting process, and neighborhoods are chopped up to meet political purposes,” McDonald said in a 2011 interview. “What we are trying to do is educate the public about the issue of redistricting and why it matters for their representation. Through this project, we are proposing alternative plans and allowing citizens to become a greater part of the process.”

District Builder made it possible for members of the public to draw the boundaries of their communities and generate redistricting plans for their state and locality.

In 2010 and 2011, the software was used by citizen groups to present redistricting proposals in Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon and Rhode Island. In addition, the software has been used in redistricting competitions organized by McDonald in Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Virginia and the City of Philadelphia.

McDonald was also actively involved in official state redistricting efforts or litigation in Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. He also testified before legislative redistricting committees in Nevada, Oregon and Pennsylvania.