Coloring Within (and Sometimes Outside) the Lines: Teaching Gerrymandering and Redistricting

Political Science Educator: volume 26, issue 1


Nick Kapoor, Fairfield College

My fascination with my two undergraduate majors, political science and mathematics, has only grown since graduating from Sacred Heart University in 2011. Gerrymandering and redistricting perfectly blend these two disciplines and thus remain especially interesting to me. In 2011, I investigated how my home state of Connecticut redistricts, wrote up some remarks, and testified in front of the General Assembly’s Redistricting Committee. As I worked through graduate programs in math and political science and began teaching in the Mathematics Department at Fairfield University, teaching a course on this topic felt like a natural fit, but out of reach. There is an overabundance of service courses, and more senior faculty taught and created electives. However, when the Honors Program asked for interdisciplinary course ideas, I jumped at the chance. With the enthusiastic support of my department chair and a leap of faith from the Honors co-directors, my course on gerrymandering and redistricting was on the schedule for Spring 2022.

To prepare the class, I reached out to someone with experience teaching a gerrymandering course. Dr. Kyle Evans, an Assistant Professor in the Math Department at Trinity College and classmate, has taught redistricting and gerrymandering to undergraduates for several years. He met with me several times. Dr. Evans provided suggested texts, topic outlines, and sample homework assignments. He has framed his course so that I was able to take his course shell and incorporate some of my own ideas and readings to have a successful launch.

When I teach a course for the first time, it is an experiment, so I keep a teaching journal to guide me for the next time. After each class session, I journal for five or ten minutes to reflect on what the class discussed, what went right and wrong, and what can be improved.

Teaching the Class

The course starts with an overview of gerrymandering by viewing Gerrymandering: The Documentary and a broad, albeit somewhat biased, John Oliver clip. Students then go through a simplified redistricting simulation by playing MapMaker: The Board Game, as shown in the picture. This game is a great way to start thinking about the decisions that mapmakers have to make. Following a broad introduction to redistricting and gerrymandering, we dive deeper into each aspect of the content. Class sessions include: The U.S. Census and Apportionment, State Redistricting Processes, Population Deviation, Racial Gerrymandering, Prison Gerrymandering, Compactness, the Efficiency Gap, Partisan Gerrymandering, “Fair” Districts, Monte Carlo and Markov Chain Methods, and how we can make redistricting better. Each class session includes active learning, simulations, and students engaged in their learning as much as possible. Activities follow mini-lectures where students apply what they learned.

There are several quantitative and qualitative homework assignments throughout the semester. Quantitatively, students practice finding the Efficiency Gap in a plan or calculating the Reock score of a particular district. Qualitatively, students research court cases that affect gerrymandering in the different states, or read the amicus brief of Mathematicians in Rucho v. Common Cause to analyze its arguments, and thread it through course material. The homework assignments reinforce the course content and build foundational skills for students to use in future projects.

Whenever I teach a political science course, I work hard to bring in guest speakers. This past semester, my class was joined by four incredible speakers. Connecticut Speaker of the House Matt Ritter (D-Hartford) and Connecticut House Democrats Legislative Process Manager Jeff Greenfield joined us to speak about being in the “room where it happens.” The Speaker served on the Connecticut Redistricting Commission last year and explained in great detail the particulars that go into drawing each and every line. The Connecticut League of Women Voters Redistricting Director, Joan Twiggs, also joined us to discuss what it is like to advocate for redistricting reform from the interest group perspective. And finally, our Congressman, Jim Himes (D-CT), joined us to describe his views on gerrymandering and how it affects the type of colleagues he works with daily. Overall, the students regarded the guest speaker portion of the course highly.

Throughout the course, we build towards two significant projects: a map portfolio and a final project. We utilize the free and genuinely superb internet-based Dave’s Redistricting Application (DRA), as shown at left. This is an exceptional tool that allows anyone to draw their own Congressional or state legislative maps. The class of twenty is broken down into four teams of five. Those teams are further divided into one group of two and another of three. Each small group produces a portfolio of different Congressional maps, including a partisan gerrymander and a “fair” map– however each group defines fair – for a particular state assigned by the instructor. The large team of five is tasked with being an independent consulting group to a state legislature. They draw several maps and recommend to the state legislature, which map to adopt for their 2022 – 2032 Congressional seats. These comprehensive reports are presented to the class at the end of the semester. The students took to this project with sincere enthusiasm and showed how much they had genuinely learned in one short semester around what could be a remarkably obscure topic.

Student Feedback

After the semester concluded, I solicited feedback from five students about the course with writing this article in mind. Some of their feedback is below.

  • Question 1: Did you know anything about gerrymandering before our class? Three answered “a bit,” one – a Politics major – answered “a lot,” and one answered “nothing.” Student 2 said, “Getting into the actual process of gerrymandering taught me more than I have ever learned in a politics class before.”
  • Question 2: Knowing what you know now, would you retake the class? This question had five resounding yes answers. Student 3 said, “Redistricting and gerrymandering are not discussed enough for having such an outsized impact on our democracy.” Student 4 said, “Each class we learned how much goes into a process that seems very simple on the surface.”
  • Question 3: What will you remember about our class in 10 years? Student 1 discussed knowing how the U.S. Census works and its impact on how federal funds and so many other things are distributed based on this process that only happens once every ten years. Also, “Gerrymandering affects our democracy in ways we cannot imagine.” Student 5 said, “there is no way to make everyone happy when a map is redrawn.”
  • Question 4: Is there merit in doing an entire class on gerrymandering and redistricting? Student 1 said, “Yes, but I believe that the focus should shift away from students redistricting as much as we did and focus more significance it has on society and how our political system currently looks.” Student 1 further indicated that more recent research on gerrymandering would have added great context to the class. Student 3 said, “Include how other countries redistrict and compare to America – that would have been fascinating!”
  • Question 5: What was your favorite part (or parts) of the class? Student 2 said drawing the maps was their favorite part, “I started drawing maps for fun outside of the classroom because I thought the process was so fascinating!” Student 5 also enjoyed drawing their maps, “This made us put into practice everything that we had learned throughout the semester and forced us to make the same tough decisions that real map makers have to make.”
  • Question 6: What was your least favorite part (or parts) of the class? Student 1 said, “I felt the projects were repetitive. I strongly believe that one project would have sufficed, and we could have focused more on the social and political consequences of gerrymandering.” Students 2 and 3 emphasized that the mathematical aspects of the course were difficult to understand without some pertinent background in math and statistics.


Is teaching an entire course on redistricting and gerrymandering a wise use of time? Yes! Outside of academia and the general populace every ten years, this process is a little talked about phenomenon in our government because it happens so infrequently and seems esoterically technical. However, it can significantly impact who we elect to our state legislatures, U.S. House of Representatives, and several federal funding formulas. This course allows students to learn about the theory of gerrymandering and to apply what they learned to create something new. I am beyond excited to teach this in the future and welcome comments and feedback to make it stronger. I’m also happy to share materials with anyone interested.

Nick Kapoor is an instructor at Fairfield College

Published since 2005, The Political Science Educator is the newsletter of the Political Science Education Section of the American Political Science Association. All issues of the The Political Science Educator can be viewed on APSA Connects Civic Education page.

Editors: Colin Brown (Northeastern University), Matt Evans (Northwest Arkansas Community College)


APSA Educate has republished The Political Science Educator since 2021. Any questions or corrections to how the newsletter appears on Educate should be addressed to

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