The Voting Rights Data Institute is a 6-week summer program of the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group (MGGG), a Boston-based team of mathematicians and computer scientists working on U.S. redistricting. The first VRDI ran from June 4 – July 13, 2018, and the second VRDI ran from June 17 – July 26, 2019. In Summer 2020, we are hosting several shorter activities rather than running VRDI. We are considering hosting another VRDI in Summer 2021.
Participants engage in a wide range of activities to support the research of MGGG. Work takes place in a group setting, with undergrads working independently and in teams, supervised by graduate students and faculty. Admitted students will be offered travel funding, housing in apartment-style dormitories, and funding for living expenses.
Concrete goals of the work include the following:
- Conduct original research in the mathematics of redistricting
- Use census data and GIS shapefiles to compile data-rich population graphs for states and cities at the census block and VTD (voting tabulation district) levels
- Compile and clean political outcome data from as many contests as possible
- Set up models for districting in selected city councils and house-to-senate legislative district matchings in selected states
- Set up regressions to model political preference; test tradeoffs in model selection
- Produce worksheets, notebooks, and repositories for sharing graphs, data, and models openly
- Research the redistricting laws and practices of all 50 states (plus Puerto Rico and D.C.) to enable algorithm design that best encodes the rules
- Implement Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) algorithms to create ensembles of redistricting plans for legislative and/or congressional districts in all 50 states, based on 2010 Census data
This program will provide opportunities to hear presentations from mathematicians, computer scientists, political scientists, law professionals, and civil rights organizers.
All students will gain at least the following experience through the program.
- Basic skills with python, GIS, R (and if desired, C++, etc)
- Data science applied to current social and political problems
- Mathematical modeling for study of demographics and politics
- In-depth introduction to the legal, political, and technical issues in electoral redistricting
There should be ample opportunities to publish pieces of the project and to present at conferences. Students will be encouraged (but not required) to stay involved with MGGG up to and after the 2020 Census.