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Hannah Sharp

December 6, 2019 @ 10:00 am - 11:00 am MST

Thesis Information

Title: The Unintentional Gerrymandering of America; How population shifts in Congressional Districts contributes to the wasting of votes, as measured by the Efficiency Gap

Program: Master of Arts in Political Science

Advisor: Dr. Jaclyn Kettler, School of Public Service

Committee Members: Dr. Ross Burkhart, School of Public Service and Dr. Stephen Utych, Political Science


The ebb and flow of population from one area to another are what give us cause to redraw legislative districts every ten years, after the decennial census. In recent decades increasing population in urban areas, and decreasing population in rural areas, has made it harder to draw competitive districts. Population distribution is key to how electoral districts are drawn at all levels, based on census data. This concept of self-sorting has also been termed “unintentional gerrymandering”(Chen and Rodden 2013). This trend of “self-sorting” has been caused by many factors including; generational change, increasing levels of immigration, shifting of the white population, an increase in educational attainment and development of the nation’s interstate highway system. Intentional gerrymandering, that which is done by powerful incumbent legislators, is a known problem in political science. Unintentional gerrymandering, the way that geographic population shifts are affecting legislative and congressional districts, is a much less developed and affirmed concept. My research question addresses two areas that are missing from the current discussion of political geography and redistricting. The first asks how the effect of geographic population distribution (rural vs. urban) affects the amount of amount wasted votes in an election cycle, specifically looking at Congressional elections. The second is to test whether the efficiency gap is an effective formula to measure how wasted votes are effected by population shifts within congressional districts between redistricting cycles.