2011 | National Harbor, MD

Gerrymandering Made Easy

Thomas Hoefeller’s tips for how to turn a map red.

What I’ve Learned About Redistricting—the Hard Way!

basic laws of redistricting
• Whether done with colored maps on the floor or high-speed computers, it always brings out the worst in everyone!
• And it’s never done on time!

on politics and coalition building
• Just like nineteenth-century British foreign policy:
 • No permanent allies
 • No permanent enemies
 • Only permanent interests
• Self-interest binds, honor doesn’t.

getting to know the state
• Print out detailed maps in advance and study.
• Create a district outline map and study the deviations.
• Identify the shifts of territory and population for a “least changes” plan.
• Study regional population shifts.
• Identify the instances of fracturing and packing contained in the present plan.
• Draw a “good government” plan.
• Find out what objectives are possible.
• Decide what types of plans you, or others, may wish to put out in public to make specific points.

another basic law of redistricting
• Blessed are they whose districts are in the corners!

special information you need to know before line drawing begins
• Try to find out what each legislator’s objectives are.
• Identify special-interest groups that are important stakeholders.

when actually drawing plans
• Don’t get “cute.”
• Don’t let your own personal and political feelings interfere.
• Don’t create stupid irregularities in boundaries.

political admonitions
• Legislators and members of Congress get really nervous during the process.
• Most members assume the plan should originate from their own district.
• Expect some irrational choices.
• Remember that “bad news, unlike fine wine, does not age well.”
• If bad news has to be given to a member, let the attorneys or outside experts deliver it—if possible.
• Remember that members are usually unable to distinguish between theoretical and real plans. Don’t enlighten the innocent! Don’t reveal more than necessary.

another basic law of redistricting
• Don’t bring out the maps until the end of a meeting.
• Once they see maps, all other forms of communication will cease.

legal perils
• Never travel without counsel.
• “Loose lips sink ships.”
• Remember—a journey to legal hell starts with but a single misstatement or a stupid email!
• Remember, the court record is already open.
• Treat every statement and document as if it was going to appear on the front page of your local newspaper.
• “Emails are the tool of the devil.” Use personal contact or a safe phone!
• Make sure you know what is actually required by your constitution and statutes.
• Party control of the Justice Department and its Civil Rights Division is an important factor—it’s changed.
• How you seek Section 5 preclearance is important: three-judge panel in DC vs. DOJ.

computer perils
• You can never back up too often.
• Make sure your security is real.
• Make sure of the security of your printouts and plots.
• Remember recent email disasters!
• Make sure your computer is in a private location.
• Don’t walk away from it and leave your work exposed.
• Pay your technical people well.

redistricting miranda warning
• You have the right to an attorney.
• If you cannot afford one…you are in deep trouble!


Thomas Hofeller

From a PowerPoint presentation. After Hofeller, a Republican gerrymandering strategist, died in 2018, his estranged anarchist daughter found nearly a dozen of his USB and hard drives. The files they contained proved decisive in court cases concerning contested electoral districts in North Carolina and the Trump administration’s failed plan to add a citizenship question to the U.S. Census. In early 2020 she began uploading the files to the internet—including this presentation delivered at a redistricting seminar—telling her Twitter followers to “check it out, download it, put it on the wall, stomp on it, sacrifice it to the god of your choice, make art, make noise, have fun!”