Josh Lafair playing Mapmaker: the Gerrymandering game with his brother and sister.

Civic Spotlight: How Three Siblings Took on Gerrymandering With a Board Game

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This Civic Spotlight is by Josh Lafair, one of the creators of Mapmaker: the Gerrymandering Game. If you have a story to tell, visit the submissions page and let us know.

My name is Josh Lafair, and I’m a senior in high school. I enjoy board games, politics, and sports. I dislike brussel sprouts and chemistry.

And I hate gerrymandering – the practice of politicians drawing congressional and state legislative lines to benefit themselves and their party. 

My brother, sister, and I grew up in a gerrymandered district in Austin, Texas. District 10 to be exact.

It has a little bit of Austin, a large swath of the countryside, and a little bit of Houston – which is a full three and a half hour drive away. The politicians in Texas took small slices of Austin and Houston, which are both liberal leaning, and put them into a district with the conservative countryside.

Texas Congressional districts centered on the city of Austin. A great example of gerrymandering and cracking.

People Aren’t Talking About What Really Matters – Gerrymandering

I began to talk with my friends about how crazy it is that I’m voting with people from Houston. However, I realized that a lot of them don’t even know what district they are in. They don’t know who they are voting with, and they don’t realize that Austin is cracked into six separate congressional districts.

My friends and I will discuss politics often, but we never discuss gerrymandering. I suspect that this is common for other people throughout the US.

People will talk about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Everyone has an opinion about the upcoming presidential election. Both of these extraordinarily important, but shouldn’t more people also be talking about gerrymandering? Shouldn’t more people be talking about how American politicians are interfering in election after election? Shouldn’t more people be talking about how 2020 state legislative elections will affect political maps for the next decade?

So, my brother, sister, and I wondered, how do we get more people to talk about gerrymandering? We thought back to all of the times we’ve used board games to have face to face connections around the table. Why not do the same thing with gerrymandering?

Close up view of the four game pieces from Mapmaker: the Gerrymanderin game.

Enter Mapmaker: the Gerrymandering Game

Two summers ago, my brother, sister, and I decided to invent a board game – Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering game.

We had three goals:

  1. Start conversations around the country about an issue that isn’t discussed enough.
  2. Teach people about gerrymandering in a fun hands on way.
  3. Remind politicians that gerrymandering is not a game.

First, we did our research about gerrymandering. We read books, perused articles and listened to podcasts. We were honored to speak with some of the forehomest gerrymandering experts of the day, including Ruth Greenwood, Gregorary Herschlag, and Jonathan Mattingly.

Not only did we want this game to be educational, but we also wanted it to be a well designed and fun game to play. We went through at least 6 separate iterations of the board game.

At one point it was a card game. Later, our prototype contained pieces from 4 separate board games: Cosmic Encounter, Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and Othello. We play tested the game with over 100 people until finally we decided it was ready, and we launched it on Kickstarter.

To our amazement, with the support of 1,468 families, teachers, board gamers, and anti-gerrymandering advocates our game funded. Our backers included Arnold Schwarzenegger, Lawrence Lessig, Jason Kander, and David Daley.

Getting the Word Out – Gerrymandering Is Not a Game

Now that the game is released, we’re on a mission.

Inside each and every single one of our games, we have included a “Gerrymandering Is Not a Game Proclamation.” Thanks to our Kickstarter supporters, we were able to send 171 games to governors and state legislators around the country who are instrumental in redistricting. We also sent 82 games to the Supreme Court. We want there to be so many games that it is impossible to ignore.

And once the Justices the politicians get their games, we want them to remember one thing – gerrymandering is not a game. It affects real people in real districts across the country.

Currently, we are working on a curriculum that you can pair with the game to teach the subject of gerrymandering. Now more than ever, gerrymandering needs to be discussed and protested especially in light of the recent Supreme Court cases.

In Rucho v. Common Cause, the Supreme Court recently ruled that while gerrymandering is a constitutional crisis the federal courts will not rule on gerrymandered maps. Gerrymandering will be fought on a state by state basis.

Mapmaker: The Gerrymandering Game is a board game. What will happen in state legislatures all across the country is real.

Josh and his siblings are currently working on curricular materials to accompany their game. You can purchase Mapmaker: the Gerrymandering Game on Amazon. You’ll find a review of the game here, and you can read more about how to use it to teach gerrymandering here.

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