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New Milwaukee Board Game, Distrix, Teaches People How Gerrymandering Works

Wisconsin's current state Assembly districts, which in the November 2020 elections awarded 61 of the 99 seats to Republicans despite only winning about 54 percent of the total votes.

Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating electoral boundaries to favor one specific political group. It can take many different forms from packing all voters of one group into a single district or spreading them out through many districts so that they never reach a majority.

The effects of gerrymandering can be seen in the Wisconsin Legislature where Democrats received about 47% of the votes in all races in the 2020 general election, but only won about 38% of the total seats in the state Senate and Assembly.

Matthew Petering is an associate professor in the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at UW-Milwaukee and he created a board game to help people better understand how gerrymandering works.

“I think gerrymandering is a complicated issue that a lot of people in the general public, perhaps, may not be very familiar with and if you can make a game to help people understand that might reach more people than just having a regular textbook,” he says.

The game is called Distrix. It is a two-player game where each player has to compete to control more than half of the nine election districts in America’s 51st state.

“Sometimes by playing a game, you can feel a little bit happier when thinking about a complex topic such as gerrymandering,” he says.

While the games forces both sides to make strategic decisions about how the redistricting process should go, Petering says that many states don’t take this measure and allow a single party to control the entire process. He hopes that aspect will help teach people about how there needs to be multiple parties involved when it comes to redrawing political districts.

“I think the game is an interesting idea that might actually be worth thinking about for redistricting in real states,” he says.

Petering says the game can be enjoyed by gaming and politics enthusiasts alike, but classrooms are really where Distrix shines. “Students and teachers can get quite a bit out of the game, to basically see how districts can be gerrymandered,” he says.

Petering also hopes politicians pay attention and understand that it is possible to have fairer ways to draw political maps.

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.
From 2020 to 2021, Jack was WUWM's digital intern and then digital producer.