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MSU creates tool to measure election fairness district-wide

June 15, 2022
<p>Stock photo of the Michigan Capitol. Shot on Nov. 7, 2020.</p>

Stock photo of the Michigan Capitol. Shot on Nov. 7, 2020.

Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

Michigan State University recently launched the Partisan Advantage Tracker, a user-friendly tool that helps the public assess election fairness and track election outcomes.

MSU Professor of Economics and Political Science Jon X. Eguia collaborated with MSU’s Institute for Public Policy and Social Research, or IPPSR, to create software that would help the public measure partisan fairness in elections to the U.S. House of Representatives. 

IPPSR Director Matt Grossmann, University of Michigan's Center for Local, State and Urban Policy Executive Director Tom Ivacko and Goldwater scholar Henry Fleischmann contributed to the research supporting the development of the tracker.

The Partisan Advantage Tracker builds on previous trackers that assess fairness and calculate political gains and losses from newly drawn maps. But Eguia said these former tools are flawed as they only compare the new maps to older, and often unfair, maps.

“There are other trackers that are tracking changes,” Eguia said. “Change from a bad thing was not, for us, the right reference. So, we were trying to compare to what would be fair. That was the purpose in this tracker.”

The new model is the result of the IPPSR report and analysis of Michigan’s new electoral districts. The commission completed its work earlier this year. The U.S. Constitution requires all states to redraw voting districts every 10 years following the U.S. Census.

The tracker is particularly useful today due to questions of fairness surrounding the recent redistricting completed earlier this year.

It works by using results from the 2016-2020 elections for the U.S. President, U.S. Senate and Governor in each state to calculate the number of congressional seats each party should win if voters were to vote as they did in 2016-2020, under maps newly adopted as of mid-May.

“So, for the public, it helps you understand the democracy that you live in,” Eguia said. “For the activists and experts and jurists, civil rights organizations, it’s a tool to push back against unfair maps and to advocate and lobby and try to change the system towards both fairer maps and fairer ways to draw maps.”

Eguia said in a press release that he wants local activists, journalists, politicians, scholars and campaign managers to test the tracker so it can continue to be improved.

“Ultimately, I see the Partisan Advantage Tracker as a tool to inform the public,” he said in the release. “Ideally, I hope it benefits the public.”

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