If Machiavelli Taught Gerrymandering/Redistricting

This activity is similar to the “Hobbes Game” in that it makes friends into enemies…and I SOOOO enjoy that 🙂  However, there are lots of moving pieces which can make this a complicated task.  Once you get the jist of the game…it really does become an exciting and fun way to teach several government related topics.

I’d love to give credit where it is due, but I have no idea who published the original documents.  They were given to me by a teacher friend many years ago.  I used white out to change the maps and assignment to fit my college student’s needs years ago.  At one point, I did tidy up the maps and created some nicer looking ones, but I couldn’t find them today.  When I do, I’ll upload them and replace the dingier ones below.

The video tutorial covers much the same ground as the written stuff below.  If you want to take a look at the worksheets as you read or listen to the directions…they can be found below.

To begin, students sign up for a unique set of demographics.  They are to “fight” for their demographic set in an upcoming school district/city/state redistricting event.  So, for example, if they sign up for “BL-D” it does not mean that they are a Blue Ethnic, low income, Democrat.  It means they are fighting/advocating for new district boundaries to favor that particular group.  They are advisers, in effect. On the maps, each set of demographics “R$Bl” represents one neighborhood if you’re using this as a city.  Each “R$Bl” set is a ‘city’ if you are using this map as a state.

Take a look at the general map (map 1) and you will find all ethnic, income, and political “neighborhoods” drawn on to the city/state map.  This all inclusive map is then split into three separate maps.  One will focus on the income characteristics of the region, another on the political characteristics, and another on the ethnic characteristics.  So the aforementioned BL-D will lobby for districts where Blue are the majority on the ethnic map (along with other Blues), he will lobby for low income families districts (along with other low income advocates in class), and he will lobby for the Democratic party to gain districts (along with other Democrat advocates in class).  If you’ll read the instruction PDF  you’ll get a clearer picture, but, needless to say, since no two people have the same demographics…everyone in class is a potential enemy.  They may team up on one map and back-stab each other on the next map.  Allegiances are horribly difficult to maintain.

I spend about 30 minutes on each map and give the various factions a chance to make some sort of partial allegiances as they draw out “hoped for” districts.  Since they’ll be voting as a class for the districts on the final map, they will need to either make friends or “trade votes” (ie. Republicans will need to vote with other Republicans even if their income or ethnic demographics don’t match up).  On the 3rd or 4th day, we hold a general vote to establish districts.  To do this, I project the general map on a white board.  I allow any student to come up to the board and draw a single district.  All the other students check to see how this district will either “crack” or “pack” their people. Majority vote rules.

Students get one point for each demographic that is the majority in that district.  So, if the final map has 7 Democratic district (where Democrats are the majority party in seven different districts…ie. there are more Democrats than Republicans or Independents) then each Democrat in class gets 7 points.  If there are four districts where middle income is the majority faction, then every student with “middle income” as the demographic they are fighting for gets 4 points and so on.

Once the “council” passes district #1, we move on to district #2.  Like the Supreme Court Cases we cover (Baker v Carr, etc.) , no overlapping districts are allowed, similarly populated districts must be established (about 9 neighborhoods per district), and district boundaries must stay within the city/state boundaries (no really crazy ‘earmuff’ or ‘lincoln on a vaccuum’ district lines).

At the end of the activity, the student with the most points gets a 100 and all other students get a grade based on that 100.  So if the most points is 11 then that students gets a 100.  Each individual demographic point (based on the top students grade) is with 9 points (ie. 11 demographic points times 9 grade points equals a 99).  If another student have 8 demographic points then their grade (8 demographic points times 9 grade points equals a 72) and so on.  I do offer extra credit assignments for the students that really get blown out of the water in this activity.

In areas where there are no “R”s, I suggest to Republicans that they trade their vote to the Dems or Indies for support on other parts of the map.






I have students who played this game close to a decade ago who still remember how fun it was.  It was also a nice introduction to the Machiavellian realities of politics and government.


About Thrasymachus

2013 Northwest ISD teacher of the year, Humanities Texas 2012 Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award, and 2011 Outstanding Educator of North Texas Award (North Central Texas College). I'm currently a Regional Digital Learning Consultant with the Education Service Center Region 11 in Ft. Worth, Texas and a college government educator who incorporates philosophy, technology & humor. A student through and through, I walk with my students in their learning. Most importantly, I'm blessed with the 3 most perfect kids eva! I love on them ery day!!!
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