In 2021, an unprecedented number of states, counties, cities, and other local jurisdictions are considering Communities of Interest, or “COIs,” in the redistricting process. The precise legal definition of a COI varies across the country when it is spelled out at all. Broadly speaking, COIs are geographical areas defined by a residential group with significant shared interests that are relevant to policy and representation. These interests can be cultural, economic, or environmental; they can concern employment or public services or infrastructure—basically, relevant interests include anything that causes neighborhoods or regions to need a shared voice in government. Prioritizing COIs is generally considered to be an essential ingredient of fair redistricting but, in practice, it is prohibitively difficult to do well without local community knowledge.
This year, MGGG worked to make COI collection easier and more usable than it has been in past redistricting cycles, using our public mapping software called Districtr. This lets us collect spatialized testimony from the public, combining narrative descriptions with the ability to paint community areas using the same kinds of mapping software that will ultimately be used to draw the lines. The team has organized and hosted weekly student-led train-the-trainer sessions throughout 2021 to offer background, tips, and hands-on help with COI mapping.