Public Mapping Project to receive Brown Democracy Medal on Nov. 9

October 17, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Newfound attention to the practice of partisan gerrymandering has led to a growing movement to shift the process of drawing electoral maps from the hands of the legislature into the hands of citizens. 

The winners of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy's 2018 Brown Democracy Medal are at the forefront of that movement. 

The University of Florida’s Michael McDonald and MIT’s Micah Altman are the principal investigators on the Public Mapping Project, which created open-source software designed to give the public transparent, accessible, and easy-to-use online mapping tools.

Altman and McDonald will give a public lecture on their work at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 9 in Paterno Library’s Foster Auditorium on Penn State University Park campus. Presentation of the Brown Democracy Medal will follow the lecture.

The Public Mapping Project’s goal is for everyone to have access to the same information that legislators use when drawing congressional maps and to use that data to create maps of their own.

“What we hope is that having enough eyes on the problem will give policymakers a better sense of their available options, and permit objective observers — the public, media and courts — to determine whether there are better ways to achieve redistricting goals,” McDonald and Altman write in their book, “How Public Participation Can Revolutionize Redistricting,” which will be available at the lecture.

Districts being redrawn in Virginia using District Builder

The Public Mapping Project's District Builder platform allows citizens to become involved in the process of drawing congressional districts and create their own congressional maps in an easy-to-use way.

IMAGE: Public Mapping Project

McDonald and Altman write that redistricting plans produced by the public are more politically fair and adhere more closely to existing political boundaries — a natural extension of democracy.

“Normally, the public pushes and pulls the levers of democracy through their participation in elections,” they write. “When elected representatives subvert the electoral machinery so as to perpetuate their continued election, the will of the people is subverted and a democracy slides towards despotism.”

The Brown Democracy Medal is presented annually to a person or organization doing innovative work in democracy. The award is named for Larry and Lynne Brown. Lynne graduated from Penn State in 1972 with a degree in education. Larry is a 1971 history graduate and currently chairs the McCourtney Institute’s Board of Visitors.

For more information about the Public Mapping Project, visit For more information about the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, visit

Last Updated October 30, 2018