How Republicans and Democrats manipulate the U.S. electoral system

Country/area: Germany

Organisation: Funke Mediengruppe (Berliner Morgenpost, Hamburger Abendblatt, WAZ, Thüringer Allgemeine, Braunschweiger Zeitung and many more)

Organisation size: Big

Publication date: 2 Nov 2020

Credit: Marie-Louise Timcke, André Pätzold, Angelo Zehr, Ida Flik, Moritz Klack

Project description:

With a simple explainer, an interactive game and real-life examples this project explains the concept of gerrymandering and its application in a US context. To explain to non-U.S.-citizens how a party, despite a majority of votes, can end up sending fewer delegates to parliament, we developed a game that allows users to tip the election in a fictional state. Subsequently, a scrolling element takes readers through some of the most absurdly shaped congressional districts in the U.S. – results of extensive gerrymandering practices.

Impact reached:

The project was published in German and English shortly before the election and was thus accessible to a wide audience. The playful approach was particularly well received by social media. We know from reader mails that some teachers in Germany used the application to explain the voting system in the USA to their students in a playful way.

Techniques/technologies used:

The project was mostly realized in Javascript, employing maps (with Mapbox GL js), scrollytelling and interactive elements. We used simple schematic illustrations that were turned into an animated scroll, visualized geo-data geometries of administrative districts and added custom iconography.

What was the hardest part of this project?

Explaining a layered and complex issue like gerrymandering and its effects to an audience unfamiliar with the basics of the US electoral system was a challenge. We developed an interactive game from scratch to let users play with the rules and discover the sometimes surprising outcomes themselves. We aimed to achieve an aesthetics and storyline that wouldn’t lose readers due to an overload of technicalities, which resulted in a fairly linear narrative (as opposed to exploration-based tools) incorporating a range of visual elements, from scrollytelling and maps to simple schematic visualizations.

What can others learn from this project?

The project uses an interactive element in an educational, almost pedagogic way, which is a fairly uncommon approach to data journalism but served its aim in this context and could serve as further inspiration to other journalistic projects.

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