FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Political science professor Chad Murphy often sees senior Mike Kappert wandering around the University of Mary Washington campus with his laptop open and a map of Virginia state Senate districts up in his Web browser.
Kappert, working around the clock to meet a tight deadline, is using new software to draw an updated Senate district map — one he hopes will win his team a $2,000 top prize in a statewide competition when the winning maps are announced Tuesday. More important, he hopes the Virginia Legislature will consider his map as it adjusts political boundaries to the 2010 Census.
Across the USA, college students, citizen activists and political junkies are using similar software to break a mapmaking monopoly held for decades by state lawmakers.
"The technology has evolved so much that it's become almost entirely democratized," says Bob Holsworth, chairman of Virginia's bipartisan redistricting commission. "This will be a fact of political life from now on."
One of the new programs is described on Public Mapping Project from George Mason University.