Wes Gurnee, who graduated from Computer Science at Cornell in 2020, has won the INFORMS Undergraduate Research Prize for a joint paper, Fairmandering: A Column Generation Heuristic for Fairness-Optimized Political Redistricting, written with David Shmoys, Laibe/Acheson Professor of Business Management & Leadership Studies in ORIE and the Department of Computer Science.

This award is the top prize given to undergraduates at the INFORMS annual meeting. Ten finalists were chosen to present their work in a special session at the conference. Gurnee was the sole winner of the prize. Gurnee's video presentation of the work is available to watch.

Abstract:

The American winner-take-all congressional district system empowers politicians to engineer electoral outcomes by manipulating district boundaries. Existing computational solutions mostly focus on drawing unbiased maps by ignoring political and demographic input, and instead simply optimizing for compactness. We claim that this is a flawed approach because compactness and fairness are orthogonal qualities, and introduce a scalable two-stage method to explicitly optimize for arbitrary piecewise-linear definitions of fairness. In the largest ever ensemble study of congressional districts, we demonstrate the computational power of our approach across the full set of multi-district states to understand the range of possible expected outcomes, and the implications this range has on potential definitions of fairness.

Gurnee is the founder and Executive Director of Fairmandering, an organization "with a mission to enact reform designed to create more representative electoral districts." At present, he is a software engineer on the Storage Efficiency Team at Google.