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June 10, 2021

Gerrymandering threatens an already imperiled democracy. Under its sway, the congressional and state legislature districts carved out in secret by hyper partisan map makers end up distorting voter representation and concerns. The result in states like North Carolina and Maryland is that one party maintains a disproportionate hold on offices and policy agendas. Voters in both parties agree that the time has come for reforms to make the process of redistricting fairer. With the recent release of the 2020 census data and the possibility of passing new voting rights legislation, we have a chance to undo the excesses of gerrymandering that have fed political frustration and extremism.

Moderator Ryan O’Connell HR'73, one of the authors of a new ClassACT primer Gerrymandering: Our Democracy at Risk, lead a panel of experts on reforming redistricting. The panelists included Alicia Bannon, Managing Director, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University; Brian Cannon, Director of Campaigns at the Institute for Political Innovation and former Executive Director of OneVirginia2021; Jim Harbison HR'73, PhD ’77, former physicist and computer scientist at Bell Labs and IBM, now focused on the mechanics and mathematics underlying gerrymandering; and Michael Li, Senior Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice. This Forum was developed by our gerrymandering subcommittee, led by Bahman Mossavar Rahmani '73, co-chair of ClassACT's Justice & Civic Engagement Initiative.

Take a look at our video teaser for this event, created by classmate and videographer Rick Brotman!



Ryan received an A.B. in History from Harvard University in 1973 and a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1977. After working as a corporate lawyer and then a banker in New York City, Ryan found his true calling as a bond analyst on Wall Street. At firms such as Moody’s, Citigroup, and Bloomberg, he wrote frequently about banks and other financial institutions. These firms are particularly fascinating because they are profoundly affected by the economy and government policies as well as market trends. Ryan retired in the summer of 2018.

Ryan has a lifelong interest in politics. He has written a bi-monthly newsletter on politics since 2015, providing a moderate Democratic perspective. His website is The Wall Street Democrat.

Ryan has published his articles in Medium, Salon and The Globalist, an English-language online daily based in Berlin, Germany.



Alicia Bannon is the managing director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. She leads the Center’s Fair Courts Project, where she directs research, advocacy, and litigation to promote a fair judicial system. Bannon has authored several nationally recognized reports and articles on judicial selection, access to justice, judicial diversity, and government dysfunction, and her writing has been featured in the New York Times, Atlantic, and Time, among other outlets.

Bannon received her JD from Yale Law School. She clerked for Hon. Sonia Sotomayor in the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Hon. Kimba M. Wood in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. She graduated from Harvard College summa cum laude with a degree in social studies. Prior to law school, she worked in Kenya and Uganda, managing impact evaluations of education and health interventions, and at the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC.



As the Director of Campaigns, Brian guides and supports state efforts to pass Final-Five Voting. He also plays an integral part in IPI's growing strategy as a member of the senior leadership team. Prior to joining IPI, Cannon served as the executive director of the redistricting reform organization, OneVirginia2021. Cannon successfully led the reform through the legislature twice - once under a Republican majority and once under a Democratic majority.

Before joining OneVirginia2021, Cannon worked with The Fahrenheit Group and several entrepreneurs in the Richmond area. While in law school studying election law, Cannon was part of the winning team in the 2011 student redistricting competition in Virginia.

Cannon has a J.D. and B.A. from The College of William & Mary. He lives with his wife and two children in Richmond, Virginia.



After receiving his bachelor’s degree in Physics in 1973 and his PhD in Applied Physics in 1977 at Harvard, Jim spent the first half of his career at Bell Laboratories and Bellcore doing material science research on the semiconductor materials that form the basis of the optoelectronic revolution underlying today’s worldwide communications infrastructure. This work resulted in 4 patents, over 200 professional publications and the publication of a popular book in the Scientific American Library Series entitled “Lasers: Harnessing the Atom’s Light”.

Jim then moved into software research. He subsequently left Bellcore to co-found a startup, which created an ultra-efficient pattern recognition software engine. This grew over the next two decades into a product that eventually became a part of IBM’s Enterprise Marketing Suite of products. Jim’s wide-ranging interests, fostered even in those long-gone undergraduate days at Harvard, coupled with his concern over voter suppression, have recently led him to look in greater depth at the emerging application of mathematics to the vitally important problem of eliminating gerrymandering in order to keep our democracy vital and strong.



Michael Li serves as senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, where his work focuses on redistricting, voting rights, and elections. Prior to joining the Brennan Center, Li practiced law at Baker Botts L.L.P. in Dallas for ten years. He was the author of a widely cited blog on redistricting and election law issues that the New York Times called “indispensable.” He is a regular writer and commentator on election law issues, appearing on PBS Newshour, MSNBC, and NPR, and in print in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Roll Call, Vox, National Journal, Texas Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and San Antonio Express-News, among others.

In addition to his election law work, Li previously served as executive director of Be One Texas, a donor alliance that oversaw strategic and targeted investments in nonprofit organizations working to increase voter participation and engagement in historically disadvantaged African American and Hispanic communities in Texas.

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