Redistricting Summer School at Tufts U (Boston, MA)

Tufts University is running a special one week program on redistricting and gerrymandering this summer. There's a bunch of general interest material and three special training tracks in: how to be an expert witness in gerrymandering court battles, teaching about redistricting and gerrymandering at the high school and college level, and use of GIS software in redistricting.


Increased Interest

Emails are up. I've been getting a lot of interest in my redistricting work in the last few months. People have been writing in to ask how they might start a ballot initiative in their state. A couple state legislators have even written in to ask for details on what I've worked out for there state and if I might do some customizations for them in the future.

Sometimes people ask for an organization they can work with on practical reform efforts. In various local cases the League of Women Voters has been key, and sometimes Common Cause has been a good mover of note. The ACLU seems to focus elsewhere, but does have some redistricting work.

There's a lot of reform minded thought going around and I'm glad for it. Let's get these things nailed down by 2020 so we're ready to go when the Census data starts coming out in 2021.


Partisan Gerrymandering Supercomputing Statistical Analysis

Gerrymandering analysis at UIUC [1] uses a supercomputer cluster to generate millions of plausible districts and measures their goodness and partisan balance. Given this space of plausible district mappings, one can look at the current map and see if it is an outlier. They show one state, Maryland, and how its current map is at outlier on a couple metrics, and therefore probably an intentional partisan gerrymander. The motivation for this approach seems to be to create a tool for court challenges to gerrymandered maps. If a map is an outlier, highly unlikely by random chance, then it's probably due to malicious intent.

I wish them luck and I hope they overturn some gerrymanders. I'll probably stick to my work of making one good map to compare to. If I can make one good map that's legally and practically viable, and measure its goodness and compare to other maps, then we should just let the best map win.

[1] Election Law Journal, ELECTION LAW JOURNAL Volume 15, Number 4, 2016, DOI: 10.1089/elj.2016.0384  http://cho.pol.illinois.edu/wendy/papers/talismanic.pdf


Gerrymander Law Geeking

Here's a pretty good article about the state of gerrymandering law and court decisions as of November 2016.

One thing it says that in recent court decisions shape is not enough. Partisan demographics and racial demographics are enough to determine that a gerrymander has happened to the point that a court can throw it out. I think this implicitly declares that in order to do it right the first time, these features of demography would have to be accounted for in the initial district drawing after a Census. Party affiliation isn't part of the Census, but it's State data in the voter registration files.

Designing districts towards demographic ends is at best gerrymandering for good or shoddy proportional representation.

I still think that if we want proportional representation then we should actually do that and not fake it with badly drawn districts. I think we need an answer to the question: what is a district for? I think it is for representing a locality or a region. But, in practice, maybe it's for electing a representative. And we want our representatives to follow our population; and that means some kind of proportionality. So, if locality or region doesn't matter, and we have to have districts, then draw the district however is needed to meet the demographic goals. And now my logic is eating its own tail and I'm back to the conclusion I started with, we want proportional representation, and we should do it right.


Ranked Voting Tools

Aside from redistricting, my other favorite issue around election reform is getting beyond 'pick one' ballots to rankings or ratings voting. It's what elections should be. We can start right away using it at every level to make better decisions. Picking an office outing? Officer of your club? Here are some tools:

Paper ballots. This makes ranked ballots you can print and fill out on paper; also a tabulation sheet for counting with Condorcet’s method. (Instructional video is planned.)

Online votes. I linked to an silly example voting between four flavors of ice cream. But make any poll you like there. Requires fb or google log in to create a poll or vote. Doesn’t spam anyone, just make a link and send the link to people you want to vote.


Towards Redistricting Reform in Oregon

I'm working with some people in Oregon to start working towards a ballot initiative to change the state constitution to use fully automated impartial redistricting. If you know anyone active in Oregon politics, please share this with them. Proposed ballot initiative for redistricting reform in Oregon, as of 2016-11-11


Fixed Alaska

For years my software broke when trying to deal with Alaska because its longitudes straddle the -180/180 split. My simplistic cartesian software couldn't handle this. Also it was probably horribly warped by using a naive mercator style projection. But no more! Now I use the proj4 geographic projection library to optionally warp a state to an azimuthal equal area projection centered over the state so that there is relatively little distortion anywhere within it. This also normalizes the coordinates to all fit in a simple x,y bounding box. So, I now have 20 districts for the Alaska state Senate and 40 districts for the state House and they look pretty good: http://bdistricting.com/2010/AK_Senate/ http://bdistricting.com/2010/AK_House/