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/


Computational Redistricting at Illinois

I'm still trying to find more information about this short piece about this computational redistricting project. They say they made "800,000,000" maps. I think if you count all my intermediate states I made somewhere between 10,000,000 and 1,000,000,000. (~135 maps * ~100 attempts each * 100,000 time steps varying the map).


TEDx Cambridge

Brian Olson on Gerrymandering and Engineering Impartial Districts.
Nine and a half minutes.
Delivered at TEDx Cambridge, 2016 June 9.

Long Term Project

Some time in 2005 I started tinkering on working out a solver for impartial compact redistricting. There was one big false start around trying to use genetic algorithms that worked okay at zip-code level data but didn't scale up to the finest resolution Census data. Now I have two different algorithms implemented that seem to work pretty well. There was a phase of using a mesh triangulation package to fake up adjacency between census block centers, but eventually I downloaded the full geographic data with the lat,lon coordinate shapes of everything in the country and processed that to get real adjacency. I took all that geometric data and wrote my own rasterizer because other packages seemed cumbersome and inefficient when dealing with 600,000 polygons of 4-20 edges each. There was a bug in that rasterizer that went unsolved for about six years. I wrote what could have been used as a distributed client, but I only ever ran it on one computer and that turned out to be enough. I had scripts collecting the best solutions I found and had a bug in which one they presented that went undetected for around five years. I got a few shout outs from minor tech bloggers and one article in a law journal. In 2014 I got cited by a washington post blogger declaring, "This Computer Programmer Solved Gerrymandering In His Spare Time". And most recently I got invited to speak at TEDx Cambridge where I gave a ten minute talk on gerrymandering in the US and an impartial alternative.

I'm not sure what's next, but there are a few things to try before 2020.



There's another algorithmic redistricter in the world: Auto-Redistrict
Looks like I have some competition. (-:

Cities Split by Districting

I recently wrote about reform in Ohio that specifically calls out not splitting up municipalities when possible. How bad is it now? How do my maps fare? So, I wrote an analysis to check. Here's a preliminary result just for Ohio:
Standard Map: 226 places* split (24.1%)
My Map: 330 places split (35.2%)

Is that bad? I'm not sure. I would like to see a distribution of that over the size of the places split. Splitting a town of 4,000 people seems unnecessary, but splitting a city of 1,000,000 is inevitable. This is to be expected, given that the pure-compactness process explicitly does not care about any boundaries and any human process would at least look at that. If an official map broke up more cities, that would have to be the result of some horrific gerrymandering.

Given that I have this data, a future step would be to alter the solver to try not to split cities and towns. I might do a in-depth study of one state, such as Ohio, and see what the tradeoff between compactness and non-splitting is. At the limit would be following the hard rules in the new Ohio law that absolutely does not split unless there is no other way to make equal-population districts.


Washington Post compiles a beautiful national map

The Washington Post wonk blog talks about Obama's State of the Union Address and his mentions of election reform and has a beautiful new graphic of the contiguous 48 states as redistricted by the bdistricting.com software.