The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Gerrymandering: Boring, Yet Important

Posted on | May 5, 2011 | 13 Comments

by Smitty

Over at Pajamas Media, Robert Zubrin touches on an important topic:

The degree of contrivance behind the design of a set of districts is directly related to the oddness of the shapes employed to reach the election-rigging objective. There is a precise mathematical way to measure such malformation. That is, if you take the square of the perimeter of any shape, and divide it by the shape’s area, you arrive at a number, which can be called its irregularity. For example the irregularity of any square, regardless of its size, equals 16 (because (4s)2/s2 = 16.) On the other hand, the irregularity of a rectangle whose long side is 10 times the length of its short side is 48.4 (because (22s)2/10s2 = 48.4.) The odder and more contrived the shape, the higher will be its irregularity.

Now congressional districts need to have equal population sizes, so the task of dividing a state fairly is more complicated than simply slicing it up into low-irregularity shapes. Still, there is a solution which can be objectively ascertained that does accomplish the goal of creating equal population districts with the minimum total irregularity. This can be found either by humans or computers.

I suggest it be done as follows. Let’s let the majority party in the state legislature take the first shot at proposing a redistricting plan. The sum of the irregularities of all the proposed districts can then be added up to create a score for the majority plan. The minority party can then be given 30 days to come up with an alternative plan. If they can come up with a design whose irregularity score is 1 percent lower than the majority plan, then the minority plan is adopted. If not, then the majority plan remains in place.

Between now and the 2020 census, I would have a contest to have Computer Science deparments derive mapping algorithms and data inputs to define what ‘optimal’ districts look like. The problem could be moved to the data collection and description of the algorithm for calculating a state’s layout. Make the data publicly available and transparent. Let the boundaries fall where they may. The only losers will be the political parties and the incumbents who are buttressed by the current approach. Boo hoo.

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