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Using geometry to fight extreme gerrymandering
Posted by: Lemon Drop
Date: August 10, 2017 10:28AM

"A math professor is working to challenge political dysfunction in America at a special summer school for mathematicians taking place in Boston this week! Dr. Moon Duchin of Tufts University aims to use mathematics to tackle the growing crisis of extreme gerrymandering that is disenfranchising voters across the United States. Partisan-motivated gerrymandering, when elected officials create absurdly-shaped districts to ensure that they will never face a competitive race, is increasingly seen as one of the greatest threats to the health of American democracy. This trend could be easily seen during the 2016 election when only 8 out of 435 incumbents in the House of Representatives lost their seats despite the fact that many were deeply unpopular with voters. With the increase in court challenges to these unrepresentative districts in recent years, Duchin has spearheaded the creation of a new group to contribute to this fight -- by training mathematicians to be expert witnesses when gerrymandering is challenged in court!

Gerrymandering has a deserved reputation for allowing political parties to manipulate election results: by changing a district’s borders, it’s possible to skew the number of voters who are registered for a particular party. In 2012, for example, while Democratic candidates won 51% of the popular vote in Pennsylvania, they only won 28% of Congressional seats; similarly, in Ohio, Democrats won 48% of the popular vote but only 25% of the seats due to extreme gerrymandering. The end result of such gerrymandering is that more extremist candidates are elected and elections become essentially non-competitive as seen in the 2016 election where the average electoral margin of victory in House races was over 37%. Political scientists have also found that incumbents are so secure in their seats that they have little incentive to ever collaborate or compromise to advance legislation since the only election that matters in most districts is the primary, where partisan extremists often fare the best. Moreover, such gerrymandering contributes to a drop in voter turnout as more voters recognize that their voices have effectively been silenced and stop participating.

In short, many advocates assert that gerrymandering is wrong because voters should choose their elected officials; elected officials should not choose their voters. This insidious practice is increasingly being challenged in the courts, including in an important case challenging partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin which is heading to the Supreme Court this year. It's in these types of cases where Duchin and her growing team of mathematicians aim to make an impact. “In redistricting, one of the principles that’s taken seriously by courts is that districts should be compact,” says Duchin. “It’s taken as a kind of general principle of how districts ought to look. But nobody knows exactly what compactness means... What courts have been looking for is one definition of compactness that they can understand, that we can compute, and that they can use as a kind of go-to standard.” By applying geometric principles to the legal conversation, Duchin believes that mathematicians can help courts come up with a fair and accurate standard.

To advance her group’s work, Duchin created a five-day summer course to train mathematicians to serve as expert witnesses in gerrymandering cases and explore redistricting from mathematical, legal, civil rights, and historical perspectives. Over 1,000 people applied to attend this week's training, which has drawn participants from 40 U.S. states and several other countries. More than 1,700 people also registered on the project's website to serve as quantitative experts when their skills are needed in the future. Due to the overwhelming interest, Dunchin and her Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group have already scheduled regional training sessions to be held this coming fall and winter in California, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin. “The point of the [program] isn’t just to bring people together so we can convince them of our ideas. We also want to pool ideas and see, putting all those brilliant people in one place, can we make some progress on what’s been a pretty intractable problem?” she says. “It’s clear that this is the right moment to do this kind of work. We want to harness all that energy.”

To check out Dr. Duchin's Geometry of Redistricting Workshop, visit [] -- or check out an interview with her in The Chronicle of Higher Education at [];
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Re: Using geometry to fight extreme gerrymandering
Posted by: pdq
Date: August 10, 2017 02:18PM
I have no doubt that a computer algorithm could draw much better and fairer voting districts that are compact, contiguous, and representative.

...which is why you won't find Republicans promoting such an effort. Dems could and should, though.
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Re: Using geometry to fight extreme gerrymandering
Posted by: max
Date: August 10, 2017 02:48PM
Dems could and should, though.
Why would they change given a chance, again?
Just look at their past record when they had the power to behave differently....
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