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Wanted: Honest Algorithms For Voter Redistricting
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David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
8/7/2014 | 3:00:58 PM
Using redistricting optimizing algorithms for good rather than evil
Redistricting reform shouldn't be a partisan issue. As an admitted lefty, I once gave a speech about the Florida redistricting initiative to a Toastmasters group that included a Tea Party enthusiast, who told me my message made perfect sense to him. (Whether he later decided to vote against it for partisan reasons, I don't know).

What I'm arguing for here is an objective rule, clear enough to be expressed in software, that works the same way whether your favored party is in power or not. Is that too much to ask?
D. Henschen
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D. Henschen,
User Rank: Author
8/7/2014 | 5:58:09 PM
What about existing boundaries, like towns and counties?
Political gamesmanship is excessive on both sides of the aisle. Just like the tax code, election structures need to be greatly simplified and stick with real boundaries, not demographic engineering zones.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
8/7/2014 | 6:00:07 PM
Re: What about existing boundaries, like town and counties?
Honestly, I don't even like the minority representation thing. Every elected official should have to get elected under his or her own power.
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
8/8/2014 | 12:04:18 AM
Re: What about existing boundaries, like town and counties?
I live in Massachusetts, where gerrymandering was invented by Governor Elbridge Gerry in 1812. The county barriers hereabouts are at least as absurd as the Florida congressional districts. Norfolk County, where I live, isn't even contiguous, and I have to go out to Elvis County when jury duty turns up. But, at least it's human malfeasance; I hope they never turn these sorts of decisions over to computers.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
8/8/2014 | 9:15:43 AM
Re: What about existing boundaries, like town and counties?
@Gary_El, at least with humans in charge, you have someone to blame.
NJ Mike
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NJ Mike,
User Rank: Strategist
8/8/2014 | 9:53:38 AM
Re: What about existing boundaries, like town and counties?
The problem with using algorithms (is that music the ex-VP dances to - sorry, had to slip that in) is they can be still manipulated, but that manipulation will be hidden.  You can never get the politics out of re-districting.  What needs to be done is find out a way to have the process as tranparent as possible.  The issue/requirement of having race-based districts enters into this (the virtue of which is a subject of debate, but not here on an IT forum), so you will have to have some sort of human intervention will be necessary.

The concept of getting the element of human intervention out of this process is nice, but the devil will be in the details, and those details occur whether you use a computer algorithm, or have people use a dry erase board to do it.
UberGoober
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UberGoober,
User Rank: Strategist
8/8/2014 | 10:28:09 AM
Know your enemy
The biggest issue with such a solution, at least until early 2017, wouldn't be the politicians whose interest might be harmed.  It would be the Attorney General of the United States. 


Under Eric Holder, nothing ever would be allowed that might under any conceivable (and many inconceivable) circumstance reduce by a scintilla the representation of minoriities.  Since many of the districts that reliably send minority Representatives to congress are the most Gerrymandered (I'll give you Texas 19, home of "Queen" Sheila Jackson-Lee as an irrefutable example), any attempt to rationalize them would result in an immediate protest.  The proposal would be declared in violation of the Voting Rights Act and the proposer would be declared an evil racist.


I'll also point out that he who controls the algorithms would weild significant powe, but in a more disguised way.  Computer modeling is only as good as the model and the data you feed it, and if you get to control the model, you can tweak it to give pretty much any results you want.  Sorry, but I think that one can go very wrong placing too much faith in 'honest' technocrats.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
8/8/2014 | 10:40:47 AM
Re: What about existing boundaries, like town and counties?
If you start with a computation that gives you a map of compact districts, aligned with natural and city / county borders where possible -- which is entirely possible to reduce to an algorithm -- and try to stick to that as much as possible, I think that would be a great start.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
8/8/2014 | 10:44:22 AM
Re: Know your enemy
The concern about he who writes the algorithm holding all the power seems misplaced to me. As long as the same formula is applied to every district, there's no way you can come up with something like Florida's 5th Congressional district. Manipulation of the system becomes a lot more obvious, if every other district is compact and one or two are way out of whack.
Number 6
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Number 6,
User Rank: Moderator
8/8/2014 | 10:54:09 AM
Piano Teacher Redistricted Better than Pennsylvania Legislature
An average citizen with low-tech tools did a better job of redistricting than the politicians.  Gee, what a surprise.  See one of many stories about Amanda Holt here:

http://www.pennlive.com/opinion/2012/12/amanda_holt_is_pennsylvanias_citizen_activist_of_the_year.html

 
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