There’s a bill before the state Legislature that would designate a “computer algorithm” to draw our political boundaries. It’s similar to one introduce last year by the same legislator – I wrote about that effort one year ago. It went nowhere last year and probably won’t go anywhere this year, but it’s nice to see some realization that math can help save us from ourselves.
The bill, HB 603, has the innocuous title “AN ACT relative to procedures for apportioning electoral districts.” Here’s the relevant part:
A computer algorithm which performs the optimization process shall be written by an independent contractor selected by an independent redistricting commission, or jointly by the speaker of the house of representatives, the house minority leader, president of the senate, and the senate minority leader during the year of the decennial census. The computer algorithm shall be reviewed by representatives of all parties, as defined in RSA 652:11, and other interested individuals to ascertain fairness and lack of political bias prior to use.
The redistricting plan generated by the computer algorithm shall be forwarded to the speaker of the house of representatives and the president of the senate before April 1 of each year ending in one and the rules of each chamber shall be suspended to the extent necessary to allow the introduction of legislation to effectuate the plan.
“Effectuate the plan.” I love legal wording.
I’ve written about this topic several times, prodded in part by the word of Prof. Moon Duchin at Tufts, who is pushing the use of mathematics to create less-biased political districts. She wrote a good piece about it for Scientific American (here).
I cannot find the source of this information but an article I read described a human based model that results in a fair map. It’s based on the ‘I cut the pie, you pick the slice’ model. One party creates districts. The second party gets to pick one district and set it as ‘frozen’. The first party rebuilds districts from scratch, and the second party picks the next frozen district. Repeat until done. In this way the first party has a built in incentive to create fair and equitable districts. If I can find the original article, I’ll link back here.
If you’re a parent of two children, you’re familiar with that process: One kid cuts the slice of pie in half, the other kid gets first dibs.
I don’t know what you do if you have three children …
Cut the kids in half?
There’s (of course) a Wikipedia article about it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_pie-cutting
(Spoiler: if I’m understanding correctly,
I think it says that an envy-free division is possible with three kids, but not necessarily a Pareto-efficient one. Gadgetry is required.)
The recent issue of Scientific American had a good article about ways to evaluate maps to see if they are fair. Prior to that I was of the school “if the map looks funny that indicates gerrymandering.” The article points out that is not an accurate way to evaluate political boundary fairness.
Partisanship aside gerrymandering reduces confidence and increases cynicism about elections. We need to fix the problem.