Gerrymandering Jigsaw Puzzle
August 21, 2013 7:47 AM   Subscribe

Can You Solve Slate’s Gerrymandering Jigsaw Puzzle? Put the ridiculously gerrymandered congressional districts back together. What is gerrymandering? What is the history of gerrymandering? (previously)
posted by NoMich (41 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, I learnt three things:

- I'm crap at jigsaws.
- The average Slate reader is even worse. Start at the edges, people!
- The US is the modern home of democracy like Taco Bell is the modern home of Mexican food.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:04 AM on August 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


This is great, and the puzzle exercise really proves their point. I do wish, however, that when the state puzzles completed that it also filled in how that district voted for the last election (plus outlines of major cities).
posted by mochapickle at 8:08 AM on August 21, 2013


I remember some years back seeing a flash "game" about Gerrymandering, challenging you to draw a set of fair districts as an impartial third party, using various criteria that have been proposed.

And I remember it being damn hard to do.

It wasn't meant to be an apology for Gerrymandering, or saying it's ok, just pointing out that actually having impartial people draw fair districts was an extremely difficult thing to do.
posted by evilangela at 8:08 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Of course, the solution to that is to use computer programs to generate equally populated districts based entirely on census data.
posted by sonic meat machine at 8:12 AM on August 21, 2013 [13 favorites]


It's not so hard to be fair, especially with computers. But Iowa is a great example of how you can avoid all this (while presenting a similar problem of how to assemble all the identical rectangles into a state.)
posted by anotherpanacea at 8:13 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Guys, get on this - there's no way we can't improve the average slate reader time... like significantly.

If they want to make it harder, allow the parts to be spun. Then I'd at least understand the average slate reader taking 9:36 to complete the puzzles.
posted by Nanukthedog at 8:15 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Our winner-take-all mentality is good for the ego but bad, bad, bad for the soul. We've put individualism on a pedestal (which, of course, isn't all bad), but thrown society and community under the bus.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:16 AM on August 21, 2013


Of course, the solution to that is to use computer programs to generate equally populated districts based entirely on census data.

But, the census is BIG BROTHER and THEFT OF THE PEOPLES' MONEY.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 8:19 AM on August 21, 2013


anotherpanacea: "It's not so hard to be fair, especially with computers"

These are the exact tools that have made it so unfair:

"Maptitude for Redistricting has immense capability -- it's done everything we've asked and more. Plus, our web site, which uses Maptitude for the Web, will provide an easy way for the public to access the redistricting process. "

“There used to be a theory that gerrymandering was self-regulating,” Persily explained. “The idea was that the more greedy you are in maximizing the number of districts your party can control, the more likely it is that a small shift of votes will lead you to lose a lot of districts. But it’s not self-regulating anymore. The software is too good, and the partisanship is too strong.
posted by boo_radley at 8:19 AM on August 21, 2013 [7 favorites]


8'45"
posted by unSane at 8:27 AM on August 21, 2013


It's not hard to use computers to be fair, but they can't help us figure out what fair is.

I'd be for a system where the state automatically adopts the map that includes the largest number of competitive districts - that is, districts where the difference between Republican and Democratic voters is within 3%, or 1%, or whatever. Of course, that's probably going to result in some really ugly district lines, particularly in states with big cities, but I'd pick competitiveness over compactness any day.
posted by burden at 8:31 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gerrymandering thread that doesn't link to the awesome C.G.P. Grey video on the subject? Not today!

Ok, ok, yes it is linked in the Rhaomi post OP linked to. But it's good enough to be highlighted!
posted by Wretch729 at 8:31 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


8'00
posted by dubold at 8:42 AM on August 21, 2013


There are, predictably, a bunch of nonpartisan algorithms for redistricting. While I sort of like the starkness of the shortest splitline algorithm, there's something to be said for the blobbier results of BDistricting.
posted by Copronymus at 8:44 AM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


7:30
posted by Jpfed at 8:44 AM on August 21, 2013


I want to be outraged at this egregious misuse of governmental power. But it was so much fun to solve the puzzles!!

6'10"
posted by Toubab at 8:45 AM on August 21, 2013


I remember some years back seeing a flash "game" about Gerrymandering, challenging you to draw a set of fair districts as an impartial third party, using various criteria that have been proposed.

And I remember it being damn hard to do.


I would guess you're talking about The ReDistricting Game.
posted by Johnny Assay at 8:52 AM on August 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


6:08!

But because the districts are so very gerrymandered they're really very easy puzzles.
posted by jeather at 8:54 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


7:36, and I was on a call for work.
posted by deezil at 9:07 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm having one of those days where everything seems completely fucked, and our problems unsolvable. I've been having a lot of those lately.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:12 AM on August 21, 2013


9:42

Hampered by still not used to clicking/dragging with my Magic Trackpad.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:12 AM on August 21, 2013


I won't be happy until the US electoral map looks like a Voroni diagram.
posted by GuyZero at 9:16 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I was so certain that IL had everyone beat with its absurdly gerrymandered congressional districts that I was utterly shocked by Ohio. Some of those districts look like they came out of a fractal photo album. Are recursively refining algorithms to blame?
posted by Westringia F. at 9:39 AM on August 21, 2013


Vermont's congressional district is gerrymandered to gather all the Democrats into one voting block.
posted by maryr at 9:44 AM on August 21, 2013 [8 favorites]


It's never been completely clear to me why congressional districts don't follow county (parish, etc.) lines as a default. Sure I understand redrawing the lines for partisan reasons and subdividing counties for population issues, but if our states are already divided municipally, why divide them a whole other way? It just seems so inefficient.
posted by sleeping bear at 10:27 AM on August 21, 2013


5:35 suckers.
posted by straight at 10:40 AM on August 21, 2013


Came to see if my district was represented. Yep, they even saved us for last.

Ohio's Fightin' 9th! Literally. Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich were tossed in a pit and made to fight each other for Republican amusement. Now Marcy covers Toledo AND Cleveland, because that makes sense.
posted by charred husk at 10:40 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's never been completely clear to me why congressional districts don't follow county (parish, etc.) lines as a default.

For one thing, most counties were drawn when the overriding principle was geographical size rather than population (because most people had to walk to the county seat to do things). New York has 62 counties, but five of them are NYC, which has the bulk of the Congressional seats. Nevada has 16 counties, but one of them (Clark) has half of the state's residents. Michigan has 83 counties, the majority of which don't add up to the population of Detroit alone.

For another, counties don't have the cohesion or importance that they used to. I'd be surprised if half the people in the U.S. know what county they live in, and even more surprised if 10 percent could name the county's chief executive.
posted by Etrigan at 11:00 AM on August 21, 2013


I remember some years back seeing a flash "game" about Gerrymandering, challenging you to draw a set of fair districts as an impartial third party, using various criteria that have been proposed.

It's the ReDistricting Game. And it's one of the most useful flash games I've ever played. After playing, I really understood how difficult it is to institute rules that prevent gerrymandering.
posted by zug at 11:02 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is great.

10:04. Which means I actually raised Slate's average.

But spatial reasoning and I don't get along. Yeah, I started at the edges but still. I doubt I could have finished if they had been rotated, flipped, etc.
posted by mountmccabe at 11:21 AM on August 21, 2013


5'05"

Read 'em and weep!

Wait a sec... what tha fuaaccc?!
posted by coachfortner at 11:37 AM on August 21, 2013


While I am very disappointed the game doesn't snap the districts in place, I still got 5:36 so ha ha suckers.
posted by ckape at 11:45 AM on August 21, 2013


I'd be for a system where the state automatically adopts the map that includes the largest number of competitive districts - that is, districts where the difference between Republican and Democratic voters is within 3%, or 1%, or whatever.

The thing that's bad about that is that it would guarantee that half the population is always badly represented, since nearly half of every district would prefer someone from the other party. And probably prefer that pretty strongly. There is actually some value in assembling relatively homogeneous districts, which is that they're easy to represent.

The thing that's wrong about that is that that's what gerrymandering looks like. You don't gerrymander in favor of Republicans by drawing districts with large Republican majorities. Instead, you gerrymander in favor of Republicans by drawing as many districts as you can with slim Republican majorities -- that is, kinda competitive districts. The easiest place to see this is probably still the NY Senate, which is probably the most tightly gerrymandered legislative chamber in the country.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:50 AM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


the game doesn't snap the districts in place,

Yeah, I lost a lot of time in the first puzzle while waiting for that to happen. Ended up with 6:26 overall; that's a fun way to learn.

Also lost a lot of time shaking my head at how screwed up this system is. In their book It's Even Worse Than It Looks, though, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein say, "What caused the party polarization? It would be nice if we could boil it down to a single root cause. The pundits’ favorite cause, in spite of impressive evidence to the contrary, is the gerrymandering of legislative districts… But that impact is relatively minor and marginal."

Still, they say, "While most countries with single-member districts use nonpartisan boundary commissions to redraw lines so they reflect population shifts, in America most state legislatures create the maps for both congressional and state legislative districts through the regular legislative process." Seems like one way to start fixing the problem is to not let state legislatures draw their own boundaries.
posted by LeLiLo at 11:58 AM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd be surprised if half the people in the U.S. know what county they live in

I like this game! I live in the City and County of San Francisco. I used to live in Philadelphia County.

(Okay, so those were easy.)
posted by madcaptenor at 1:46 PM on August 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can't say they're not audacious, that had me exclaiming out loud at the shape of some of the districts.

I think we need a harsher, more attention grabbing term for it though - "gerrymandering" sounds like something a friendly old fellow would do in his shed on Sundays.
posted by lucidium at 1:58 PM on August 21, 2013


I think we need a harsher, more attention grabbing term for it though - "gerrymandering" sounds like something a friendly old fellow would do in his shed on Sundays.

Personally, I always thought that it sounded like something that got you on the level 3 sex offender registry... While it doesn't, realistically I kinda think it should have similar consequences.
posted by Nanukthedog at 2:19 PM on August 21, 2013


The thing that's bad about that is that it would guarantee that half the population is always badly represented . . . . There is actually some value in assembling relatively homogeneous districts, which is that they're easy to represent.

I get where you're coming from here, but since I think Congress makes most important decisions collectively rather than as individual members, I think it's more important for Congress to accurately represent the polity than for individual members to accurately reflect their districts. I mean, under the current system, fewer people voted for Republicans than for Democrats for House seats, yet Republicans control a majority. That seems like a more important problem to solve. I recognize that my approach doesn't encourage majority-minority districts, but I suspect it would still allow for some to be created in states with large concentrated minority populations.

The thing that's wrong about that is that that's what gerrymandering looks like. You don't gerrymander in favor of Republicans by drawing districts with large Republican majorities. Instead, you gerrymander in favor of Republicans by drawing as many districts as you can with slim Republican majorities . . . .

True, but you can only slice the salami so thin before you undermine your advantage. I'm not up on the scholarship about what constitutes a safe district these days, but presumably a district with a <1% partisan advantage isn't considered safe. I think there's a difference between creating as many districts as possible with 4% Republican advantages and creating as many districts as possible with partisan advantages of <1%.
posted by burden at 2:49 PM on August 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


boo_radley: anotherpanacea: "It's not so hard to be fair, especially with computers"

These are the exact tools that have made it so unfair:
So, your solution is to ban computers from districting planning?

How about the truth, instead of your luddite spin: the tools didn't make it unfair; the people who used the tools to redistrict made it unfair.

There are simple rules which can be applied to severely limit gerrymandering - but applying them really does require computer analysis, when trying to evenly divide multi-million-populations evenly.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:07 PM on August 21, 2013


IAmBroom: "So, your solution is to ban computers from districting planning?

How about the truth, instead of your luddite spin: the tools didn't make it unfair; the people who used the tools to redistrict made it unfair.
"

No, you illogical jackabout; if anything, that was the exact point I was trying to make. The tool can do anything -- it COULD be used for simpler Voroni-style districting or population based districts or anything else that could approach an equitable districting plan. Funny how it's just used to fuck the electorate hard and sideways then, isn't it? Hey, do you know who's buying fair and impartial districting software? Cause the answer sure as shit seems to be "nobody" as far as I can see. Fuck, if you did make perfectly fair software, people would buy it as a counterexample: "Don't do this guys, it puts us at risk"

"Luddite", goddamn. Hell if I ain't an ugly fat sumbitch with a spurl eye and knotted toe, but luddite goes to far. Jesus.
posted by boo_radley at 3:29 PM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


Since it hasn't been mentioned yet, proportional representation is one solution that just makes gerrymandering irrelevant: a party that gets 30% of the popular vote simply gets 30% of the seats in the legislature, as opposed to this current plurality system we have where getting 51% (or usually less) of the vote wins 100% of the political power at stake. But it also solves the Duverger's law problem and consequently gives third parties a fighting chance, so it's pretty much never going to happen in the U.S.
posted by XMLicious at 6:26 PM on August 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


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