District 9 was Packed
August 29, 2020 1:25 PM   Subscribe

With the 2020 US Census underway, we are due to see a lot of redistricting in 2021, which determines who votes for which representatives at the state and national levels. With that in mind, let's take a look at the recent history of gerrymandering in the US, and what's going on in redistricting reform efforts...

Some basics. Partisan gerrymandering is the dark art of drawing district lines to benefit a particular political party. Where many voting rights issues concern the limiting access to voting, districting has an impact on how those votes count. When republicans have taken control of entire state governments, redistricting has often become a major focus; since 2010, Project REDMAP has sought to redistrict states in favor of republicans, often leading to lopsided seat counts at odds with the popular vote. Leaked documents indicate that Republican redistricting efforts likely target communities of color specifically. [previously] In some cases, Democrats have fought back with their own partisan gerrymanders. But now many are working to ensure that redistricting is a non-partisan activity, via independent commissions and better rules.

The basic tools for creating a gerrymander are 'packing' (putting lots of opponents into a single district, so that their votes go towards fewer representatives), 'cracking' (breaking a larger community up into many districts where they'll be a minority), and 'stacking' (grouping a lower-turnout group with a high turnout group with opposite voting preferences).

Over the last five-ish years, there have been concerted efforts to develop metrics that tell us how badly gerrymandered a map is. Packing, cracking, and stacking are all intended to increase the number of 'wasted votes' in a given election: this can be measured as an efficiency gap by counting 'wasted' votes on both sides of the election and comparing the results. The Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group develops new mathematical models for understanding gerrymandering and writes reports for governments considering redistricting plans; they've found in many cases that ranked choice voting and multi-member districts are great ways to combat problems in first-past-the-post systems. [previously] Other useful tools are measures of 'compactness' and comparing outcomes under a given map to a statistical sample of randomly drawn (legal) maps.

In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could do nothing about partisan gerrymandering. Since that decision, it's now a state-by-state fight to improve redistricting procedures.

More resources: The Brennan Center for Justice is an excellent resource for draft legislation and policy reports. FairVote has maps of current redistricting procedures and additional literature. Ballotpedia has additional policy maps and links to resources. If you prefer learning with your ears, there's an excellent More Perfect podcast on the issue.

Finally, Professor Justin Levitt has a list of specific ways that citizens can get involved in the redistricting process, ranging from how to identify 'communities of interest' to submitting citizen-drawn maps.

(Full disclosure: Moon Duchin, founder of the MGGG, is an old friend of mine, and taught me almost everything I know about geometric group theory.)
posted by kaibutsu (5 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
First reading about REDMAP made me intensely depressed: realising that someone put in a huge amount of work to ensure that a district would just safely tip Republican so that it would also fuck with any neighbouring districts felt like a shockingly evil thing to do. I pulled out the boundaries of s southern-ish city I know, and the main district was a spidery mess of districts extending miles along major roads just so they could capture new upmarkets subdivisions. It just looked sick.

I'm glad folks are coming together against this.
posted by scruss at 2:15 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]

Yeah, the New Yorker article on REDMAP is a great place to get oriented with the impact of the issue. Which includes this tie-in to increased batshitinsane-factor in politics:
The science of gerrymandering is now so precise that most incumbents’ main fear is a primary challenge, and here the best defense is to play to the lunatic fringe. The net result, as many analysts have noted, is increasing polarization. Daley takes this analysis a half step further, arguing that the control Republicans exercised over the latest round of redistricting is the very reason the Party has lost control over its members. The representatives who make up the House Freedom Caucus—the group that last year forced House Speaker John Boehner to resign—hail from districts so red that the biggest danger they face is being branded insufficiently immoderate. Daley quotes James Huntwork, a Republican election-law expert, who describes a primary campaign in a typically lopsided district as a contest between one candidate who says, “I am completely crazy!” and one who says, “I am even crazier than you!”
posted by kaibutsu at 4:25 PM on August 29 [4 favorites]

Jordan Ellenberg (a mathemetician and writer who comments here occasionally) had a well explained write up on detecting gerrymanders in Slate a few years ago.
posted by mark k at 8:55 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]

which the party that controls the state legislature draws voting maps to help elect its candidates.
Above says most...One being controlled...no freedom of One's vote.
posted by thomcatspike at 9:53 PM on August 29

Great post!
posted by NotLost at 10:02 PM on August 29

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