Determining our fates with cold, apathetic, wonderful math

June 12, 2011 9:19 pm Published by 1 Comment

Minnesota is currently debating how to redraw our state district borders, as we do every 10 years, with new census data to guide us. Creating fair, impartial boundaries seems impossible, because it’s always tempting for the party in power to gerrymander everything to give themselves more power. I’ve long been critical of the shape of our 6th district, home of state shame Michele Bachmann. It conveniently bends around liberally-leaning downtown areas and grabs many of the richer, fiscally-conservative parts of the state and merges them with rural, socially-conservative parts of the state.

But how the hell do you draw fair, unbiased district boundaries? On the one hand, people don’t want their communities split down the middle. On the other, it’s really easy to lump certain communities together to create districts that are easy for one party or the other to control.

Here’s one way that’s pretty interesting: math.

The first method I found uses a “shortest splitline algorithm” (whatever that is) to slice each state into simple shapes, based on population numbers. I really like it. It’s cold, it goes right through communities, but it seems fair.

The second method I found is also pretty cool, but seems to be a bit less heartless about chopping communities into pieces. The borders it draws are much more complex, but it’s hard to argue with the results.

Our Republican-controlled legislature passed their own hellish redistricting plans, but naturally it was vetoed by our Democrat governor. Big surprise. Of course, the same thing would’ve happened with a Democratic legislature and Republican governor. (If they were all Republicans, it would’ve easily passed. And if they were all Democrats, they’d still be arguing about it now.) Apparently, the courts will decide what to do.

I have no expectation that we’ll start using science-based methods any time soon, but I think it’s pretty interesting to see what’s possible with math I’ll never understand.

Wherein I solicit validation from strangers:

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This post was written by Bevans

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