How Do You Solve Gerrymandering?

Mathematicians are meeting in Austin this weekend to discuss ways to draw fairer electoral districts.

By Alexandra HartFebruary 2, 2018 12:25 pm|

2018 could shape up to be a big year in the fight over partisan and racial gerrymandering. Cases involving redistricting are on the docket in the Supreme Court as well as other federal courts. And if you’ve ever looked at a map of Texas congressional districts, you know these court decisions will have implications in the Lone Star State.

Is there a better way to draw districts? That’s something academics are trying to figure out – with math. This weekend, experts will gather at the University of Texas at Austin to address the challenges of redistricting. One of them is UT Associate Professor of Mathematics Andrew Blumberg, who co-organized the event. He says the workshop provides a forum for professionals to discuss electoral map-making, along with a hackathon where ordinary folks can learn how to use mapping tools.

“At its core, this is not a math problem,” Blumberg says. “It’s a problem about how people want to organize their political participation.”

Blumberg says those who make decisions about electoral maps need to agree on a goal. For example, maps can be proportional – a map that gives each political party seats based on the number of votes it receives – or they could be geographically compact, or of the same physical size.

“The emerging scientific consensus is that you want districts that satisfy some notion of compactness and are compatible with the Voting Rights Act and also aren’t too unusual in the space of districts,” Blumberg says.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.