Unwinding gerrymandering

The method of fairly fairly splitting a cake between two people is tried, tested and mathematically proven: one person cuts the cake and the other chooses which slice they get. To get the biggest piece of cake possible, the cutter must split it fairly resulting in no hard feelings between the two eaters.

In US politics, however, cutting states into electoral districts doesn’t have a similarly fair method. The political party in charge often decides where the electoral lines are drawn and does so in such a way as to gain an advantage. This is gerrymandering.

A team at Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania have devised a way to extend the cake cutting technique to redrawing electoral districts to make the system fairer. It allows both parties to act in their own self-interest, butstill results in an outcome that is mathematically fair. It works as follows:

One political party draws an electoral map that divides the state into the agreed number of districts. The second party then chooses one district to freeze so that no more changes can be made to it by either side. It then redraws the rest of the map. Once the new map is complete, the first political party freezes one of the new districts, and redraws the rest of the map again. This continues until every district in the state is frozen. In Pennsylvania, for example, this would require 17 cycles as there are 18 districts.

One would have to account for the Voting Rights Act, which protects voting rights for racial minorities. The authors suggest that this could be checked after the process is finished, in the same way that new districts are checked now. (an edited version of an article by Ariel Procaccia, Wesley Pegden and Dingli Yu, of Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania,arxiv.org/abs/1710.08781, and Timothy Revell of the Mew Scientist)

Am I being too cynical if I say that many modern politicians are not interested in fairness. They are interested in power, and staying in power. Go back fifty years and this proposal might have interested the political parties, who, at the time, genuinely sort-of believed in democracy. Pity the Supreme Court won’t take up the idea, but of course it was the Supreme Court that brought us Citizens United and put up the country for sale, so forget that. And in any case constituency boundaries are State concerns, not Federal. Looks like we are snookered. Now the Republicans and Democrats can barely agree on the date, never mind fair elections. Bye bye democracy. You were good for us while you lasted.

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