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posted by LaminatorX on Friday November 28 2014, @12:26PM   Printer-friendly
from the I-choose-you! dept.

Gerrymandering is the practice of establishing a political advantage for a political party by manipulating district boundaries to concentrate all your opponents votes in a few districts while keeping your party's supporters as a majority in the remaining districts. For example, in North Carolina in 2012 Republicans ended up winning nine out of 13 congressional seats even though more North Carolinians voted for Democrats than Republicans statewide. Now Jessica Jones reports that researchers at Duke are studying the mathematical explanation for the discrepancy. Mathematicians Jonathan Mattingly and Christy Vaughn created a series of district maps using the same vote totals from 2012, but with different borders. Their work was governed by two principles of redistricting: a federal rule requires each district have roughly the same population and a state rule requires congressional districts to be compact. Using those principles as a guide, they created a mathematical algorithm to randomly redraw the boundaries of the state’s 13 congressional districts. "We just used the actual vote counts from 2012 and just retabulated them under the different districtings," says Vaughn. "”If someone voted for a particular candidate in the 2012 election and one of our redrawn maps assigned where they live to a new congressional district, we assumed that they would still vote for the same political party."

The results were startling. After re-running the election 100 times with a randomly drawn nonpartisan map each time, the average simulated election result was 7 or 8 U.S. House seats for the Democrats and 5 or 6 for Republicans. The maximum number of Republican seats that emerged from any of the simulations was eight. The actual outcome of the election -- four Democratic representatives and nine Republicans – did not occur in any of the simulations. "If we really want our elections to reflect the will of the people, then I think we have to put in safeguards to protect our democracy so redistrictings don't end up so biased that they essentially fix the elections before they get started," says Mattingly. But North Carolina State Senator Bob Rucho is unimpressed. "I'm saying these maps aren't gerrymandered," says Rucho. "It was a matter of what the candidates actually was able to tell the voters and if the voters agreed with them. Why would you call that uncompetitive?"

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28 2014, @01:18PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28 2014, @01:18PM (#120826)

    If someone voted for a particular candidate in the 2012 election and one of our redrawn maps assigned where they live to a new congressional district, we assumed that they would still vote for the same political party.

    Which is a problem since the (generally non-negligible) proportion of people that are "undecided" until the last days may have chosen to vote for candidates from the other party (whichever that is) *if* they had been in a different district (i.e. I voted for candidate A here because I didn't like candidate B, but in that other district I'd definitely vote for C which is in B's party).

    Or maybe it would balance out overall ?

    • (Score: 1) by Main Gauche on Saturday November 29 2014, @05:35PM

      by Main Gauche (2933) on Saturday November 29 2014, @05:35PM (#121142)

      You've touched just the tip of the iceberg, illustrating why mathematicians should stick to math, and avoid political science, economics, etc.
      (1) Not only voter decisions (as you point out) but voter turnout are impacted by the projected outcome of race. If it's going to be a landslide victory for a Democrat, the Republican voters will tend to stay home in that district, and vice versa.
      (2) The decision of what candidates will run for each party are based on the current voting districts. Redraw the boundaries, and parties could choose different candidates.
      For at least these two reasons (plus your observation about voter choice), you can't just redraw boundaries, and assume everyone votes (or abstains) in the same way.

      This isn't to say that gerrymandering doesn't exist. Rather it's the naive, counterfactual "what would have happened" stuff that, while making nice headlines, makes poor science.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28 2014, @01:18PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28 2014, @01:18PM (#120827)
  • (Score: 2) by WizardFusion on Friday November 28 2014, @01:22PM

    by WizardFusion (498) Subscriber Badge on Friday November 28 2014, @01:22PM (#120828) Journal

    It's not called "Gerrymandering", it's called cheating.
    It you have to cheat to win, you don't deserve it.

    • (Score: 1) by Nuke on Friday November 28 2014, @01:59PM

      by Nuke (3162) on Friday November 28 2014, @01:59PM (#120832)
      WizardFusion Wrote :- "It's not called "Gerrymandering", it's called cheating"

      No, it is called gerrymandering. It is the word for this particular type of cheating just like "forging" is the word for another type of cheating. I don't know why you seem to think that "gerrymandering" sounds OK because it does not; perhaps it is the first time you have come across the word.

      But gerrymandering is doing it deliberately. The same effect does happen a lot "accidentally". For example in the UK there are large industrial areas (eg the South Wales "Valleys" and the Black Country near Birmingham) containing many constituencies where the vast majority vote for the Labour party, but all those votes beyond 51% (say) are wasted. OTOH the Conservative party supporters are spread around more efficiently, only just topping the required majority in many constituencies.

      In a different way a significant part of the UK population (~3%) voted for UKIP (the anti-EU party) at the last general election but got no seats in Parliament because UKIP supporters are spread around such that a majority is hard to achieve in any constituency. Probably, more people would vote for minority parties such as UKIP (and Green and Commie etc for that matter) if they thought their votes were not wasted in this way.

      In the UK this was not originally deliberate, just a quirk of the demography. The situation could be solved by proportional representation, but the two main parties do not regard it as a problem that needs "solving". It suits them fine as things are.
      • (Score: 2) by zocalo on Friday November 28 2014, @03:11PM

        by zocalo (302) on Friday November 28 2014, @03:11PM (#120854)
        It might not be deliberate (mostly), or as pronounced as seems to be the case in the US, but since the quirk of demography tends to favour the Conservatives in England more often than not it is something that crops up from time to time in the UK too, especially in council elections where boundaries get shuffled around quite frequently to tip the balance. In some councils it almost seems to be an accepted part of the political process; whenever one party gets a sufficient majority they'll find some pretext to move a few boundaries a little to "borrow" voters from their stronger seats to shore up adjacent weaker ones, only to see them shuffled back again when the balance of control eventually swings back the other way.

        I suspect that this might also start getting a lot more attention in the national elections now that UKIP is on the rise and the recent independance vote in Scotland appears to have upset the balance for Labour (the Conservatives hardly ever poll well in Scottish seats). With the potential for even more parties sharing seats in Parliament and a greater risk of hung parliaments as a result, I'd expect the main parties to start looking into how they can consolidate their positions while they still can, and while they still hold the bulk of the councils this is one way they can do that.
        UNIX? They're not even circumcised! Savages!
    • (Score: 1, Informative) by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28 2014, @02:09PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28 2014, @02:09PM (#120835)

      The problem is your election system. First past the post is the perfect way to suppress divided majorities.
      It would be great if the elected representative was a patriot of the region he is supposed to represent. That was the idea I guess.
      In practice, however, you get a dictatorship of the slightly more popular party.
      It is actually worse than the numbers imply because many people only consider the two options that have any chance at all of being elected.

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28 2014, @02:47PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28 2014, @02:47PM (#120848)

        Yea and and after i have learned of S.T.V. And shortest Splitline Algorithm I am not going to vote in any system that doesn't use these as they seem to strike a good balance.

    • (Score: 2) by davester666 on Friday November 28 2014, @04:30PM

      by davester666 (155) on Friday November 28 2014, @04:30PM (#120875)

      Welcome to America. Land of the undeserving.

    • (Score: 2) by Whoever on Friday November 28 2014, @04:54PM

      by Whoever (4524) on Friday November 28 2014, @04:54PM (#120887) Journal

      And it's another thing that the Supreme Court already said was OK.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28 2014, @01:59PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 28 2014, @01:59PM (#120831)

    This is a problem of the majority voting system. In a proportional voting system, it doesn't matter in which voting district you live.

    For example, if a party gets 40% of the votes, in a proportional voting system it gets 40% of the seats, no matter whether those 40% are evenly distributed over all districts (so that the party doesn't get the majority in any district) or concentrated so that in 70% of the districts they get 55% (and thus the majority), while in the rest they get just 5%.

  • (Score: 0, Offtopic) by GWRedDragon on Friday November 28 2014, @02:23PM

    by GWRedDragon (3504) on Friday November 28 2014, @02:23PM (#120838)

    By using a single example, this makes it sound like only one side is responsible. The implication is that the Democrats would do way better if it weren't for skewed boundaries. This shows political bias on the part of the author; in reality both parties do it pretty much to the same extent.

    [Insert witty message here]
    • (Score: 1) by TK-421 on Friday November 28 2014, @03:42PM

      by TK-421 (3235) on Friday November 28 2014, @03:42PM (#120859) Journal

      No mod points at the moment so I guess I'll comment.

      Your point is right on in my opinion, both major parties are doing it. However I will add, that it doesn't bother me all that much. It isn't that I don't care, because I do. I just happen to be of the opinion that elections have consequences. If you (as a party) don't want to get gerrymandered then you had best be sure to listen to your constituents. I agree that there is an obvious advantage to be had with gerrymandering, but a party can lose that advantage pretty quick when they create a large delta between their actions and the will of the people.

    • (Score: 1) by jmorris on Friday November 28 2014, @04:05PM

      by jmorris (4844) on Friday November 28 2014, @04:05PM (#120864)

      Yea, look at CA and you would get exactly the opposite result. And that is the root of the problem, the wrong people are doing it now. For the last fifty years conservatives were bitchin' and moaning about gerrymandering but doing it out in the wilderness on the few and sparsely circulated conservative media. Now the majority of State legislatures are in Republican (not yet in Conservative hands but Progs stink with fear of that eventuality) control and they got to draw the districts in 2010.

      Thank you President Obama. The Republican Party hasn't been this strong since Reconstruction.

  • (Score: 2) by bzipitidoo on Friday November 28 2014, @02:57PM

    by bzipitidoo (4388) Subscriber Badge on Friday November 28 2014, @02:57PM (#120850) Journal

    Cheating is weak, and dumb. What do the beneficiaries of the cheating think they're going to do with their ill-gotten victories? Apart from rigging the next election, of course. And handing out favors to their "friends". What about actually, you know, governing? Oh, right, they don't think that far ahead, they're too dumb to do that. The Byzantine Empire fell in large part because cheating had become so institutionalized that the empire could not respond to an external threat.

    • (Score: 2) by kaszz on Friday November 28 2014, @05:13PM

      by kaszz (4211) on Friday November 28 2014, @05:13PM (#120891) Journal

      So USA will fall when there's an external stress on its system that is huge enough.

      • (Score: 2) by bzipitidoo on Friday November 28 2014, @07:38PM

        by bzipitidoo (4388) Subscriber Badge on Friday November 28 2014, @07:38PM (#120929) Journal

        The fall of the US may happen regardless of how well governed it is. A meteor strike like the one that killed the dinosaurs would easily kill off our civilization. But, if it is badly governed, a fall is more likely. If the government is corrupt enough, it could fall without any external stress. Why did South Vietnam fall? How could the commies of North Vietnam defeat the superior and stronger capitalist system of South Vietnam? One explanation is that their capitalist system wasn't so great after all. Many weak nations practice crony capitalism. South Vietnam was so weak that even with US help they lost. The Republic of China is another case, their government confined to the island of Taiwan. How did they blow it, and lose the faith of the Chinese people? As Chiang Kai-shek, their leader in the period around WWII wrote, they failed not because of external enemies, but rot from within.

        If we're going to consult our swarm intelligence by holding elections, we should listen. But many among us aren't listening, not to scientific warnings about Climate Change and other perils, not to good ideas that might disrupt an existing business model, not to the idea of tapping those who merit it, and not to voting results. The only listening some do is the backhanded sort of creating propaganda to drown out the factual messages. It's dangerous.

        I've heard what one CEO of a medium sized company thought. He didn't qualify for the position of CEO out of any merit, he inherited it from his father. He was an average idiot. One time he gave a little speech to all of management at a dinner after hours in which he said that Global Warming was not real, but if it was, then good because he thought it would be good for the company's business! He also complained that he would have made more money if he'd sold the company and invested in the stock market. But, he explained that he stayed with the company so us peons would all have jobs. Patted himself on the back for being such a nice, great guy, helping out the little man. Was oblivious to his own arrogance and patronizing tone. That is the kind of fool we have running many of our companies. Most of the time getting it very wrong results in nothing of serious consequence, but often enough the result is disaster. For instance, Fukushima would not have happened had it not been for corrupt management who, out of greed, actively pressured and silenced honest engineers.

  • (Score: 1) by yankprintster on Friday November 28 2014, @06:32PM

    by yankprintster (4225) on Friday November 28 2014, @06:32PM (#120915) Homepage

    There are ten Congressional Districts in Washington State. The 2011 Redistricting Commission, made up of two Democrats, two Republicans, and an independent chair, redrew the districts to make them safer for all incumbents (regardless of party). The compromise they came up with was to make a single district, the 1st, a competitive swing district that could potentially go to either Party. The other nine districts were essentially locked in to always favor the incumbents.

    I ran as a Republican in the 2nd District (one of which has a Democratic incumbent).

    My results in the 2nd in 2014: 39.43%
    Republican challenger results in the 2nd in 2012: 38.86%

    Probably close enough to be considered statistically a tie. So the 2nd was designed such that it is approximately 60% Democratic and 40% Republican, almost always guaranteeing a Democratic win. (And the Districts that have a Republican incumbent, have similar results, just the other way around.)

    Incumbents already had the advantage of strong name recognition, and just the fact that they are incumbents allows them to claim experience at doing the job. Giving them an additional 10% vote advantage seems to go way too far.