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LostInParadise's avatar

Can gerrymandering be measured?

Asked by LostInParadise (27952points) June 13th, 2016

Currently the Republicans have many more seats in the House than the Democrats, but the number of Democrat voters is larger. Something seems to be very wrong.

Thirty years ago the Supreme Court ruled that districts which are gerrymandered to favor one party over the other can be forced to be redrawn. But how do you prove it?

I just came across this article, which presents a relatively simple calculation to answer this question.

The basic idea is to determine the number of “wasted votes” of each party. For the party with a majority in a district, a wasted vote is any vote over 50%, which could in theory be used to win an election elsewhere. Similarly, for the party in the minority, all of its votes are wasted. Gerrymandering is interpreted as a deliberate attempt by one party to increase the number of wasted votes of the other. What is called the efficiency gap is just the cumulative difference across all districts between the wasted votes of the two parties divided by the total number of voters. The number is expressed as a percentage and some minimum value is used to indicate gerrymandering.

This seems to make sense to me, but I need to give it some more thought. If this measurement is considered reasonable, there will not need to be any more involvement by the Supreme Court. Each state would be free to use the efficiency gap to determine if redistricting is required.

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9 Answers

Call_Me_Jay's avatar

A related question is how to draw districts without trying to skew election results.

Mathematicians have put a lot of work in devising computer mapping using only population density and geographic boundaries. You feed in the census data and get “compact” districts.

It’s a really interesting problem. You can see results of one effort for each state here.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Regardless of any theoretical considerations or even a practical and proven method of drawing equitable districts, the actual implementation of such plans would be extremely difficult in the face of political resistance. The global warming situation for example is a pale imitation of the fury involved with any fight surrounding the distribution of political power.

rojo's avatar

@stanleybmanly so true. The minority party, no matter which one it is, always wants impartial redistricting while the majority wants to maintain their political edge and will always do so unless stopped by the courts. The courts will always be latecomers and will not overturn an election based on gerrymandered districts even if they find blatant prejudices in the system. Any changes would take place on the following election cycle so it is a win/win for the party in power.

There are ways to make redistricting impartial and I used to believe that the majority of citizens would be in favor of it but that there was no desire on the part of the politicians to do so. Now we are so polarized I am not so sure.

Yet another argument for a three party system that requires a consensus to govern.

Pandora's avatar

It took me a few minutes to understand the notion of a wasted vote but I think I get it now. North Carolina is famous for it. Also for voter suppression. They use to (I don’t know if they do it now) change district lines before and election and not inform people and make their voting areas far from where they live. It only happened in the mostly democrat sections

This past primary, they tried to tell my mom she couldn’t vote because she had and expired state card ID. But she had received a letter from the state election board stating what is a legal Id and so long as it hadn’t expired ( I think in the last 3 or 7 years) and she was over 70, she was good. It had just expired a few months prior. I told her to take the letter with her if they gave her any problems. My mom told her she was entitled to vote and she was going to vote. She was about to give her the letter when another (voter volunteer) lady stepped in and told her that my mom was entitled to vote and sent my mom through.
Oh, I got a little off on topic there. To answer your question, I’m not sure there is a complete and fair way to handle it that would be to everyone’s satisfaction. There really is no way of making sure a district is half and half of anything. A good way to make sure is to allow independents to vote for either party without it effecting their status and without them needing to declare a party.

LostInParadise's avatar

I listened to that and was surprised no mention was made of the mathematics for detecting gerrymandering. I wonder if Daley knows about it. It is still going to take a lot of work and time to be able to fix the problem, but having a detector at least makes the job doable.

ibstubro's avatar

If the book is true, nothing will be done to fix the problem as long as gerrymandering is what’s keeping the part in power, in power, @LostInParadise.

LostInParadise's avatar

Some people are bringing lawsuits to fix the problem. It will be a long time before it is corrected, but it is possible.

ibstubro's avatar

Hopefully, they can make the 2020 redistricting a little fairer, but I have my doubts.

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