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An impossibility theorem for gerrymandering (dustingmixon.wordpress.com)
51 points by mathfan 8 days ago | hide | past | web | 74 comments | favorite





I think this indirectly hints at something much more fundamental: district based plurality does not make sense as an election system anymore.

I think an eye opening example is to consider a hypothetical single state with 10 representatives. This state has a population, perfectly well distributed, of 35% democrat, 30% republican, 20% libertarian, and 15% green. And we draw our districts up with absolutely no bias whatsoever. What 'should' the election results be? I think any logical person would say about 3.5 democrats, 3 republicans, 2 libertarians, and about 1.5 greens. What we get in reality? 10 democrats as they win a plurality in each and every district. 0 gerrymandering, 35% of the support, 100% of the seats.

To get our above example to have the logical results we want, you end up having to create really absurd districts that would completely dwarf any sort of gerrymandering of today. So then the question is quite obvious. Why don't we do at large proportional elections instead of district based plurality elections? If a state has 10 representatives then any party is guaranteed at least 1 seat if they get 10% support, 2 for 20%, and so on.

In the past when politicians and the people were much closer, I think districts made a lot more sense. You were voting for somebody who you knew or were at worst split by the most minimal degrees of separation. But today this isn't true. The average congressional district is now up to 710,767 people [1] (as of 2010). In 1790, at the time of the first US census, the average district size was 37,082. Times have changed, but our electoral system has not.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_congress...


The way we tackle this problem in New Zealand is with the Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) voting system.

Under MMP, you have two votes: 1) The delegate you want to represent your district (we call it an electorate) 2) The party you want to support.

In addition there are two changes: 1) Each of the parties publishes a ranked list of their candidates. This is imaginatively called their "list". 2) There are more seats in the house (we call it parliament) than there are districts (electorates). We have 71 districts but nominally 120 seats in parliament.

Once everyone has cast their two votes (quick brag: We had 92.4% of our population enrolled to vote, and of those enrolled, 79.8% voted -- which I think is pretty good going). The votes are counted like so:

1) The "electorate vote" determines the person who represents your district, in a simple most-votes-wins way. Anyone who wins a district is guaranteed a seat in the house (parliament).

2) The "party vote" is counted up nationwide, and each party gets that percentage of the total seats in parliament. If they won more seats with the party vote than the electorate (almost always), their seats are "topped up" from their list until they have the correct number.

(There are some subtleties: The exact way we assign seats is http://www.elections.org.nz/voting-system/mmp-voting-system/... )

This means that each electorate/district gets to choose its representative directly, so local representation is retained. At the same time, the house/parliament reflects the global percentage of votes, so smaller parties can still get proportional representation in government.


For an improvement on the "1 seat for every 10% of the vote you get" system you mention, take a look at the system Cambridge, MA uses for their at-large city council election [1]. Citizens cast ranked-choice ballots, and through an iterative process each of the 9 councilors are elected if they receive over 10% of the vote. (Excess votes for winners and votes for candidates below a certain threshold are transferred in each iteration.)

[1] http://www.fairvote.org/cambridge-massachusetts-elections-a-...


Ranked choice ballots! Yes, that is a winning term.

What I don't like about this analysis is that it enshrines the notion of political parties. It makes individuals into automata that simply vote for whatever candidate is thrown at them.

The ideal is that candidates can rest on their own merits, with the party mechanic existing to provide support to candidates who nominally align with the party's interests. People vote for candidates, not parties.

Even the reality is that people are not determined by their party affiliation; New York City, for example, has repeatedly elected Republican mayors despite being overwhelmingly Democratic in state and national elections. This has even been used in a derogatory sense, as "Rockefeller Republicans" or "New York Republicans"; people affiliated with the national party but who skew to the preferences of voters in their region.

In your hypothetical state, once you created the districts, then the competition inside that district is between candidates who try to align themselves with that region; people who, for example, can be a "green-republican" to draw voters from both blocks, or just a person who speaks to the needs of voters in that district, regardless of party affiliation.

Using some sort of state-wide rank-preferential or approval system means that we remove a lot of the strategizing on the part of voters, which is a positive, but the strategizing on the part of political parties and individuals seeking office become much more complex, and not in a way that serves to present candidates that appeal to issues confronted by groups of people regardless of their party affiliation. Geography is just a heuristic for this, but not the worst one you could think of.


I think something you're fundamentally getting at is that in today's system people's views are not necessarily representative of their party's views. Ron Paul is not really what you'd call a republican, but he certainly ran as one. The reason is that in our current system, small parties cannot exist - or at least they can't get any representation in congress, but is there really any difference? So if you want to actually get a seat you put an R or a D by your name, or you run in a state like Maine or Vermont - both with total populations far smaller than many cities.

The reason for this is because of our electoral system. Imagine we have 4 parties each with about a quarter of the support. One of those parties is going to get 100% of the representation, and the rest are going to get 0. This incentivizes these parties to begin to merge. Two parties go 'Hey I know we have nothing in common, but if we work together we can guarantee our voices are at least heard in congress.' And the other two also see this going on and does the exact same thing. Next thing you know it you have things like libertarians and evangelical Christians both being supposedly represented by the same party, and you get a congressional approval rating in the teens.

Proportional representation changes this. Fractional support being more than sufficient to get seats in congress means people can break into parties that actually fundamentally represent their views - instead of being forced to clump up into super-parties. I think this effect would be particularly emphasized in our country. We have a phenomenally good system of checks and balances ensuring that even 'the little guy' in congress can have a meaningful effect. The problem is our electoral system all but precludes there being any little guys in congress.


Proportional representation sort-of fixes this. I think rank-preferential (instant run-off) or approval voting also solves this, even on single candidate elections, because they remove the spoiler effect. I think switching to these methods but keeping districting is a good intermediate step that doesn't "completely change the game" but opens some new doors.

Proportional representation, as I mention above, does remove most incentives to vote other than your actual preferences, but it does introduce very complex strategies on the part of candidates and parties. Every election becomes a state-wide election, so smaller candidates representing regional interests will find it harder to target their campaign. I'm not sure whether this is a net positive or negative.


Smaller candidates today already stand stand practically 0 chance of getting elected. Literally every single member in the house of representatives is either a democrat or a republican. That is a consequence of a simple question: 'If a person receives 10% of the vote in a state with 10 representatives, how many seats should they receive?' The current answer is 0.

In our current system the one and only power of smaller candidates is a spoiler effect. This enables them to have some influence on the super-party that's closest to their own ideology, even if implicitly. Rank preferential / Australian voting / etc not only fail to change the 10% support = 0% representation issue, but they even remove the spoiler effect which means that smaller parties can safely be completely ignored unless they look to gain a plurality themselves - which is rather contrary to the notion of smaller.

On this note, I'm not seeing why you think that proportional would make campaigning more difficult for 'smaller candidates.' It would mean they might actually stand a chance of finally getting a seat in congress. A basic example from Europe would be something like 'The Pirate Party.' They're never likely to gain substantial support, but they have been able to receive representation at the national level in a variety of nations, proportional to their support, exclusively due to proportional systems.


Sanders and King are both Independents but caucused with the Democrats.

This doesn't really negate your point, I just figured you may be interested. They may not literally all be a D or an R, but it's trivial and I'm mostly being pedantic.


If we're being pedantic, both Sanders and King are senators.

Right, my bad. I read that as congress. I'm nit sure why I missed the specificity, considering I read it twice and then looked up the information on Wikipedia.

My bad, indeed.


In Maine, at least, third parties actually have a good chance at being elected. In the past few decades, we have elected Independents for governor quite frequently. The Green Party has a respectable turnout, as well. Once in a while, we get Libertarians and Socialists, but those are less frequent and usually at a local level.

(Mainah, ayuh.)


I was just looking at a list of Maine's governors, and something stands out: your state really is ideologically diverse! You only care about picking the right man for the job.

One thing about places like Maine and Vermont (Sanders' state) is that they're tiny.

The total population of Maine is 1.3 million. The population of Vermont is 0.62 million. These states are smaller than many cities now a days. And you'll see a similar pragmatic politics in many of the other very small states. I think that's because you minimize the degrees of separation between representative and voter. When people know and meet other people it humanizes them and makes it easy to see that a letter beside somebody's name doesn't define them.

Our system was built for a different time, and we can see it's still a pretty reasonable system in the areas where that time is kind of emulated. But for many other parts of the country the system's age is showing. Even if we tried to keep up with how the founding fathers saw it we'd have literally thousands of individuals in the house of representatives which is probably similarly unworkable - and rather comical compared to the unchanging 100 of the senate.


Kinda neat, isn't it?

We actually approved a change in our constitution because of the current situation. Our current govenor, he's an idiot, was elected with 34% of the votes. The previous election saw him win with something like 38% of the votes.

So, we had a referendum on the ballot and we will now have run-off voting.

I can, within reason, live anywhere on the planet. I've enough resources to get resident status and citizenship with pretty much every country. I retired and looked all over. I didn't 'settle' on Maine. I think that confers a negative view. So, I picked Maine because it best suits my needs.


> Why don't we do at large proportional elections instead of district based plurality elections?

Because the seats going to the smaller parties would come at the expense of the parties currently in power, who are thus strongly disincentivized against changing the rules towards proportionality.


Correct. This was recognized a long time ago, starting in the late 1700's and gaining popularity in the 1800's, but it's never had much mindshare in the US, unfortunately. The solution is proportional representation [1], something much more common in Europe. Taken to its most extreme, it treats the entire country as a single district -- Israel is an example.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proportional_representation#Hi...


Heh...I thought I'd seen that comment before.

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15418907


Or just add more districts...

More districts means more people hanging out in the House of Representatives. Connecticut Compromise made sure there were also 2 people per state in the Senate.

At this point I feel like it's worthwhile to remember to why we even have districts.

We could, in principle, get rid of the districts and just have some kind of statewide scheme for electing representatives proportional to the outcome of a popular vote. The idea behind retaining districts, as far as I understand it, is that people in similar locales will often have very correlated interests (e.g. with regard to decisions that affect that area) and that choosing representatives from particular locales is supposed to guarantee that people in that area are represented (and make the representatives to some degree beholden to them).

Ideally, we'd split the states into districts in a way that doesn't deviate from overall proportional representation very much, hence the idea of the efficiency gap. So gerrymandering can break that efficiency constraint.

But the notion of geographic correlation of interests makes it such that the population is unlikely to be distributed in the kind of uniformly random way you need to get weirdly shaped, efficient districts, and conversely having weirdly shaped districts at all effectively assumes that geographic correlation of interests isn't an important factor.

In other words: if we have to make weirdly shaped districts to maintain efficiency, then the assumptions that caused us to require districts in the first place probably fail and we should just ditch them.


Ideally: the Representative who is chosen for a district (the weird shapes we are talking about) _represents_ everyone of the populous of that district. That way in Congress, when someone asks "hey do your constituents want a factory next to that highway plus a bunch of taxbreaks?" the representative knows which way to vote, as s/he _represents_ the local people. The weird shapes, even if they increase "efficiency" don't actually account for locality much. It'd be better to use something like commuting maps to draw regions to ensure locality.

Not only that, usually the "representative" doesn't even live in or near the area they are representing (sure, they may have an address in the area, but that isn't difficult to do).

Totally. This is why in the more recent gerrymandering thread I was making such a big deal about the efficiency gap rather than geometry for detecting this stuff. Geometry is just a flawed heuristic for a multitude of reasons.

That's why the efficiency gap is so exciting as a measure.


Looking at the paper, counting the number of "wasted votes" is actually the most solid metric it seems!

It's strange that there's so much focus on district shapes, when any voting system with proportional representation would make gerrymandering pretty much ineffective.

Every voting system has its flaws, but the US system seems to have particularly few advantages.


It's not really "strange." The chances of us ever going to a proportional system en masse are near zero. The chances of making extreme gerrymandering illegal are significantly better (the Supreme Court recently heard a case about it).

Many people prefer to spend time thinking within the context of what is likely to happen. That's not to say we don't need folks who dream big, but we need more than just those folks.


I agree with the substance of what you say but I don't think it's wrong to invite everyone to have a general sense of the big picture.

And by big-picture standards, because of the way the US is constituted, the questions that make their way to SCOTUS are usually pretty strange.


stable oligarch control is pretty much the only advantage

Tip my hat to you dear friend.

I suspect Gerrymandering isn't uniquely a US problem. I do a lot of UK Census spatial analysis and the district centroids that are used create problems. In the article the 'ear muffs' shape would create a centroid for the voting district outside of the district, given that the shape of the district was designed to give a certain ethnic group a voice, whereas the process for creating districts in the UK are done usually on the idea of 'belonging' to a town/village/area and are decided and audited at a national 'neutral' level.

The data scientist in me wants centroids around circles with fuzzy edges. If we could all agree that fuzzy circles is the way forward we could solve gerrymandering over night.

The reality is though, that I create these amazing pieces of analysis then have to explain away why that district is odd, y'know, cos the shape is just weird.

Locally they are redoing the district boundaries which is giving me an opportunity to submit my own district shapes that work better with Census data :D


Fuzzy circles! Great idea. That, or repeated boundary drawing that brute forced every possible district combination and gave a probabilistic result of elections based on where districts were drawn.

For reference, there is a NY Times article about the plague of redistricting and also a simple excel tool that someone made to make this very easy: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/29/magazine/the-new-front-in...

As a human who takes pride and joy in the Constitution and its tenets I find the crowbar-able gap space of redistricting an important valley of electoral attention that needs ample light of attention.


> Now suppose you are tasked with drawing 5 districts for this region.

Or, we could go with proportional representation, make it a single district, and now we can reasonably expect to get 2-3 blue reps and 2-3 red ones, handling both the districting problem and efficiency/fairness problem in one go.


How would that deal with popular independents? Would they get two seats if they pull 40% of the electorate?

Under an STV you're still voting for people. The independent with 40% of the vote would be elected and then a proportion of their unneeded votes would be transferred to the subsequent candidates on those voting papers.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_transferable_vote#Findi...


Yes. Much better.

I think the real answer to all of this is to restore a reasonable ratio of population to representatives. It is much more difficult to Gerrymander 133 districts than with 9. It will still happen but the possible advantage one party can get is much smaller.

The constituents also get much better representation, because they are much closer to the person representing them. The representative is intimately familiar with their constituents concerns because they live in and around them.

It also strips a lot of the money out of politics. Representatives don't have to spend all their time fundraising to raise war chests of millions of dollars. You can win an election in a 30,000 person district by knocking on doors and sending out inexpensive mailers.

http://www.thirty-thousand.org/


> Our paper proves that in some cases, it’s impossible to get a small efficiency gap without drawing bizarrely shaped districts.

Italics mine. Is there any reason to believe that any real life situation would fall under their impossibility? The key is to get a system which is good enough to prevent gerrymandering for the world that exists, not for any possible world.


So the question is if "Minimizing Efficiency Gap" is what we should be aiming for.

Its a solid proposal, but I guess its up to the courts to decide if "Efficiency Gap" is a good metric. I guess I'll be interested in hearing the arguments as they come up.


I'm not sure I like the name "Efficiency Gap" but the metric of "require the overall district results be within a certain range of the popular results" seems pretty straightforward to me.

I've always thought they should just reverse the order of operations. Instead of having people draw the districts, then machines evaluate them, they should have machines draw a bunch of potential "low efficiency gap" districts, then let people pick the best ones.


The main takeaway from the article is that sometimes there is a trade-off between nice geometrical shapes and proportional district results.

If a machine gave you a crazy-shaped district map because that's the only way to get "low efficiency gap", would you agree to them?


Why not? My issue with districts are that they are not representative, not that they look weird. The only "real" issue with crazy districts is that the administrative costs might be higher (i.e. they might require more polling places.)

How often are districts able to be redrawn? The same crazy shaped map that is valid in 2020 may not be very good in 2025 or even 2021.

Districts are always redrawn every Census, as it has been for hundreds of years.

I see. Thank you. Considering the Census: Voter distribution and Voter Mobility are probably socio-economically determinable factors (numerically speaking) since the state legislature or whatever body is responsible for redrawing the lines gets access to the census data [per obligation of their task] that is, "age and race" ... I'd like to point out to friends from around the world that the United States census questionnaire is rather unsightly when it comes to the section entitled "race" [0].

[0] https://www.census.gov/history/pdf/2010questionnaire.pdf Page 2 question #6.


It seems to me that a system with zero efficiency gap would be equivalent to one big election with proportional representation. If that's what people really want, why talk about voting districts at all?

Something that you can do is something like we have here in Sweden - we have a district setup with some places for each district that is proportionally distributed.

But that create inefficiencies as that heavily favour some parties. So we have a chunk of undistricted delegates that are given out to even out the overall proportionality. This get you pretty good results as long as the amount of parties stay within reasonable boundaries[].

[] Which they of course haven't - we currently have 8 parties in the Riksdag.


Because certain issues are geographical in nature, especially at the local level.

Should a new highway replace the housing development over there? Well, people who live close to that housing development might care one way or the other (Noise complaints, Ecological issues, Traffic Issues). People who live very far away from that center probably don't care at all. And the people who live in the housing development (who will be forced to move out), especially renters who probably won't be properly compensated, will care the most.

The placement of schools, the budgets of police, the design of zoning regulations (in particular "Enterprise Zones" of lower taxes to encourage business development in some areas)... these all are innately local issues.


If I had to guess, I would say that there is at least some benefit to having politics be local. That is, it may be better to ask people to choose between a small number of "local" candidates, rather than a large cohort of state-wide candidates.

You're either thinking about this too broadly, or as a system filled with static entities. Within voting districts, politics is local - individuals can sway voters, voters can decide to show up/skip voting, etc.

Also, the concept of a 'blue/red' district can be very blurry - there are many examples of 'blue' districts (districts with democrat congress reps, and a history of voting blue) that voted red in the last presidential election, and vice-versa for previous elections.

Historically, Americans prefer to vote for people, not parties.


Do people in the US have the same feeling for what area is 'local' as they did when districts were drawn up ?

>So the question is if "Minimizing Efficiency Gap" is what we should be aiming for.

100% agree. I think this can be further broken down into the questions:

(1) What are the problems caused by extreme gerrymandering?

(2) How will efficiency gap minimization alleviate these problems?

(3) What assumptions are we making in (2)? How likely are they to be true? And how robust is the solution to their falsification?

(4) How could this all go catastrophically wrong?

My intuition is that efficiency gap minimization is an incomplete solution and probably should be only one of several factors considered.


I'm confused about the example.

First of all, it seems highly unlikely such a distribution of red and blue votes would occur. But more importantly, blue is a majority of every 3x3 square - why shouldn't it win every district?


> why shouldn't it win every district?

Because we are supposed to have a representative government. If there's 55% Blue voters and 45% Red Voters, you're supposed to ideally have 55% Blue representatives and 45% Red representatives.

The example is a counterexample of this concept. Instead of 55% Blue / 45% Red split, the map as a whole becomes 100% blue. This is almost the very definition of "Tyranny of the Majority".


If votes are 80-20 then it's not necessarily possible or reasonable to draw 80 vs 20 winning districts.

Which states are 80-20 in America?

Maryland is an example of a highly gerrymandered state (towards Democrats, although there are many Republican examples too). Maryland voted 60.5% Clinton / 35.3% Trump, which suggests that they have (roughly) 2 Democrats for every 1 Republican in the state.

However, due to the significant gerrymandering in Maryland, there is ONE Republican and SEVEN Democrats in the House. That's certainly not fair towards Republicans who live in Maryland.

EDIT: Apparently North Carolina is the Republican example to talk about, in case you want some "balance".


There are actually more extreme examples. Consider, Hillary Clinton got 90.9% of the DC vote Trump got 4.1%, I am not sure how you could slice up DC to get 10% Republican representation.

In Maryland's case it might be able to make 2 districts Republican, but that's assuming a very concentrated geographic minority which may or may not actually exist.

IMO, If we really want proportional representation then we should use a proportional system.


DC is a single city and doesn't even have one representative in Congress (Okay, they nominally have one. But she's non-voting so.... that's not really useful). They're technically a US Territory and have no more power than say Puerto Rico.

So once again, if you're talking about US Representatives and Voting Districts, it only makes sense to talk about well... Voting Districts. Name me one US State with 80/20 split and more than 1 US Representative. Ultimately, your hypothetical doesn't exist!

---------

That's the cool thing about politics: its real. There's no need to make up hypotheticals when we can just draw from the real world.

FYI: the discussion at hand is about US Representatives, and not about the Electoral College. Washington DC is therefore irrelevant, as it has no representatives. Washington DC does get 3 Electoral college votes, but that has nothing to do with Gerrymandering.

There's a variety of states who have "Representatives At Large", such as Wyoming, which are basically immune to Gerrymandering. The population is so low that Wyoming only gets 1-Representative, so the entire State is the whole district. There's really no "fair" way to cut up a single Representative (its all or nothing), but that's mostly due to the very low population of these states.

Basically, Gerrymandering can only be an issue in a state with more than 1 Representative.


These rules are not limited to National elections. State elections are also based on redistricting. DC is part of the US and has District Elections so these rules will apply to it.

https://www.dcboe.org/election_info/election_results/v3/2016...

So, no you can't dodge the question. And I ask you to draw a DC map with some Republican representation.

PS: AKA draw a map such that WARD EIGHT MEMBER OF THE COUNCIL is likely Republican.


I'm not sure why you're so obsessed with Washington DC in particular. If you live there, you probably know much more about it than I do.

But my general interest is how this whole event will play out in the greater scope of the country. I don't believe any US State with more than 1 Representative has an 80/20 split.

Perhaps Washington DC really is an edge case that needs to be thought out more. But I don't think its representative of the problems of Gerrymandering that exist in multiple states right now. (In particular, what this Gill v Whitford Supreme Court case is bringing up in Wisconsin)


You can find plenty of examples on both sides South Carolina sends 7 republicans an 1 Democrat to the house, but it's own biased house is 75 Republican to 45 Democrat. Which is a very safe majority of power, while still better representing the actual voting. It also contains wacky maps like this one: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/SC/2

Still, my concern is not about the results. My concern is how easy it is to game this proposal.


> Still, my concern is not about the results. My concern is how easy it is to game this proposal.

Approximately the same difficulty to game the US Court system.

At the end of the day, Judges will adapt the rules to future cases. Law is an innately human process, not the cold machine logic that most of us Computer Science folks deal with.

If a major mistake is made in the current rubric, future lawyers and judges will bring it up on a case-by-case basis. Unlike code, Law is pliable and changes on local conditions. The issue isn't the "edge cases" which are dealt with as they come up.

If the proposal isn't working for say, Washington DC, then you can expect a case to bubble up through the Washington DC Courts, to maybe the US Court of Appeals, and eventually back to the Supreme Court if its major enough. If its purely a Washington DC issue (and not applicable anywhere else), there might not be any need for the US Court of appeals or US Supreme Court to hear about the case!


It seems to me that probably the outcome of an election should mainly be determined by the decisions of voters, not mainly by how the voting districts are drawn.

Imagine that a few voters in each district change their minds, some from each party switch to the other. Even if the overall effect is a very slight swing towards red you could still end up with all the districts going to red. Or with the same swing but distributed differently you could still end up with blue winning (though not by as much), even though it had fewer total votes.

So it's not about what should happen in any one particular snapshot. That's just a single example. It's about how well the outcome of a series of elections should reflect the wishes of voters as a whole. I'm not a big fan of proportional representation, it has often lead to small minorities gaining kingmaking powers, but I do believe that the objective of electoral districting should be to produce results that are likely to fairly represent the wishes of the electorate.


> blue is a majority of every 3x3 square

Blue is indeed a slight majority of every "3x lattice"-aligned square. But if you take the top left square and shift one down and one right, you'll see that in fact red wins that 3x3 square decisively: 8 to 1.

> why shouldn't it win every district?

Maybe you think it should, but whoever drew the districts would run afoul of the newish gerrymandering measure the Supreme Court is considering.


Gerrymandering is so ridiculous. Clearly geographic coordinates is the wrong data structure for systematically biasing votes for/against certain demographics.

A voting system should be explicit about exactly which demographic criteria should carry weighted bias, what value that weight should be, and what it's purpose is.

It should also be clear to each voter which demographic categories they fall under, what the final strength of their vote will be, and what the justification is for that outcome.


There is also gerrymandering against independents and third parties.

A fair metric minimizes average distance from a citizen to the centroid of their district. The lowest energy Voronoi diagram wins. Nobody gets screwed.


The Supreme Court (id est The Highest Court of the Land) is currently evaluating if they can rely on an algorithm to detect Constitutionality of district shapes. You're kidding, right? As a computational scientist this is concerning to put it mildly.

Trying to ensure proportionality in representation... is that the intended goal? Is this even a meaningful pursuit in a bicameral system? The Supreme Court makes rulings that span time infinitely forward, meaning that all those different parties that have existed since the inception of the Union have dissolved and new ones have been formed since, but the rulings of the Supreme Court have not this luxury of death and recycling. Nay, a ruling by the court is very potent and quite a footprint on the legal plain.

So there is no easy way to ensure that a district is Constitutionally Compliant, but we can definitely point out "unconstitutional districting" -- right? Do you agree?


From my understanding, the Baker v Carr in 1962 decision enabled federal courts to intervene in and to decide redistricting.

Back in the day redistricting was even crazier. You could just draw an arbitrary number of districts with arbitrary population sizes. That seems bad on the surface. With this system, election outcomes could potentially be entirely determined by how districts were gerrymandered.

The efficiency standard seems like trick to get closer to proportional representation. All of this comes down to the 14th amendment being "one person one vote" rather than something like "all votes must have equal weight". A small language that has made things really complicated.

IMO just switching to proportional representation is a much cleaner solution. But the efficiency standard seems like a decent solution to keeping races competitive and from being severely gerrymandered.


Thanks for your words and insight. Yes, proportional voting would be great! Your state gets 5 house seats? Let's have priority-voting where a voter picks choices 1-5 for representation. Jane is first choice, then Miyoko, Sofia, Leben, and Pierre. Jane may not get all the "first place" votes but she could get enough to end up in one of the five house seats our state gets.

Reading up on the 14th amendment, it does ensure that every male over 21 is able to vote (assuming they did not lose the right through crime, also a big issue today as a third of our populous is disenfranchised). It does not, however, say anything about how voting for reps is done at the state level, and I wonder if this becomes a States' matter as soon as we part from the 14th amendment. Pardon my gap-riddled knowledge of such important affairs


Most States don't take away your right to vote if you are convicted of a felony. Felons get to vote and can even, more often than not, vote while incarcerated. To vote while incarcerated, they use absentee ballots from the district where they resided prior to detention.

Only two states allow felons to vote while incarcerated: http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/felon-v...

D'oh. I had looked up, previously, to find out that felons can usually vote and extrapolated Maine to be the same as the rest, with regards to voting while incarcerated. My bad, the rest is correct however.

I know Maine allows it, and even encourages it. I actually started a campaign for State Senate at one point. As I got closer to election, I learned more about the system and decided I couldn't participate in that. So, I never turned in all the signatures and didn't run.

But, thanks for the correction. For some reason, I'd assumed the rest of the States allowed it. I understand that, in Maine, some candidates have even campaigned, in person, in the prisons. Notably, we don't actually have a lot of prisoners or very dangerous prisons.


ranked choice voting is interesting. It also has its fair share of problems (as most voting methods do)

I believe the 14th amendment specifically applies to state elections under the "equal protection clause".




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