Gerrymandering displays several features that are typical of 21st century problems. It’s a consequence of deliberate human action that’s not in the public good. It’s highly technical. If you possess the data, the methods, and the authority, you can draw district lines that will give your side enormous advantages. These methods are scarce and monopolized by self-interested actors who have power of various sorts. It’s tempting to imagine a technical solution, such as programming computers to draw electoral districts, but there is no self-evidently best map. Well-intentioned people who draw district lines (or who write algorithms for computers to draw maps) must balance valid goals, such as competitiveness, compactness, and representativeness. Each of these general values can be defined in several reasonable ways. Tension among values under conditions of great technical complexity is typical of our age.
I’m proud, therefore, of Tisch College’s Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, led by Tufts Math Professor Moon Duchin. Her Group conducts advanced research on the math of redistricting, helps develop a more diverse cadre of people who can participate in these debates (including as expert witnesses in litigation), and educates the public. One of their approaches to education is working with k-12 teachers to teach the geometry of district maps.
Moon and I have a new piece in The Conversation drawn from this work: “Rebooting the mathematics behind gerrymandering.“