Monthly Archives: July 2007

pics of CA gerrymandering and how the splitline algorithm would do it

Nick requested to see CA districting under the shortest splitline algorithm.


In 2004, not one of CA’s 173 state legislative and federal congressional seats changed party-hands. In 2002, every incumbent won re-election, on average with 69% of the vote. California may be the new gerrymandering champion, perhaps even worse than Illinois and Texas, but unlike them its gerrymandering is “bipartisan” that is, arranged by agreement among the Democrats and Republicans to “design their own districts” to make every office holder “safe.”

CA districts under the shortest splitline algorithm:
Continue reading


More on the shortest split-line algorithm with pretty pictures

I’m a sucker for pictures. They communicate ideas quite succinctly.
Here I show some examples of congressional districts as they are drawn currently and as the shortest split-line algorithm would draw them. Continue reading

The punchscan voting system

Punchscan was the winning system in the 2006 2007 VoComp competition.

In their own words:

Punchscan is a voting system invented by David Chaum that allows voters to take a piece of the ballot home with them as a receipt. This receipt does not allow voters to prove how they voted to others, but it does permit them to:

  • Verify that they have properly indicated their votes to election officials (cast-as-intended).
  • Verify with extremely high assurance that all votes were counted properly (counted-as-cast).

It uses simple cryptographic techniques to ensure election integrity. The demos on their ‘learn more’ page shows how a voter casts and verifies their vote as well as showing how election integrity can be audited.

After you go through the demos you should also review the excellent FAQ.

The system that is demonstrated can only handle ballots for which there are two candidates for each race. I believe that they have extensions to the system to handle multiple candidates and well as handling

  • alternate voting systems
  • improved support for disabled voters
  • write-in candidates

So it ready for prime-time use?
I don’t know. It has only been used for a few elections and is a very new system so I suspect that it is not ready for wide deployment.

If you are interested in following the development and deployment of punchscan you can join their mailing list.

PhD students determine key way to improve voter turnout

One of the key issues with any election is whether the population bothers to show up to the election and vote. In the US voter turn out numbers are anemic.

Luckily some PhD students have determined a simple way to increase voter turnout. Continue reading

VoComp conference (July 16-18)

VoComp (the university VOting systems COMPetition) is a conference and competition that fosters innovation and student involvement in the technology of democracy. It is actually both a competition and a conference. This year is was in Portland, Oregon from July 16-18.

The conference gives academics who research voting systems a chance to present their research and conclusions. From the VoComp overview page:

Presentations include descriptions of the competing systems, attacks on the competing systems, metrics for evaluating voting systems, and demonstrations of other voting technology. Prizes include best presentation, best attack, and best paper on voting system metrics.

The competion itself allows student teams to design, implement, and demonstrate election systems.

Here is more from their press release:

Four finalist teams of researchers, from the U.S., Canada, Poland, and UK, face off 16–18 July at the Portland Hilton in front of a panel of top experts. … Each of the four finalist submissions is a complete open-source voting system, something that has been called for by many but not realized until now. The competition framework also serves to demonstrate what may be a better way to vet and choose voting systems.

In advance, each team publicly posted rigorous documentation and all source code for its system. At the competition finals, each team will carry out a mock election and critique the other systems in front of the judges. All sessions are free and open to the public.

Three of the competition systems are based on revolutionary “end-to-end (e2e) secure’’ technology, which enables each voter to verify that her vote was correctly recorded and tabulated. This new technology promises to surpasses the lower level of results assurance afforded by popular “paper record’’ technologies such as precinct-count optical scan and VVPAT advocated by Senator Holt and others.

I have never attended a VoComp conference. One of the conference presenters this year wrote about his experience there. Here is some of what Warren Smith had to say about his experience at VoComp 2007:

VoComp was actually a lot better than I expected in terms of the talks.

David Chaum spoke on “scantegrity”, an impressive new framework for secure secret-ballot voting which is in at least some ways superior to Rivest+Smith’s approaches.

Ron Rivest (MIT) spoke on the Rivest-Smith low-tech secure voting protocols.

The whole VoComp thing made it more publicly known that secure voting protocols do exist, and are just light years ahead of what the USA uses now in terms of guaranteed security properties.

A cynical but very funny quote.

“The word ‘politics’ is derived from the word ‘poly’, meaning ‘many’, and the word ‘ticks’, meaning ‘blood sucking parasites’.”
– Larry Hardiman

I have no idea who Hardiman is. Does anyone know?

some proposed reforms to the problems of gerrymandering

If one insists on electing members of a legislative body via districted single-winner elections then the problem of gerrymandering will surface.

Can gerrymandering be solved?
There are a number of proposed reforms out there. Continue reading

do-it-yourself gerrymandering

If my packing the house post did not sufficiently explain how gerrymandering can, well, pack the house then perhaps the folks at the USC Game Innovation Lab and the USC Annenberg Center for Communications can do a better job.

They have developed a surprisingly fun game to demonstrate how to use redistricting to further political aims. They show how a political operative can draw districts to:

  • perform a partisan gerrymander that favors one party
  • perform a bipartisan gerrymander that favors multiple parties and ensures the reelection of incumbents
  • satisfy the requirements of the Voting Rights Act yet still achieve a partisan gerrymander

Additionally, and perhaps unintentionally, they show how a proposed reform can be shot down by those who have a political stake in the outcome.

You can play the game at Warning: the game requires flash.

packing the house – how are those districts drawn?

A district-based system for choosing representatives has issues in-and-of-itself. Those issues become applified when you ask the questions “who draws the districts?” and “how often are districts redrawn?”.

All too often the answers to these questions indicates systematic abuse of power by those that are in power. In the US both the Republicans and the Democrats have a long history of abusing redistricting.

In fact, it goes back to before these parties existed. Consider Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.

Continue reading

filling up the house

There are two common types of elections that occur. Those in which a single winner is selected and those in which multiple winners are selected. Multi-winner elections would typically be used to select representatives for a body like a legislature.

In the US we generally do not use multi-winner elections to select representatives. Instead we use a districting approach where districts are drawn, single-winner elections are held in each district to choose a winner and those winners become representatives in the legislature.

What values does such a system endorse?

  • local representation – Voters have a representative that is local to them and whom they presumably can access

What values does such a system ignore?

  • representation for all of the population – in a close race only a minority of people in the district approve of and consider themselves to be represented by their representative. For example, a district might have 52% Republican party supporters and 48% percent Democratic party supports. This district might elect a Republican as it’s representative based on straight party-line voting. Thus 48% of the population of this district has been disenfranchised. They have a representative that does not represent their view points. It is true that other representatives from other districts may be elected who share this disenfranchised population’s viewpoints and that, in that sense, they may be represented. But this is unlikely to happen evenly. For example, if the population at large voted 60% for the Republican party and 40% for the Democratic party the distribution of voters within districts may be such that the legislature ends up with 80% Republicans and 20% Democrats.

One must ask whether the single-winner districted approach makes sense for a multi-winner election. Is the benefit of having a local representative worth the cost of having a large portion of society unrepresented? If your local representative does not actually represent much of the local population’s viewpoints, is there really a significant benefit to that population in the representative being local to them?

In future posts I will discuss voting methods for both single-winner elections and multi-winner elections as well as discuss more of the issues we face when we use a districted single-winner system for multi-winner elections.