The Rose report points out that these algorithms could be unconstitutional and seems to consider algorithmic redistricting approaches to be politically naive.
A recent letter-to-the-editor in The Appeal-Democrat suggested we just draw district lines according to latitude across the state to create the areas our legislators represent. Many people say such things, not unreasonably, because they are ignorant of the fact that such districts would inevitably be unconstitutional.
The idea behind such proposals is simple: people want to take the “politics” out of redistricting politics in a complete and total manner. Of course, in practice, trying to take the politics out of politics is as nonsensical and impossible as the verbal formulation. Further, such reforms might cause more problems than they would ever solve. Such exercises can be valuable as thought experiments, but realistic reforms strive for something much more moderate and, for lack of a better word, political.
I disagree with the assertions made by the Rose report that algorithmic approaches to redistricting are forever unrealistic reforms.
The Rose report directly and indirectly references a number of other algorithmic redistricting proposals that have been made. Not surprisingly the shortest-splitline algorithm is not the first such proposal.
A list of references (caveat: I have only read a few of these):
- The Rose Report post which includes excerpts from an interview with Barry Keene:
HICKE: Ah, yes, there comes the Elections Committee again. [Laughter]
KEENE: Yes, it’s redistricting time, so you get to do redistricting.
Well, the politics of redistricting was fascinating, and it was coming up, but it was not really my cup of tea. Having power over the survival of lots of legislators by drawing districts is a source of great power, but it s also not where I wanted to be.
HICKE: Did you propose redistricting by computer, or was that just something that happened?
KEENE: Yes, I did. I ve always felt that redistricting more than anything else poisoned the well in the legislature, particularly the assembly, where Republicans felt that they would never be permitted to become a majority, and decided that they would throw bombs within the institution and bring the institution to a halt. They were probably correct in their judgment on the first part, that under redistricting by Democrats they would never be permitted to become a majority.
People didn’t like commissions, because they always figure that no matter how much you try to balance commissions, there’s always going to be that odd vote that s going to be the deciding factor
So I said, “What else can we do?” And maybe borrowing on my-why I borrowed on it, I’ll never know-on my coin-tossing experience as a way of producing staff reduction, [laughter] we were going to create redistricting by computer, and use something called a random number generator to resolve differences. So after all of the criteria had been applied, the criteria of equal numbers of districts, the criteria of minority representation-there’s some federal criteria on that-after all of the attempts to consolidate areas of interest and not cross too many jurisdictional boundaries, you would still be faced with the capacity to create an infinite number of districts. It would just be a smaller infinity than you had before.
So how do you resolve that? You do it with a random number generator. Well, nobody understood this business. I shouldn’t say nobody. Most legislators said, “Well, we can’t turn redistricting over to a computer, its not politically good for us, and we don’t understand what it is that you’re proposing.” John Garamendi, I believe, in one of his moments of appealing to the television spotlight, got up and said, “You know the old saying, Barry: it’s garbage in, garbage out.”
Well, it died a fairly uneventful death.
- Letter to the editor of The Appeal-Democrat proposing just using latitude lines
- Brian Olson’s “fair redistricting” algorithm
- George L Clark’s redistricting algorithm
- PDF with redistricting proposal by Roland Fryer and Richard Holden
- political science dissertation by Micah Altman on redistricting formulations ( I have not read this but I understand that he describes desirable properties of redistricting and then demonstrates that the finding an optimal solution is computationally complex (NP hard) )
- A pair of posts by the Geomblog on algorithmic redistricting. post 1, post 2