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(Washington Post)   The computer programmer who solved gerrymandering in his spare time   (washingtonpost.com) divider line 60
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6220 clicks; posted to Geek » on 03 Jun 2014 at 6:14 PM (11 weeks ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2014-06-03 04:06:21 PM
Headline tomorrow:

Gerrymandering solver programmer dies after somehow falling into a foundry in southern China.
 
2014-06-03 04:21:53 PM
This is incredibly stupid, for multiple reasons:

1) The issue with gerrymandering is political, not technical. "Unable to figure out how to draw compact districts" has never, not for a second, been the reason we have gerrymandering.

2) There's no particular reason to think geometrically compact districts are better or worse than any other configuration.
 
2014-06-03 04:35:26 PM
and it will never be adopted, because reasons

and Jesus.
 
2014-06-03 05:05:15 PM
I demand direct representation... by lobbyists.
 
2014-06-03 05:35:48 PM
This is such old news that it doesnt even count as history.

plus, geographic compactness doesnt fix a single problem.
problem 1) the number of house representatives was fixed to a TINY number. should be 2000 to 6000 representatives now.
problem 2) geographic representation is farking retarded. proper representation would be based on similar interests and views, on where we live.

gerrymandering exists in part to try and fix some of those problems (creating odd shaped minority districts).
alas, it is also used to create "safe" districts or to dilute voting blocks.

either way, the mapping process should be removed from the hands of the politicians.
 
2014-06-03 05:42:36 PM

DamnYankees: This is incredibly stupid, for multiple reasons:

1) The issue with gerrymandering is political, not technical. "Unable to figure out how to draw compact districts" has never, not for a second, been the reason we have gerrymandering.

2) There's no particular reason to think geometrically compact districts are better or worse than any other configuration.


This.  We managed to draw districts competently for 200 years before now.  This is a new problem, not because of a lack of resources or technology, but because the responsible parties in those states have decided that is how THEY want it.

It's not an accident, it's completely intentional.
 
2014-06-03 06:26:14 PM

namatad: problem 2) geographic representation is farking retarded. proper representation would be based on similar interests and views


Virtually every systemic problem in our government would be lessened a great deal by switching to a parliamentary system like the rest of the democratic republics in the world. This is just another one of them.
 
2014-06-03 06:28:26 PM

DamnYankees: This is incredibly stupid, for multiple reasons:

1) The issue with gerrymandering is political, not technical. "Unable to figure out how to draw compact districts" has never, not for a second, been the reason we have gerrymandering.

2) There's no particular reason to think geometrically compact districts are better or worse than any other configuration.


Fair enough, but it does provide a "neutral" map to which the "political" map can be compared.
 
2014-06-03 06:29:58 PM

Ambivalence: DamnYankees: This is incredibly stupid, for multiple reasons:

1) The issue with gerrymandering is political, not technical. "Unable to figure out how to draw compact districts" has never, not for a second, been the reason we have gerrymandering.

2) There's no particular reason to think geometrically compact districts are better or worse than any other configuration.

This.  We managed to draw districts competently for 200 years before now.  This is a new problem, not because of a lack of resources or technology, but because the responsible parties in those states have decided that is how THEY want it.

It's not an accident, it's completely intentional.

You do know that Elbridge Gerry was less recent than 200 years ago, right? In fact, we pretty much had the bicentennial of gerrymandering two years ago.
 
2014-06-03 06:30:13 PM

Sudo_Make_Me_A_Sandwich: namatad: problem 2) geographic representation is farking retarded. proper representation would be based on similar interests and views

Virtually every systemic problem in our government would be lessened a great deal by switching to a parliamentary system like the rest of the democratic republics in the world. This is just another one of them.


Well, now you're getting into an issue of Federalism. That ain't gonna change without a massive Constitutional rewrite.
 
2014-06-03 06:32:11 PM

Angry Drunk Bureaucrat: Sudo_Make_Me_A_Sandwich: namatad: problem 2) geographic representation is farking retarded. proper representation would be based on similar interests and views

Virtually every systemic problem in our government would be lessened a great deal by switching to a parliamentary system like the rest of the democratic republics in the world. This is just another one of them.

Well, now you're getting into an issue of Federalism. That ain't gonna change without a massive Constitutional rewrite.


Oh definitely. It's just a pipe dream, like namatad's suggestion of dropping first-past-the-post for proportional representation.
 
2014-06-03 06:34:05 PM
Ambivalence:
This.  We managed to draw districts competently for 200 years before now.  This is a new problem, not because of a lack of resources or technology, but because the responsible parties in those states have decided that is how THEY want it.

It's not an accident, it's completely intentional.


Except it's not a new problem at all. The word 'gerrymander' dates back to 1812, to describe the exact same phenomenon, and the process is older even than that. Political parties like to consolidate power. It needs to be fixed, but don't put blinders on and pretend that this is some new thing that just started happening, rather than what it is: business as usual that's been brought into unfavorable light.
 
2014-06-03 06:39:02 PM

Sudo_Make_Me_A_Sandwich: Angry Drunk Bureaucrat: Sudo_Make_Me_A_Sandwich: namatad: problem 2) geographic representation is farking retarded. proper representation would be based on similar interests and views

Virtually every systemic problem in our government would be lessened a great deal by switching to a parliamentary system like the rest of the democratic republics in the world. This is just another one of them.

Well, now you're getting into an issue of Federalism. That ain't gonna change without a massive Constitutional rewrite.

Oh definitely. It's just a pipe dream, like namatad's suggestion of dropping first-past-the-post for proportional representation.


I think a compromise (and one that wouldn't need a Constitutional amendment) is to allow for instant runoff elections or single transferable votes. That would open elections up to more parties.

Which is, of course, not what the current parties want.
 
2014-06-03 06:39:23 PM

Angry Drunk Bureaucrat: That ain't gonna change without a massive Constitutional rewrite.


God, that'd be nice.
 
2014-06-03 06:40:38 PM

Obbi: Angry Drunk Bureaucrat: That ain't gonna change without a massive Constitutional rewrite.

God, that'd be nice.


Have you seen any of the people in charge today? I'll stick with the devil I know.
 
2014-06-03 06:53:46 PM

Angry Drunk Bureaucrat: Obbi: Angry Drunk Bureaucrat: That ain't gonna change without a massive Constitutional rewrite.

God, that'd be nice.

Have you seen any of the people in charge today? I'll stick with the devil I know.


Fair point, but how bleak is that? That's seems like always the case; nobody wants the people in power to touch anything important. They have reasons, but ultimately it paints the picture that we have the oldest running Constitution because nobody trusts anybody to get it right.

I don't blame them, mind. Lot of steps to take before anybody's comfortable with taking a stab at a new constitution.

In regards to Mr. Olson and the WaPo: Solved, you say? Fantastic! I look forward to the new district map tomorrow. Can't believe politicians struggled with this problem for so long.
 
2014-06-03 07:01:02 PM
This doesn't seem a whole lot different than saying given a voter in a state with N congressional districts, assign the voter to one of the N districts at random.

Voting shouldn't be an issue, because each precinct can have N ballots for each voter.  or mail the voter his particular ballot along with an election reminder to go vote with it.

Yeah, they're not contiguous.   But is residence the only thing that can correlate to commonality of interests?

/now I'll wait for the possible can of worms I opened regarding minorities to bloom.
//because really, my emotional expectation is for people not to live in segregated communities even though that is how it seems to work out.
 
2014-06-03 07:02:51 PM
Forget the Voting Rights Act.

Need an amendment to establish voting principles again.


Not only using an algorithm such as the one described.
But voting on weekends.  Make it a holiday.
No blocks to voting.
Have to allow registering there.
and so on...


I'm tired of the BS.
If you can't win on your own, you don't deserve to win and be in power.  Period.
 
2014-06-03 07:30:35 PM

Vlad_the_Inaner: mail the voter his particular ballot


Or mail the ballots and mail them back, alternatively being able to drop them off in a collection bin on and before election night.
 
2014-06-03 07:34:23 PM
We should increase the size of the House of Representatives to 8000. Smaller districts will be more homogeneous, making them harder to gerrymander, and those elected will better represent the interests of their constituents. Best of all, the money men trying to influence 8000 races will be quickly be bled dry.
 
2014-06-03 07:41:37 PM

rogue49: If you can't win on your own, you don't deserve to win and be in power. Period.


You also shouldn't need exploratory committees, SuperPacs, and millions of dollars to run successful campaign. AKA you shouldn't be able to buy the election.

We need to fix it so every candidate is limited to a limited amount of funds low enough that anyone can run, and treat all parties equally.
 
2014-06-03 07:55:41 PM

markie_farkie: Headline tomorrow:

Gerrymandering solver programmer dies after somehow falling into a foundry in southern China.


...after taking a whole bunch of drugs, putting on a blindfold, handcuffing himself, tying himself into a bag, and jumping down an elevator shaft. Onto some bullets.
 
2014-06-03 08:03:38 PM
Excellent comment in TFA:

Ulium
2:12 PM PDT

If you're going to write about topics that have literally thousands of academics studying them, you should really do some research. Dozens of papers have been written about computer-assisted redistricting, which has been practiced for decades. Imagining that some guy's random algorithm for compact districts has "solved gerrymanding" is both silly and embarrassing for you. It's also naive or arrogant to think that this is a problem that's both hard enough that no political scientist with a bit of programming knowledge has been able to solve it, yet easy enough that a random computer scientist can solve it in his spare time. This is a systematic naivete I see here, and would be solved with a quick call to the Monkeycage folks on your own website. 
 
So why hasn't it been solved? Jonathan Bernstein's article explains it pretty well. You write dismissively that "You can define a "community of interest" pretty much however you want." But that's the whole issue! Everyone who actually works in this field knows that compactness is just one of the many desiderata. Why on earth would you privilege that above all the other things we want -- competitive districts, depolarization, minority representation, etc, etc? In fact, a quick perusal of the literature would show that compactness almost always leads to less competitive districts with huge degrees of partisanship and diminished minority representation at the Congressional level. Why on earth would we prefer a geometrical quality to all these other things? 
 
Gerrymandering has not been solved not because we don't know how to draw maps, but because the many other issues at play mean this is an inevitably political problem. A basic compactness algorithm solves none of that -- as an even cursory review of the vast literature on this topic would have shown.
 
2014-06-03 08:13:05 PM

DamnYankees: This is incredibly stupid, for multiple reasons:

1) The issue with gerrymandering is political, not technical. "Unable to figure out how to draw compact districts" has never, not for a second, been the reason we have gerrymandering.

2) There's no particular reason to think geometrically compact districts are better or worse than any other configuration.


This is actually a well solved problem.  Any software dev masters program with a thesis or final project has someone present a program for mapping political districts every couple years.

To address #2, the good programs take into account demographic factors so you get compact districts of people with common interests rather than just arbitrary compact districts.

But of course the real issue is #1.  The problem isn't mapping technology.  It's that the mapping is done by the politicians affected by districting.
 
2014-06-03 08:13:20 PM

oren0: Excellent comment in TFA:

Ulium
2:12 PM PDT

If you're going to write about topics that have literally thousands of academics studying them, you should really do some research. Dozens of papers have been written about computer-assisted redistricting, which has been practiced for decades. Imagining that some guy's random algorithm for compact districts has "solved gerrymanding" is both silly and embarrassing for you. It's also naive or arrogant to think that this is a problem that's both hard enough that no political scientist with a bit of programming knowledge has been able to solve it, yet easy enough that a random computer scientist can solve it in his spare time. This is a systematic naivete I see here, and would be solved with a quick call to the Monkeycage folks on your own website.

So why hasn't it been solved? Jonathan Bernstein's article explains it pretty well. You write dismissively that "You can define a "community of interest" pretty much however you want." But that's the whole issue! Everyone who actually works in this field knows that compactness is just one of the many desiderata. Why on earth would you privilege that above all the other things we want -- competitive districts, depolarization, minority representation, etc, etc? In fact, a quick perusal of the literature would show that compactness almost always leads to less competitive districts with huge degrees of partisanship and diminished minority representation at the Congressional level. Why on earth would we prefer a geometrical quality to all these other things?

Gerrymandering has not been solved not because we don't know how to draw maps, but because the many other issues at play mean this is an inevitably political problem. A basic compactness algorithm solves none of that -- as an even cursory review of the vast literature on this topic would have shown.


Obviously written by some Democrat who wants to keep the brown people in their place.
 
2014-06-03 08:18:34 PM
This is one of those things, like simplifying the tax code, that would be somewhat beneficial to the population at large. Probably not a huge difference, and not enough to really get people out and demand it.

On the other hand, it would be the death knell for thousands of lawyers, lobbyists, consultants, PR firms, so... It ain't gonna happen.
 
2014-06-03 08:21:56 PM

DamnYankees: This is incredibly stupid, for multiple reasons:

1) The issue with gerrymandering is political, not technical. "Unable to figure out how to draw compact districts" has never, not for a second, been the reason we have gerrymandering.

2) There's no particular reason to think geometrically compact districts are better or worse than any other configuration.


You've never run against an incumbent, have you? The territory of a non-urban Congressional district is needlessly enormous in my state.
 
2014-06-03 08:22:11 PM
If you want to make a quick and easy change to the law, just force district lines to only be allowed to be drawn along existing county lines. Book it, done.

/and does gerrymandering remind anyone else of trying to tunnel through the chocolate in a half gallon of chocolate swirl ice cream?
 
2014-06-03 08:31:41 PM
There are a number of laws controlling how districts must be drawn.  It's not based primarily on geography, but on population, race, income, and urban centers.  Get all those laws repealed, and then you could legally entertain simple "compact" districts, but special interests that lose out (and someone will be the loser no matter how it's redrawn) will wail about being disenfranchised by racist programmers with no soul.
 
2014-06-03 08:39:55 PM
Did he find a way  to painlessly kill every politician ever?

/No other way to deal with this problem.
 
2014-06-03 08:49:38 PM
sigh. the whining about gerrymandering. is it that time of the week already?

//'Gerrymandering' isn't the problem.
 
2014-06-03 08:50:22 PM
"The problem" wasn't in looking for an algorithm to draw fuzzy squares so much as getting the politicians to stand by and let automated redistricting be enacted.
Both Democrats and Republicans benefit from rigging the system in various ways. Nothing, from how the votes are collected to campaign finance reform, goes past without being tainted by political whims.   To the point that no system for unfarking the  map is simply going to float past an electoral board and become law.
I'd chalk it up with the alternative vote as a lovely idea that's probably got no chance in hell.

Write few papers about it so someone brings it up after the next revolution, maybe then.

fluffy2097: Did he find a way  to painlessly kill every politician ever?

/No other way to deal with this problem.


We have that, its called the gun.

/Why "painlessly"?
 
2014-06-03 08:51:37 PM
I don't think he understands what the problem is.
 
2014-06-03 09:04:40 PM
I think electing everyone at large is probably the way to go.  Actually elect the person you want elected, if you get them enough votes, and have them really represent you.  No matter how many people vote for them they only get one congressional vote.  Change to term limits of a few consecutive years, then they have to take at least one term off, not elected to anything, to reconnect with how real people live their lives.
 
2014-06-03 09:11:14 PM

Iszael: Change to term limits of a few consecutive years, then they have to take at least one term off, not elected to anything, to reconnect with how real people live their lives.


They spend that term working in an industry they were just regulating. It's the old Jon Corzine song-n-dance.
 
2014-06-03 09:14:39 PM

oren0: Why on earth would you privilege that above all the other things we want -- competitive districts, depolarization, minority representation, etc, etc? In fact, a quick perusal of the literature would show that compactness almost always leads to less competitive districts with huge degrees of partisanship and diminished minority representation at the Congressional level. Why on earth would we prefer a geometrical quality to all these other things?


The exact reason.
 
2014-06-03 09:15:47 PM

Saturn5: There are a number of laws controlling how districts must be drawn.  It's not based primarily on geography, but on population, race, income, and urban centers.  Get all those laws repealed, and then you could legally entertain simple "compact" districts, but special interests that lose out (and someone will be the loser no matter how it's redrawn) will wail about being disenfranchised by racist programmers with no soul.


This too!
 
2014-06-03 09:23:21 PM
Most of the posters on this thread sound so young.

And naive.

/Thought Fark was the last refuge of Gen Xers on the internet
//Get off my lawn.
///We're old in internet years.
 
2014-06-03 09:29:46 PM
The thing I notice is that for all the gerrymandered districts faults, they do get right, on the whole, the part of actually giving districts an equal number of people. Wisconsin's districts, for example, are created to within a tolerance of one person. The compacted Wisconsin map presents a gap of 1,492 people.

Other semi-randomly-selected states:

*Georgia's actual map has a tolerance of two people. The compact map shows a tolerance of 742.
*Florida's actual map, one person. The compacted map, 6,426 people.
*New York's actual map, one person. The compacted map, 3,704 people.
*Louisiana's actual map, 162 people. The compacted map, 5,465 people.
*New Jersey's actual map, one person. The compacted map, 1,115 people.
*North Carolina's actual map, one person. The compacted map, 1,237 people.
*California's actual map, two people. The compacted map, 2,737 people.
*Missouri's actual map, one person. The compacted map, 2,137 people.
*Texas' actual map, 32 people. The compacted map, 1,364 people.
*New Hampshire's actual map, 4 people. The compacted map, 6,476 people. There are only two districts.
 
KIA
2014-06-03 09:47:51 PM
Vote by city and county, people.  The sheer amount of energy spent on trying to rig the system is astonishing.
 
2014-06-03 09:50:39 PM

namatad: problem 1) the number of house representatives was fixed to a TINY number. should be 2000 to 6000 representatives now


Considering all the crazy loons we get at representatives now, do you think we really ought to have MORE Representatives? Go check out New Hampshire's government to see what kind of a bad idea that is.
 
2014-06-03 09:56:16 PM

The Maha Rushie: sigh. the whining about gerrymandering. is it that time of the week already?

//'Gerrymandering' isn't the problem.


Sure it is. It's the politicians picking the voters. It's electorate segregation.
 
2014-06-03 10:10:07 PM

Sudo_Make_Me_A_Sandwich: namatad: problem 2) geographic representation is farking retarded. proper representation would be based on similar interests and views

Virtually every systemic problem in our government would be lessened a great deal by switching to a parliamentary system like the rest of the democratic republics in the world. This is just another one of them.


It doesn't even need to be a true parliamentary system in the poli-sci sense. Just get rid of single-seat districts and use some form of proportional representation instead.
 
2014-06-03 10:17:05 PM

Zombalupagus: If you want to make a quick and easy change to the law, just force district lines to only be allowed to be drawn along existing county lines. Book it, done.

/and does gerrymandering remind anyone else of trying to tunnel through the chocolate in a half gallon of chocolate swirl ice cream?


So what happens when a state has a population sufficient for, say, three representatives, but two-thirds of the people live in the one city, which is contained in one county?

I've said for years that the real "two Americas" are the people who live within a mile of five hundred people who aren't just like them, and the GOP.
 
2014-06-03 10:50:29 PM

DamnYankees: This is incredibly stupid, for multiple reasons:

1) The issue with gerrymandering is political, not technical. "Unable to figure out how to draw compact districts" has never, not for a second, been the reason we have gerrymandering.


Yes, although it's fairly recent that computational power and maybe algorithm to confirm optimum compactness.  I would have guessed it was a NP-complete problem but from the article it sounds like it isn't.

2) There's no particular reason to think geometrically compact districts are better or worse than any other configuration.

Well, there is one particular reason which you may or may not agree with (i.e., you won't) but it is there.

Optimum compactness is a well-defined concept with a single answer: assuming all parties agree on the geography and census numbers, the district map would be completely deterministic and independent of political tinkering (except see below).  I know a lot of people would consider that a particular reason to prefer this approach.

I suppose there could be other well-defined  that ignore all political concerns, but geometric compactness is the obvious one.

The big caveat is that, once you have a well-defined method for deterministically mapping districts, people can start taking actions to manipulate it, so politics wouldn't entirely be out of it.  I doubt temporary pre-census boarding would change much, that possibility is still there.
 
2014-06-03 10:59:31 PM

Sudo_Make_Me_A_Sandwich: Oh definitely. It's just a pipe dream, like namatad's suggestion of dropping first-past-the-post for proportional representation.


I think proportionaly representation is abhorrent (seriously, I don't want some wacko fringe group with 0.5% support to get representation, start smearing extremist out before they make it to the legislature) but first-past-the-post is retarded.  Amendment: all elections everywhere, every level, must have majority of votes cast, not plurality.  Wham
 
2014-06-03 11:20:33 PM

rogue49: Forget the Voting Rights Act.

Need an amendment to establish voting principles again.


Not only using an algorithm such as the one described.
But voting on weekends.  Make it a holiday.
No blocks to voting.
Have to allow registering there.
and so on...


I'm tired of the BS.
If you can't win on your own, you don't deserve to win and be in power.  Period.


Oregon has made voting easy. They mail you a ballot, you fill it out, and drop it in the mail or at one out many drop boxes. You can update your info online, etc.

Our turnout is still pretty low. We have other rules about non affiliated voters not getting to vote in either primary, and a high per capita number of NAVs.

Basically you get to vote on ballot measures and unopposed judges for primaries.
 
2014-06-04 12:03:30 AM

Ambivalence: DamnYankees: This is incredibly stupid, for multiple reasons:

1) The issue with gerrymandering is political, not technical. "Unable to figure out how to draw compact districts" has never, not for a second, been the reason we have gerrymandering.

2) There's no particular reason to think geometrically compact districts are better or worse than any other configuration.

This.  We managed to draw districts competently for 200 years before now.  This is a new problem, not because of a lack of resources or technology, but because the responsible parties in those states have decided that is how THEY want it.

It's not an accident, it's completely intentional.


This is no recent problem. "Gerrymander" is a word coined 200 years ago in 1812, as a result of a convoluted redistricting in Massachusetts. It's gotten worse in recent times because computers and increasingly-detail databases make it a lot easier to do and even more effective in letting politicians choose their voters rather than vice versa. Optimally compact districts have the advantage of taking humans out of the equation and increasing the likelihood that districts will have a diversity of voter interests and reduce the chances of a politician being able to warp the electorate to give himself a lifetime job regardless of how he behaves in office.
 
2014-06-04 05:01:23 AM

aerojockey: Sudo_Make_Me_A_Sandwich: Oh definitely. It's just a pipe dream, like namatad's suggestion of dropping first-past-the-post for proportional representation.

I think proportionaly representation is abhorrent (seriously, I don't want some wacko fringe group with 0.5% support to get representation, start smearing extremist out before they make it to the legislature) but first-past-the-post is retarded.  Amendment: all elections everywhere, every level, must have majority of votes cast, not plurality.  Wham


You probably do want it, you just don't realize it.
 
2014-06-04 05:10:16 AM

Ambivalence: This is a new problem


I find your lack of knowledge disturbing.
 
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