Will the Supreme Court Stop Politicians from Choosing Their Voters?

Social science could help identify objective principles for creating competitive voting districts.



The Supreme Court may soon decide whether a state's electoral districts can be so stacked toward one party that they violate the Constitution.

The case, Gill v. Whitford, revolves around the district boundaries established by the Wisconsin state legislature after the 2010 census. That map helped Republicans to win 60 of 99 legislative seats, even though Democrats won more votes statewide—1,417,359 to the GOP's 1,249,562. Such partisan redistricting is known as gerrymandering, after Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 signed an egregious redistricting bill. (One of the voting districts it created resembled the shape of a salamander—thus, "gerrymander.")

A new Harvard study, "Why Competition in the Politics Industry Is Failing America," argues that pervasive gerrymandering is one of the practices that is making our political system so dysfunctional. The authors, Katherine Gehl and Michael Porter, write:

The politics industry is different from virtually all other industries in the economy because the participants, themselves, control the rules of competition. There is no truly independent regulation of politics that protects the public interest. Free from regulation and oversight, the duopoly does exactly what one would fear: The rivals distort the rules of competition in their favor. Examples of this includes controlling access to the general election ballot, partisan gerrymandering, and the Hastert Rule, which puts partisan concerns above legislating for the public interest.

As Gehl and Porter point out, gerrymandering reduces competition by creating "safe seats" for one party, which reduces the accountability of elected representatives from gerrymandered districts since they answer chiefly to voters in their party primary.

When the case comes before it on October 3, the Supreme Court may overcome its past reluctance to intervene in how the coequal legislative branch of government sets its electoral rules. Although the Court may be tempted to rule in favor of institutional changes such as establishing independent electoral commissions to decide district boundaries, recent research finds that such bodies aren't any fairer than state legislatures.

Perhaps recent advances in social science can help the court derive a set of objective principles for creating fair voting districts. As I reported earlier, some researchers suggest that the "efficiency gap" be used as metric for determining constitutionally forbidden excessive gerrymandering. The efficiency gap is "the difference between the parties' respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast." Votes are deemed "wasted" if they are cast for a defeated candidate or cast in excess of those needed to elect a winning candidate; if a party is simultaneously getting an unusually high number of landslide victories and an unusually high number of crushing losses, that would be a sign of gerrymandering.

Another set of researchers have devised algorithms that draw voting district boundaries based on contiguity, geographical compactness, and a difference in population of no more than 0.1 percent. When comparing a set of randomly drawn maps using this algorithm to the actual electoral maps adopted by the state legislature, the researchers found in North Carolina that on average, 7.6 of the state's 13 congressional seats would have gone to Democrats, instead of just the four they actually won.

If the Supreme Court declines to intervene, plaintiff's lawyer Danielle Lang tells Reuters, "There would be no way for voters to rein in partisan gerrymandering, no way for voters to take back control of their government."

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  1. Seems strange that people are suddenly concerned about legislative districts after Democrats lost both houses of Congress and don’t seem likely to regain control. And pretty weird that all the lawsuits are targeting states where Republicans have had big pick-ups and not states like Illinois, which was redistricted in 2010 with the expressed purpose of shrinking the Republican delegation.

    1. Can’t speak to the country at large but Maryland Republicans have sued the state for its gerrymandered districts. Case was filed in 2013 and is still on going last I heard about it a few months ago.

      1. I’m making over $12k a month working part time. I kept hearing other people tell me how much money they can make online so I decided to look into it. Well, it was all true and has totally changed my life. This is what I do,…Go this web and start your work… Good luck..

      2. Same here in Wisconsin. Democrats are suing as Republicans gerrymandered.

    2. And as we all know, Democrats doing something wrong once absolves Republicans of doing the same thing 1,000 times.

      1. And vice versa, of course.

      2. Democrats support the VRA, which is legalized gerrymandering based on race, and something that should go the way of Jim Crow.

      3. Use a mathematical algorithm. The present-majority party should not be able to select their voters. Both parties abuse the present system. The timing of bringing this issue up to the court is partisan but the underlying issue is not partisan.

    3. Democrats want to extend the electoral clout of their densely packed urban zones over geographically larger but less densely packed areas.

      Bailey wants to play along, as if there is no alternative approach.

      Anyone who speaks of “independent oversight of politics” is either an idiot or singularly dishonest.

  2. Another way to approach this is to have the voters in District A elect the rep for District B.

    1. Heh. Now that would be funny. Berkely gets Sarah Palin. New York gets Ted Cruz. Those poor bastards in Wyoming get Chuck Schumer.

      1. As a New Yorker, I heartily approve this arrangement.

    2. Damn that’s a good idea. Like slicing a cake — the slicer gets last choice.

      1. Piers Anthony wrote a book “Triple Detente” based on a similar principal. Earth and another planet were at war and the militaries of each world reached an agreement before the battle. Each one would rule the world of the other and the fact that the other side was in charge of their homeworld would be used to keep them honest in how they administered the planet. The upside was that because they dictatorships they were able to take actions to deal with problems like crime, health care and overpopulation that would never get through a democratic system of government. The downside was that the rules ended up being pretty harsh (e.g. death penalty for a lot of more minor offenses) as military sensibilities were willing to put up with things that civilians wouldn’t. So even if it ended up being more “fair,” it may not have been the kind of world that people wanted to live in.

    3. The rep will pander to the money regardless of what district he nominally represents.

  3. “There is no truly independent regulation of politics that protects the public interest. ” – Sounds like complete fantasy.

    “if a party is simultaneously getting an unusually high number of landslide victories and an unusually high number of crushing losses, that would be a sign of gerrymandering.” – A sign of gerrymandering by whom? If one party is experiencing that, then isn’t the other party experiencing the exact same thing? Should that be an unusually high number of close victories and high number of crushing losses?

    I’ll happily admit that districts are gerrymandered for partisan benefit. But, there’s also a matter of people living in areas with other people who have a similar outlook on the world. That creates unbalanced districts. It would seem that you would have to gerrymander specifically in order to make them competitive. Is competitive really a reasonable goal? I’m for eliminating unfairness from gerrymandering, but not forced competition.

    1. Where are Plato’s disinterested philosopher-kings?


    2. “There is no truly independent regulation of politics that protects the public interest. ” – Sounds like complete fantasy.

      And it makes a core error, which is there is no such thing as an objective public interest.

      1. “Public Interest”
        “Greater Good”
        “The good of the collective”

        All the same collectivist bullshit.

        1. Public Interest/Greater Good=Permanent Democrat Majority (for these people anyway)

      2. And it makes a core error, which is there is no such thing as an objective public interest.

        That’s not an error, it’s pretty much a fact of life.

        1. Well, theoretically, such a thing might exist, but determining what it is without one’s wants and opinions influencing what you think it is in a way anyone else will accept is correct.

          1. Perhaps, but it would theoretically require a proof of an objective value system first.

  4. Majority-minority districts tend to clump Democrat voters together fue to the tendency of blacks to overwhelmingly favor that party over any other. Democrats file lawsuits, but apparently are not attacking the proximate source of the problem, since that won’t fly with those voters.

    It is both amusing and maddening to see yet another issue that the political class will be disingenuous about because they created the problem as a past “reform”.

    1. The fact that Democrats win more densely populated areas is just one of many institutional disadvantages they have in a system that apportions representation by geography. Republican gerrymandering makes the misrepresentation problem worse.

      1. The fact that your side shuns intellectual diversity is not anyone’s problem but your own.

  5. Perhaps recent advances in social science can help the court derive a set of objective principles for creating fair voting districts.

    I think that might be the scariest thing of all. There is a lot of things done that people claim are objective or fair that are still simply extending a given view or motive. Particularly in Social Science there is no ground truth that exists apart from the author’s beliefs.

    1. This is so true. They call it social “science” because they play with statistics. There is very little true science behind it.

      Besides, as Ernest Rutherford once said:
      ‘All science is either physics, or stamp collecting.’

      -Ex Physics Instructor

      1. Mathematicians would demur.

        1. And they would be wrong.
          There is nothing empirical about math.
          There are no experiments in the usual sense of the term.
          Math is not science. It’s math.

    2. I threw up a little in my mouth when I read that. I will take in my face gerrymandering than have to deal with “objective social science.” HARD PASS!

  6. and a difference in population of no more than 0.1 percent

    I bet you would get much more reasonable districts – e.g. districts which center around actual communinties instead of wandering all over the place – if you loosened that restriction.

    1. Back in the 90s Georgia changed its redistricting process so that a district must include entire counties, unless the population if the county was such that it had to be subdivided. The local progs thought it a dark day.

      1. what did the local progs bitch about now? that seems more logical then drawing like a toddler over the street map of cities

  7. The politics industry is different from virtually all other industries in the economy because the participants, themselves, control the rules of competition.

    How about public sector unions?

    How about hospitals that can help dictate whether more medical facilities are allowed to be built?

    1. Hospitals don’t control that, the state does. It’s called a certificate of need, and it takes a lot of bribes to build a hospital in a thriving exurb or suburb.

  8. Take a map, snap chalk lines. There’s your fucking districts.

    1. I never understood why this was not how this was done. Figure standard shapes (or use a “shape factor”) each with the same number of people. End of story.

      Massachusetts still has pretty funky shaped districts, particularly for the Federal House of Representatives. Areas that could almost certainly elect Republicans are regularly combined with a few towns, or even precincts from towns that can be counted on to election after election to the Dems.

      It would be a nice experiment to see if SCOTUS can come up with a better solution, it can’t be much worse.

  9. Vote everyone out, every time. No more career politicians.

    1. Trump was never a politician before. How’s that working out?

      1. Well, so far much better than with his predecessor, who was also an amateur.

        1. Or his competitor, who was just as corrupt, just as arrogant, just as inept, and would have the press in her purse instead of hounding her relentlessly.

  10. “When the case comes before it on October 3, the Supreme Court may overcome its past reluctance to intervene in how the coequal legislative branch of government sets its electoral rules.”

    Heh heh, what a sense of humor!

    In the “Reapportionment cases,” the Supremes said that legislative districts have to be of nearly-equal populations. Previously, many state legislatures (especially in the upper houses) had rural districts with much less population than urban districts, but with equal representation vis-a-vis the urban districts. The Supremes took the side of the city slickers over their hayseed oppressors.

    So never mind “traditional reluctance,” let’s ask if the we want a bunch of 5-4 decisions about how much gerrymandering is too much? Yeah, that will take partisanship out of the process!

    Here’s my suggestion: Each county elects a number of representatives proportionate to their population – so a rural county might get one or two representatives, and an urban county might get 8 (say). Elections to be at large, and if there are, say 4 seats, the four top vote-getters win.

    Using counties would employ existing political subdivisions rather than creating new ones every 10 years.

    1. PS – this might require some tweaking of the Reapportionment Cases.

  11. gerrymandering is one of the practices that is making our political system so dysfunctional

    I would submit that up to 49.9 percent of the population having effectively no say in how their government is run and their money is spent is up there.

    1. And that’s just for any single question. Throw in thousands of problems and there probably isn’t a single person happy with all the answers.

      That’s why expansive monopolistic government sucks. Most of these problems have perfectly fine individual answers, but government taking them on forces there to be only one answer for everybody.

  12. There’s really no easy solution to this. At some point, people have to create these boundaries, and there is no way to get it right.

    1. Yes there is, by making size and shape irrelevant. See my suggestion below.

  13. Gerrymandering seems blatantly unconstitutional under the equal protection clause. I get the electoral college rigged system because it protects the smaller states and that protection was the deal they made to induce this union in the first place. Because the election of president is rigged it should necessarily discredit that results of these elections whenever the rigging changes the results. If we were all fair minded we would handicap a presidency that did win the popular vote in some way to reflect it’s slight illegitimacy.

    1. Jesus christ i literally fuck up every comment i leave.

      1. Yes in this case with your first sentence.

        1. The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th too.

        2. Disenfranchising a class of voters by state govts is about the most rotten abuse of power.

          1. Really? More rotten than stealing from them? More rotten than murdering them?
            You have very odd values.
            Democracy is the cruel sham of 2 wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner.

    2. What in the world would “handicapping” a Presidency even mean?

      1. Breaking one of the winner’s legs?

      2. Allowing the use of the hand wedge at Mar a Lago?

    3. If the popular vote determined the winner, the presidential race would focus on the few largest metro areas in the country. There would be no point in going to a rally or running ads in Reno or Pittsburgh — you get much more bang for your buck focusing on the NYC, LA, Chicago, and Houston metros.

      Of course, with the EC, the race focuses on a few swing states instead. But any solid red or solid blue state that wanted to get some attention from the candidates could easily do so by awarding its EVs proportionally based on the popular vote… something state legislators are loathe to do as it would piss off their overlords in the national party.

  14. Ron, perhaps you can explain exactly how a 60/40 vote split in any given district is indicative of gerry-mandering and not merely a reflection of community sentiment? An algorithm as it were.

  15. The last time this issue came up Justice Kennedy was the swing vote and he was ready to acknowledge the unconstitutionality of gerrymandering but he wasn’t sure how to create a solution so he left himself open to the possibility that a solution could emerge in the future. Using computers to draw the districts based on neutral criteria seems like the fairest way to do it.

    1. What happens when the computers become self-aware and realize how illogically the politicians are behaving?

      1. Unplug them.

          1. Skynet and Colossus.

    2. So long as the computers are programmed by apolitical people like Mark Zuckerberg, right?

  16. The core problem is monopolistic government. Everywhere the is competition and the possibility of bankruptcy, there is efficiency and ultimate fairness. Everywhere else, there is corruption and ruin.

    Imagine allocating sales districts like this — employees would howl and the inefficiencies and corruption would make it easy for competitors to steal their bacon. You wouldn’t need algorithms and commissions studying the matter – behold the usefulness of self-interest in a competitive world!

  17. It’s sad and tragic and pathetic to see an erstwhile science reporter such as Ron Bailey stuck covering crap like social “science”. What’s next? Parapsychology and phrenology and cryptozoology?

    1. Paracryptophrenology?

  18. Here’s an entirely different and simpler idea:

    Screw shapes and sizes.

    Elect the top three vote getters in each district.

    Each rep proxies the votes they received. None of this one voter per rep so tehy have to represent equal sized districts.

    To keep districts somewhat similar in size, allow any border parcel owner to shift to a neighboring district IFFFF the new district had fewer votes cast last election.

  19. Could a state legally switch their entire representation to a proportional representation system? Allow two votes when you vote. You pick a party and then a candidate. The division of representatives is determined statewide and the individual based on your district (they would still exist to provide well balanced representation of all geographic areas of a state). For example, if a state is going to be split 4 Rs and 3 Ds, the districts with the highest R% elect the R winner on the candidate votes, then the same for the Ds. With 3 parties it might get complicated, but that can all be worked out.

    The only knock on this is that it eliminates independents, but that’s such a non-factor now. It could also get a L elected in a large enough state.

  20. So, yeah, social science, objective standard, that’s nice. Um. Uh-huh. Now, er, what’s the, you know, legal grounds involved here? You know, the bit in the Constitution that would allow the courts to impose such “objective” standards?

    I mean, look, the gerrymander is explicitly named after a Founding Father. Not just a random governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, a signer of the Articles of Confederation, a member of the Constitutional Convention who refused to sign the Cosntitution because of a lack of a bill of rights, a Congressman who was involved in drafting and passing the Bill of Rights, and a Vice President.

    So it sure seems like this is, in fact, the system functioning as designed and intended. You might not like that, you might think there are lots of things wrong with the system working like that, bit it is, in fact, the system. In what’s supposed to be a government of laws.

    Not nine unelected men imposing whatever five of them think is justice.

    1. Except, of course, that “nine unelected men imposing whatever[sic] five[sic] of them think is justice” is the system functioning as designed and intended. On your own grounds.

      1. Kind of… but the supreme court is supposed to be an equal branch of government in the system of checks and balances, not a kingmaker. The theory was that the executive and the legislative could override the court. We don’t really have that system any more.

      2. Judicial review is nowhere to be found in the constitution, let alone the Supreme Court legislating from the bench.

  21. I’d rather than districts were drawn around political subdivisions (e.g. towns/cities and counties) as much as possible with some allowances made to try and keep populations roughly equal. Frankly I think one of the things that needs to go is the Voting Rights Act which requires “majority minority” districts which is what has led to a lot of the litigation and gerrymandering to accommodate this absurd requirement. Draw the districts based on political subdivisions and let the chips fall where they may.

    1. The VRA has also led to more rabid partisanship, for those so in love with the idea of a more civil public discourse and more bipartisanship.

  22. I have never understood this preoccupation with gerrymandering.

    If a party wants to monkey around with the districts for partisan advantage, mathematically, it makes more sense to make a larger number of *more* competitive districts, not fewer. Think about it: If you have 200 voters, 100 R and 100 D, and you have four districts, you are better off packing voters into 1 of the 4 districts generating a landslide majority for the opposition, and then trying to make the other 3 districts competitive by spreading around D (R) voters into a bare majority R (D) district. You could then turn a 50:50 split into a potential 75:25 win. So a gerrymandering strategy, properly considered, would result in a few landslide victories in the “packed” districts and a lot of slim victories for the other party in the rest of the districts. You wouldn’t expect to see a lot of landslide victories for BOTH parties if it’s due just to gerrymandering alone.

    I really do think a lot of the hysteria about gerrymandering is really just the result of self-sorting, and not the nefarious plans of devious legislators. Not that they are above such things. But the people’s preferences for choosing where they live have a greater weight on the result over the legislators’ ability to rig the system.

    1. have you heard of H. Clinton’s latest book? It’s everyone’s fault but theirs!

      Usually the people who bitch about Gerrymandering (usually the left), do so because it’s a nice scapegoat as to why they lost. They can’t accept that a majority doesn’t like them, so it’s Gerrymandering, Voter Suppression, etc. Note all of those go away as issues when they have power.

      I’ve actually had Democrats bitch about those dastardly Republicans… in California. Literally a state that is controlled top to bottom by democrats with super majorities… and they still find someone else to blame. Or they go straight to blaming the voters, like with Prop 13.

    2. Here is how they do it.

      Take your even split 100 “Us” and 100 “Them” voters.

      What they do is create one district that is like 80% “Them” (40 Them and 10 Us)
      The three remaining districts will still have significant majority of “Us” voters to spread around. 90 Us voters to 60 them voters
      So they create three more districts that are roughly 30 Us, 20 them
      This gives a 60/40 split between Us and Them pretty and much guarantees you get 3 of the possible 4 spots.

      Intentionally creating competitive districts runs the risk of losing the legislative advantage.

      The problem of gerrymandering can be seen by looking at the Illinois Congressional districts.

      District 1 extends from the far South side of Chicago to way out into rural Will County (D)
      District 2 extends from the far South side of Chicago way out into rural Kanakaee county(D)
      District 3 extends from the nearly the center of Chicago way out into Will county(D)
      District 4 takes parts of the North side of Chicago and the better part of the south side creating a giant C that surrounds district 7(D)
      District 6 is a giant C that surrounds District 8(R)
      District 11 includes virtually all of Aurora and then dips into rural/suburban areas.
      District 17 was designed to include parts of Rockford, and parts of Peoria so that the entire NW part of IL would be D.

      The Legislative districts (Illinois House and Senate) are even more egregious in how they stretch from Chicago into rural territory 80 miles away.

      1. Yes, that is right. The partisan logic of gerrymandering is to create as many UNSAFE districts for your team as possible, so as to dilute voters from the other team as much as possible.

        In my hypothetical example, Team Gerrymander is deliberately giving up the possibility of having a completely safe district, in order to create three competitive districts. They are still rigged in favor of Team Gerrymander but not as much as, say, a 80/20 district, like the packed one they created for Team Opposition.

        But the partisan logic of gerrymandering is in tension with the individual representative’s desire to have a safe district. Which politician actually wants to fight for re-election in a competitive district? They would much rather take their re-election for granted. As long as these two interests are in tension, I don’t worry too much about gerrymandering.

        Instead when you see lopsided victories in districts for BOTH teams, that is not evidence of gerrymandering, that is evidence of collusion between the two teams. They are creating safe districts for each other in contrast to their own interests.

    3. It can go both ways – usually the two opposite tactics are known as “packing” and “cracking”.

      “Packing” is, as you described, taking the other party and stuffing them into one district to turn 50/50 into 75/25.

      “Cracking” is taking a neighborhood or voter bloc that would make a district competitive and slicing part of it off to be absorbed by a district that is safer for your party.

  23. During the 40 year Democratic control of Congress, was Gerrymandering suspected?

    1. No, that was the will of the people.

      People who never knew what sort of racist supremacist fascists that 40 years of Democrat rule would turn them into.

  24. What about districts which change naturally over time. Like, without any gerrymandering, a district might be generally mixed, with elections that sway either way. Then over time, it hardens to one party, and even then, maybe one ideology, essentially turning a party into a laughable minority. No gerrymandering occurred– the demographics changed. Would social science then “identify” this as a gerrymandered district.

    1. Either that or argue gerrymandering is necessary to protect that “minority”. Depends on the genetic traits of the people there.

  25. There is no way to draw physically intact “fair” districts that will respect geography since progs tend to live in cities and more conservative voters live in exurbs/rural areas. What the progs would like I’m sure is to give more seats to urban areas based on equal population at the expense of rural districts. A truly fair solution would be to pick at random a certain number of citizens from each state, based on population, to serve in congress for a single two year term with no political party affiliation. Yes, most of those from Alabama will probably be conservative, and those from Mass. will most likely be progs, but it would be a lot fairer than what we have now.

    1. There are plenty of red voters in those blue cities. They just get overwhelmed by numbers. We could bust up those blue cities into lots of smaller units but Democrats don’t want that because then some little red zones might escape their control.

      1. some little red zones might escape their control.

        There might be a few neighborhoods or precincts in cities where GOP candidates get more than 20% of the vote, but I don’t think you will ever find enough to make up a congressional district no matter how you slice it. The only exception I know of is Staten Island in NYC which is strongly R.

        1. Are you seriously unaware there are cities that vote Republican more often than Democrat? You can’t imagine any cities with Republican mayors or City Councils?

    2. The problem there is that they would have no incentive to please the people in their districts as they can’t be reelected regardless. They’d be even more susceptible to bribery than ordinary politicians.

      Maybe have the incumbent run against two randomly-selected challengers in every election?

      1. Hm not so sure about “more” susceptible to bribery part. Compared to our current system? Being elected as a representative is already a clear path to a life of wealth and good fortune. What means to profit from govt position are not already pegged at the maximum the public will tolerate?

        1. That’s the thing — you don’t have any reason to worry about what the public will tolerate if you can’t be reelected. So long as you’re not explicitly breaking a law and/or have connections to avoid prosecution.

          The dark side of term limits, if you will.

  26. The case, Gill v. Whitford, revolves around the district boundaries established by the Wisconsin state legislature after the 2010 census. That map helped Republicans to win 60 of 99 legislative seats, even though Democrats won more votes statewide?1,417,359 to the GOP’s 1,249,562. Such partisan redistricting is known as gerrymandering, after Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who in 1812 signed an egregious redistricting bill. (One of the voting districts it created resembled the shape of a salamander?thus, “gerrymander.”)

    You have not proven there was gerrymandering. A difference between pure democracy and quantized districts votes is pretty much guaranteed to happen.

    We should be arguing against centralized federal power and the fact that these districting details are so vastly important to the wealth and power of various interest groups in the first place.

    1. By itself there would not be proof — both parties play the game by the rules that exist. Neither party is going to bother expending scarce resources to turn a 60-40 margin into a 55-45 margin or vice versa, so you naturally have those kinds of imbalances. On SCOTUSblog the AG of Utah writes on the futility of trying to draw a district map in Utah so that the Democrats would win one of the four House seats, the “correct” proportion if you go by statewide vote totals.

      However in this case, the WI GOP was pretty shameless in its drive to get the optimal map for their party. They ran a bunch of simulations with different maps to see which one was the most likely to benefit them.

  27. The Harvard study proposes a bunch of complicated algorithms, the parameters of which would be subject to the same partisan fiddling as the current districting process. It’s not a solution.

    If you’re going to try to objectivize the districting process with an algorithm, it has to be extremely simple. Something like requiring district boundaries to be straight north-south or east-west lines or state boundaries, and a maximum of four such lines (not including state boundaries) for all districts in a state but one. This would always be feasible but severely limit the possibilities for fiddling.

    1. To add to that you would also need to ensure a maximum ratio between the NS and EW lines.

      In a place like Illinois I could imagine them creating a bunch of districts through Chicago that extend from Wisconsin south halfway to Kentucky that are about 2-3 miles wide.

      Something that would help would be to prohibit the use of race, gender, party affiliation, primary ballot choices etc. Non-identifying population density only.

      1. OK, here’s a simple algorithm for you. Let n be the number of reps for a state.

        If n=1, the district is the entire state.

        If n is even, bisect the state along its longer direction (NS vs EW) such that each division has equal population. Then run the algorithm on each division as if it were a state with n/2 reps.

        If n is odd and not 1, bisect the state along its longer direction (NS vs EW) such that one division has (n+1)/2n of the population and the other has (n-1)/2n. This bisection can be done in two ways — choose the one that gives the divisions more equal areas. Then run the algorithm on the division with the larger population as if it were a state with (n+1)/2 reps and on the division with the smaller population as if it were a state with (n-1)/2 reps.

        1. I like this
          Except you would always want to bisect along the shorter direction so as to reduce maximum distance from the center of the district that a resident would potentially be.

          Massively increasing the size of the House would go a long way I think. If district sizes were closer to between 30k to 50k people, using existing political boundaries (counties and incorporated towns/cities) would be sufficient I think.

  28. There is an easy solution. Get rid of elections and use sortition (basically draw a random name from the list of eligible voters – and that is the new critter) instead. People think that Athens used elections but they actually used sortition because they believed, correctly, that elections only result in oligarchy. Sparta used elections – and golly it, like the US was an oligarchy. And it doesn’t matter how gerrymandered the districts are cuz that random selection is gonna tromp all over carefully drawn districts. And we already use sortition as the basis for the jury system.

    Course you really do need a much larger legislature cuz you’re gonna have a lot more truck drivers and teachers and retail clerks and independents – and a lot fewer lawyers and D’s and R’s. It’s a good thing to have a legislature that is full of normal people who know they are gonna have to live with the consequences of what they legislate after their sortition term is over.

    1. And we already use sortition as the basis for the jury system.

      Not really a point in favor. The jury selection system is even more broken than the political office selection system.

      1. The jury selection system is even more broken

        Only because voir dire is intended to break the randomness. Void dire wouldn’t exist in a legislative sortition – except for are you age-eligible and will you take the oath of office?

    2. This idea would result in a state and nation run by the bureaucrats, just like the courts.

      If you’ve ever been on a jury, you’ll remember just how much control the clerks have over how things happen. And then you get to the courtroom and the judge decides what you will and will not see, what you can and cannot consider…. they control most of the outcome.

      The same result would likely be inevitable in your system. It might take a while to develop, but eventually the bureaucrats would figure out how to manipulate everything to their advantage. So politics would just move to lobbying and controlling the bureaucracy.

      1. If you’ve ever been on a jury, you’ll remember just how much control the clerks have over how things happen.

        That’s because the function of a jury is not to run the trial but to arbitrate between two opposing counsel. The function of a legislature is much broader.

        So politics would just move to lobbying and controlling the bureaucracy.

        You mean like now? Except that lobbying would be a real problem when the legislature turns over and you don’t even know anything about the newcomers. And the legislature would be self-organizing and hiring their own experienced staffers (like parliamentarians, researchers, lawyers, etc). They would be learning about the job from the previous incumbents (rather than that not even existing in a careerist pol system). And instead of a lot of lawyers looking to legislate their way to fame – you’d have a lot of critters who want to ask oversight questions of the bureaucracy instead because that’s who they have experience dealing with and getting pissed off at.

      2. Even for a job (like Prez) where you really can’t have sortition – I could see a huge value for selecting the electoral college via sortition (instead of just nominating hacks) and then having them stay together after their prez vote duties to do part-time executive branch functions (like audits, regulatory review, ombudsman, etc).

  29. I understand the arguments against gerrymandering as a policy, but is it really unconstitutional? If it is, why? Could the same arguments be used to reassign state boundaries? Are states unconstitutional for the same reason gerrymandered districts are if that is the finding? Is the Electoral College unconstitutional? (Some people seriously claim it is.)

    1. The argument in this case is basically that the districting violates the equal protection rights of party members, which arise from the first amendment’s supposed recognition of freedom of association. Thus they have a right to have a number of representatives from their party proportional to their party’s vote within the state.

      Equal protection only applies to states, not the federal govt. So the state boundaries and EC should be safe from such an argument. Of course if Congress were still dividing up territories to form states, I’m sure some leftist judge would intervene to declare any division unfavorable to Democrats unconstitutional. I don’t think even that joke of a judge in Hawaii would have the balls to reach back to the 1800s and say that dividing Dakota Territory into two states was unconstitutional, and order that they be treated as one state. At least not yet.

  30. Will the Supreme Court Stop Politicians from Choosing Their Voters?

    You mean like the Democrats preferentially letting illegal immigrants and refugees from countries whose denizens are likely to vote Democrat?

  31. As others have pointed out, your article ignores race – which the courts have enshrined as a gerrymandering goal.

    But beyond that, the “let the computer do it” analysis also produces gerrymandered districts, automatically. Because democrat and minority voters tend to be concentrated in cities, either districts look like bullseyes around cities – which will result in a bunch of concentrated (D) districts surrounded by more numerous rural (R) districts, or they will bisect and cut up cities, resulting in more safe (D) districts and fewer but more concentrated (R) districts. Either way you slice it, it will be easy to manipulate the algorithm to produce the desired result.

    When you have an incentive as powerful as controlling a vast and sprawling government, someone will always figure out how to try to game the system.

    Of course the fundamental answer to fixing this problem is to drastically reduce the size and power of the government, limiting its attractiveness for those wishing to grab the controls. Then you could implement your computer models and travelling salesman algorithms to your hearts content.

    1. I happen to be an engineer so I have a bias in favor of using mathematics. Mathematics is used in such hard sciences as physics (e.g. the law of gravity). See this Wired article:

      The “efficiency gap” measurement seems like a step in the right direction.

  32. There’s nothing really scientific about “social science”. Perhaps the Court could ban the most egregious gerrymandering practices, such as uninhabited corridors along highways (or rivers, railroad tracks, etc.) that connect two otherwise separate areas into a single district. But would widening the corridors to include a few homes be a big improvement?

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