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A Proposal to End the Practice of Gerrymandering

Using a precise mathematical formula, it is possible to redraw district lines fairly and bring competitiveness back to congressional races.

by
Robert Zubrin

Bio

May 3, 2011 - 12:05 am

Definition: Gerrymandering is a practice of political corruption that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan, incumbent-protected, and neutral districts. (reference: Wikipedia)

Across the nation, America’s politicos are currently engaged in the artful redrawing of congressional district boundaries for their own benefit. Thus, the voting public is once again faced with the brazen practice of political corruption by its alleged representatives.

The practice of gerrymandering is technically legal, and indeed, will soon celebrate its 200th anniversary in this country. However, it remains the case that, as it is a method of rigging elections to secure office holders against the judgment of the voters, it is a crime against democracy. It is time to end it.

But how can this be done? While it is apparent that weird district shapes are clearly contrived by conspiracies of politicians desiring to disenfranchise the electorate, what objective standard is there for assigning fair boundaries?

In fact there is a standard. The degree of contrivance behind the design of a set of districts is directly related to the oddness of the shapes employed to reach the election-rigging objective. There is a precise mathematical way to measure such malformation. That is, if you take the square of the perimeter of any shape, and divide it by the shape’s area, you arrive at a number, which can be called its irregularity. For example the irregularity of any square, regardless of its size, equals 16 (because (4s)2/s2 = 16.) On the other hand, the irregularity of a rectangle whose long side is 10 times the length of its short side is 48.4 (because (22s)2/10s2 = 48.4.) The odder and more contrived the shape, the higher will be its irregularity.

Now congressional districts need to have equal population sizes, so the task of dividing a state fairly is more complicated than simply slicing it up into low-irregularity shapes. Still, there is a solution which can be objectively ascertained that does accomplish the goal of creating equal population districts with the minimum total irregularity. This can be found either by humans or computers.

I suggest it be done as follows. Let’s let the majority party in the state legislature take the first shot at proposing a redistricting plan. The sum of the irregularities of all the proposed districts can then be added up to create a score for the majority plan. The minority party can then be given 30 days to come up with an alternative plan. If they can come up with a design whose irregularity score is 1 percent lower than the majority plan, then the minority plan is adopted. If not, then the majority plan remains in place.

Creating districting boundaries in this way will not prevent the creation of safe districts for one party or another in all cases. But it will leave the matter to fair chance and geography, rather than the arbitrary actions of political cabals.

Under the current system, redistricting plans are subject to endless litigation, for example under the Voting Rights Act, wherein various minority groups have made the accusation that certain redistricting plans have been contrived to deny them representation. Alternatively, those facing such suits have made the counter argument that their proponents are attempting to create racially determined set-aside congressional seats, which would clearly be unconstitutional. However, if the system recommended here were adopted, both of these forms of improper activity would be impossible, and suits based upon their allegation thus rendered preposterous.

Many politicians will resist such reform, as it will cost them their ability to fix elections in their own favor. But dear state lawmakers please consider the following: This is your chance to do something great for America. The practice of gerrymandering is a national disgrace which has disenfranchised the majority of American voters from an effective voice in choosing their congressional representation for nearly two centuries. By taking the high road, you can set an example that will hold your counterparts in other states accountable as well, and set this criminal activity on the road to extinction. Instead of perpetuating corruption, you can use your time in office to accomplish something truly grand towards restoring democracy in America. It’s your choice. Think about it.

Dr. Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics, a Senior Fellow with the Center for Security Policy, and the author of "Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil". His newest book, "Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism" has just been published by Encounter Books.
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