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Redistricting in the Media

In many places in the US, elections are being tampered with by state legislatures. Gerrymandered maps improve the odds for one party or the other. Brian Olson explores how this works, some places where it is happening, and offers an alternative through impartial mathematically based maps created with open source software.

We are living in the age of the algorithm. So why not apply data science to a decades old issue?

Determining congressional districts is traditionally a behind-the-scenes process with a track record of interesting results, even though it is crucial to our democracy. However, using the tools of data science it is possible to define open ways to cluster states into congressional districts in a fair way.

In February of this year, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found Pennsylvania's Congressional districting to be an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. This talk will discuss one of the kinds of evidence the court used to reach its conclusion. In particular, we will see that using randomness and mathematics, we can rigorously detect gerrymandered political districts.

District lines, and the groups of voters within them, may seem arbitrary, but a lot of thought (and political bickering) is put into these carefully drawn lines. From "packing" a district to "cracking" a district--learn how the shape of districts impacts political parties during election season.

Harvard Professor Lawrence Lessig makes the case that our democracy has become corrupt with money, leading to inequality that means only 0.02% of the United States population actually determines who's in power. Lessig says that this fundamental breakdown of the democratic system must be fixed before we will ever be able to address major challenges like climate change, social security, and student debt. This is not the most important problem, it's just the first problem.

Appalled by the notion that her state’s legislature had gerrymandered voting districts to favor themselves and their party, Ellen Freidin led a citizen’s initiative to amend the Florida Constitution to establish strict rules for the drawing of legislative and Congressional district lines. After four years of gathering signatures and campaigning for passage, what followed was six years of fierce litigation to enforce the amendments and to fight off four separate federal court challenges to the amendments. Gerrymandering isn’t unique to Florida. Across the country, Republicans and Democrats alike have used the practice to establish political advantage and help incumbents get re-elected. Freidin’s cautionary tale is an important example of how a determined group of citizens can thwart badly intentioned public officials and ensure that state laws are fairly drawn and fully enforced.

Lawmakers often reshape voting districts to shift the balance of political power. That's unfair to voters, even those of us with questionable judgment.

Prof. Sam Wang explains his efforts to combat gerrymandering using a little math.

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