This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Friday, June 9, 2017

New Attempts to Combat Gerrymandering in the U.S.

Gerrymandered districts have been increasingly in the news in the U.S. as legislators at the state level try to draw Congressional and state legislative boundaries in a way to improve their own party's chances in elections. But people are fighting back. Not just people, but mathematicians, according to a recent story in Nature.
Leaning back in his chair, Jonathan Mattingly swings his legs up onto his desk, presses a key on his laptop and changes the results of the 2012 elections in North Carolina. On the screen, flickering lines and dots outline a map of the state’s 13 congressional districts, each of which chooses one person to send to the US House of Representatives. By tweaking the borders of those election districts, but not changing a single vote, Mattingly’s maps show candidates from the Democratic Party winning six, seven or even eight seats in the race. In reality, they won only four — despite earning a majority of votes overall.
Mattingly’s election simulations can’t rewrite history, but he hopes they will help to support democracy in the future — in his state and the nation as a whole. The mathematician, at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, has designed an algorithm that pumps out random alternative versions of the state’s election maps — he’s created more than 24,000 so far — as part of an attempt to quantify the extent and impact of gerrymandering: when voting districts are drawn to favour or disfavour certain candidates or political parties.
The story goes on to quote political scientists and others doing similar work. Now, to be honest, I tend to think of these tasks as being in the realm of spatial demography. I myself submitted sets of maps for local redistricting here in San Diego a few years ago when my wife was serving on San Diego County's Redistricting Commission. I was thanked for the effort and the County Board of Supervisors then ignored them, so I think it is a very good thing that more and different kinds of people get into the business of keeping everyone aware of the way in which district boundaries can affect the functioning of a democracy.

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