The Impact of Digital Computers
Copious data bearing upon the definition of electoral districts is readily available in digital form. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, the geocoded boundaries of all political entities, population, voter registration and voting history. There is a remarkable level of additional detail. Modern digital computers can manipulate, analyze and present such data in limitless ways and have had a very major impact upon all aspects of drawing electoral districts.
Those who wear the black hats and gerrymander have been able to utilize these tools to achieve a new level of sophistication in their “art.” They are able to more quickly and accurately do their packing and cracking. Also, it is usually possible to achieve the desired result while avoiding such grossly obvious district configurations as “Goofy kicking Donald Duck.”
However, the guys who (claim to) wear the white hats have been able to use the same tools to detect and measure gerrymandering. It is possible to easily compute various indices of “compactness.” Several such indices are based upon the ratio of the district’s area to the square of the length of its enclosing boundary. There are others. Of course, analyzing the composition of each district in terms of voter registration, ethnicity and many other parameters also is possible. Predicting and comparing how various districts would vote in future elections based upon voting history is another capability.
Some white hats advocate drawing districts so as to minimize the difference in “wasted votes” between factions. Wasted votes are defined as those over and above the votes that were required to elect a candidate plus those cast for losing candidates. This is a good and clever idea theoretically and in paper examples, but in practice would turn out to be based upon Democrat and Republican registration and/or voting history. This completely disregards other parties and those who have made it clear that they do not affiliate with either the Ds or the Rs. The non-D/non-R “faction” is growing, is approaching a majority and is much larger than either of the two old, declining parties.
The white hats have been proposing ways to reign in the black hats by deploying the tools they have developed. No such “controls” have yet been adopted. As we will learn in a later lesson, that probably is a good thing.
Finally, it has occurred to some that computers might be programmed to draw electoral districts automatically. Stay tuned.