Following the results of the 2020 census, all states will soon begin the process of redistricting, which could lead to unfair partisan advantages commonly known as gerrymandering. Ahead of this redistricting, some mathematicians are continuing to challenge partisan gerrymandering not only in North Carolina, but also across the country.
Gerrymandering is the practice of manipulating boundaries of an electoral district to favor a particular political party. This can make it so one party has an unfair advantage in elections which may not reflect the true opinions of constituents.
North Carolina is a prime example of gerrymandered state with courts previously ordering the state to redraw its districts because the districts discriminated against minority voters.
Jonathan Mattingly, a professor of mathematics and statistical science at Duke University, had his research recently used in North Carolina to challenge partisan gerrymandering in the state. This led to redrawn maps prior to the 2020 election.
How maps are drawn, Mattingly said, is indicative of how democracy works.
“I would submit that the most important thing that happens between you casting your vote and that vote being interpreted by electing representatives to send to either the State House, State Legislature or the U.S. House [of Representatives] is how the districts were drawn,” Mattingly said. “That’s the single most important thing in my opinion.”
Depending on how the districts are drawn, there could be different results with the same number of votes or the same result with a very different number of votes.
As a mathematician, Mattingly said maps he and others draw using statistical models should be used as comparisons to maps drawn by lawmakers. The models used the same criteria state lawmakers said were important in creating districts due to population changes and the need to maintain equal representation.
This could help clarify why certain districts may look different drawn by lawmakers than they would drawn by the mathematicians models based on the same considerations.
“Maybe there is an explanation,” said Mattingly, “but if there isn’t then the public should be worried that someone is trying to put their finger on the scales to benefit themselves in a way that is not part of the ethos of our democracy.”
Mattingly said a “good” map would show the consequences of the public changing their opinions. He said this is, however, generally not the case for most congressional district maps.
“The way the maps have been drawn they tend to, what’s called packing and cracking, they tend to push people from one party into high high numbers into certain districts,” said Mattingly, “and remove them from other districts in such a way the fix is in. The map becomes unresponsive to change in public opinion.”
This means there could be no effect on who is elected regardless of huge swings in public opinion. Because maps are redrawn every ten years, gerrymandered districts could impact election results and congressional representation for years to come.
Ahead of the upcoming redistricting following the results of the 2020 census, Mattingly said he hopes to see improved transparency of how the maps are drawn.
“I’d like there to be sunshine shining on this process in a way that is open and that we can have confidence that it was done in a way that will lead to elections that will really capture the will of the people and translate it into our representatives,” Mattingly said.
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