Friday, May 21, 2021

The Shortest-Splitline Algorithm

Recent posts herein have been parts of a series, your humble servant hereby mentions in the event it hasn’t been obvious. But events will intervene, and it is now timely and important to raise the issue of election integrity, since it is the subject of legislation currently pending in Congress that ostensibly seeks to make it easier for citizens to vote.

The “For the People Act” [1] is sweeping voter rights legislation that will never pass. The reason it will never pass is that there aren’t enough Democrats in the Senate to overcome a filibuster. And the Republicans aren’t going to vote for the legislation, because it has long been the case, and well known to be so, that Republican chances at electoral success diminish as more people show up at the polls to vote. Thus, the proverb that Republicans should pray for rain. [2]

Now that’s not a fact that Democrats should be proud of, but it is true nonetheless. And so, we can expect Republicans to always oppose anything that looks like it might bring out more voters.

The proposed legislation would do such things, in federal elections, as expand early voting, allow same-day registration, set up automatic registration, and require every state to have an independent commission for redistricting. [3]  

Now all of these things are worthy aspirations. But the Act suffers from the same malady that afflicts much of modern legislation: it’s too long, and tries to cover too much. Few will actually read the bill. This gives the likes of Ted Cruz cover to claim that the proposed legislation is trying to give illegal aliens the right to vote. [4]  

But perhaps it would be better if the elephant were eaten one bite at a time.

It is useful for public understanding of the issues if proposed legislation is confined to a single issue. It is also a practice that might aid politicians (or even citizens) to actually read the legislation they are voting on. I recognize what a cultural shift that would be for our modern Congress, and that it would debilitate their ability to engage in obfuscation. But can it be doubted that it would help citizens to understand better what their legislators are doing?

So, perhaps the For the People Act can be broken down into smaller bites; and my humble suggestion is that they first take up the issue of gerrymandering.

Gerrymandering has been with us since the beginning of the republic, and its essential unfairness has always been recognized by those who end up being underrepresented by the practice. But, in their saner moments, those who have benefited from it might rise to the level of admitting that it is indefensible.

The For the People Act would mandate the use of independent commissions, consisting of five Democrats, five Republicans, and five independents [5], thereby enshrining political party control over the process, and entrusting the future to human nature. But there is a simple mathematical process that could be used, which would be free of hominid fallibility: the shortest-splitline algorithm, proposed by the Center for Range Voting. [6]

Here’s how it would work. Begin by dividing the population of the state in question in half by using the shortest straight line possible. Then you divide those halves in half, again using the shortest straight line possible. Repeat until the number of districts required is achieved.

But what if a state has an odd number of districts, say, seven? Begin by dividing 7/2 which equals 3.5. Rounding up, that makes 4; rounding down, that makes 3. Then combine those numbers into the ratio 4:3. Then you divide the population, again using the shortest straight lines possible, according to that ratio. The 4 side will then be divided, again with the shortest straight lines possible into four equal groups. The 3 side will be divided, 3/2, to get 1.5. Rounded up, that’s 2, and rounded down that’s 1. The 1 group comprises a district, and the two remaining are halved using the shortest straight line.

Get it?

It makes more sense if you see it pictorially. Click on this link to see a video that explains it all with abundant clarity. The advantage of this method is that there “is one and only one drawing possible given the number of districts wanted, the map of the state, and the distribution of people inside it. Which of those people are Liberal, Conservative, Republican, Democrat, Black, White, Christian, Jewish, polka-dotted, or whatever has absolutely zero effect on the district shapes that come out. So you know the maps are going to be completely unbiased.” [7] And isn’t that what we want, after all?    

Some member of Congress should introduce a bill requiring the shortest-splitline algorithm method for drawing districts. And some member of every state legislature in the country should do the same. It would be interesting to see politicians trying to come up with a rationale to oppose it.