At the Intersection of Math, Geography, and Politics

Which would you rather have, a town council made up of at-large members or a town council made up of representatives from specific districts? The first is where each one is elected by the entire town and the second is where a council member is voted for only by residents in that district. If the answer is the latter, then you need to consider how the districts should be drawn.

That’s the work that Professor Moon Duchin at Tufts University is doing: applying research in the field of metrical geometry on mathematical measures of compactness to the problem of drawing political districts. She says:

People just have the idea that it means the shape shouldn’t be too weird, shouldn’t be too eccentric; it should be a kind of reasonable shape. Lots of people have taken a swing at that over the years. Which definition you choose actually has stakes. It changes what maps are acceptable and what maps aren’t. If you look at the Supreme Court history, what you’ll see is that a lot of times, especially in the ’90s, the court would say, Look, some shapes are obviously too bizarre but we don’t know how to describe the cutoff. How bizarre is too bizarre?

When districts are drawn compactly, they are fair.  When they aren’t you get gerrymandering, as in this example:

map showing two discontiguous areas making up one district
Illinois’ 4th Congressional District, 108th Congress

Learn more about redistricting (also known as reapportionment) in WorldView Software’s U.S. Government Map: Massachusetts 4th Congressional District.

[The featured image is the original cartoon of “The Gerry-Mander”, the political cartoon that led to the coining of the term. The district depicted in the cartoon was created by Massachusetts legislature to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican party candidates of Governor Elbridge Gerry over the Federalists in 1812. By Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835) and originally published in the Boston Centinel, 1812.]


BulbgraphOnOffWhen assigning students an internet project, remind them they can refer to the “Internet Research Primer” tutorial for help.


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akamran2014

Dr. Annelies Kamran is Senior Editor at WorldView Software, Inc.

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