Lost amidst the frenzy of coverage of the Supreme Court’s rulings about the Affordable Care Act and same-sex marriage was a case involving the constitutionality of an independent commission to draw congressional districts in Arizona. Through a ballot measure in 2000, the state amended its constitution to create a nonpartisan group to draw up new districts; the ultimate goal is to reduce gerrymandering. Named for the salamander-shaped district drawn by Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry in 1812, gerrymandering occurs when a state legislature draws voting district lines in a manner that benefits the ruling party at the expense of the opposition. The goal is to consolidate power for the party in control, making it effectively impossible for the opposition to gain seats. Many state legislatures have engaged in this process recently, prompting grassroots movements advocating independent commissions to draw districts.
The Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that Arizona’s commission is constitutional. This begs the question: is there a truly unbiased method for drawing fair districts that yield more competitive elections? As it turns out, there are mathematical methods that could fit the bill.
There are three primary requirements in federal law when drawing congressional districts: they must distribute population evenly, be connected and be “compact.” The last term has never been rigorously defined. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 also insists on some guarantees of representation for minority voters.
Over the years state legislatures have employed various strategies to meet all these criteria – which has led to some interesting districts.
Full Article: Can math solve the congressional districting problem?.