Tufts University professor has a proposal to combat gerrymandering: give more geometry experts a day in court. Moon Duchin is an associate professor of math and director of the Science, Technology and Society program at Tufts. She realized last year that some of her research about metric geometry could be applied to gerrymandering — the practice of manipulating the shape of electoral districts to benefit a specific party, which is widely seen as a major contributor to government dysfunction. At first, she says, her plans were straightforward and research-oriented — “to put together a team to do some modeling and then maybe consult with state redistricting commissions.” But then she got more creative. “I became convinced that it’s probably more effective to try to help train a big new generation of expert witnesses who know the math side pretty well,” she says. “It’s clear that this is the right moment to do this kind of work. We want to harness all that energy.” In part, she says, that’s because court cases over voting districts have risen since a 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Former President Barack Obama is said to be making redistricting a focus after his presidency, and the former attorney general Eric H. Holder Jr. is leading a new Democratic group targeting gerrymandering ahead of 2021, the next time district lines will be drawn.
Before the Shelby decision, some states and localities with a history of racial discrimination were required to get federal clearance before redrawing electoral districts or making other changes in their election laws.
“Changes to voting rules that used to be considered by courts before they could be implemented,” Ms. Duchin says, “are now implemented first and the courts consider them after the fact.” Because of the increase in cases challenging new electoral maps, she says, there’s a need for expert witnesses who understand the mathematical concepts applicable to gerrymandering.