At 6’5″, Aaron Dennis towers over the whiteboard beside him. Blue marker in hand, the 22-year-old hunches slightly to jot down suggestions being shouted by a group of people deep into a brainstorming session. Dressed mostly in nerdy T-shirts (one reads Science! with a test tube in place of the letter i), they’re trying to come up with names for a tech tool they plan to build during a two-day hackathon at Tufts University’s data lab. The group includes computer science PhD candidates, mathematicians, political operatives, and experts in so-called geographic information systems, or GIS. That’s the mapping technology that underlies many apps and software tools that run our lives, from Google Maps to logistics software. It also comes in handy when you’re carving the American electorate into voting districts that favor your political party, a time-honored—and reviled—tradition known as gerrymandering.
That’s what’s brought the group here to Tufts. They’re participants in a weeklong summer camp of sorts for adults focused on how math and technology can be used to make electoral maps more fair, and to convince judges and juries when they’re not. Gerrymandering, they believe, allows politicians to choose their voters, not the other way around. This event is the first of many planned by the unfortunately named Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group at Tufts. You can think of the hackathon as the arts and crafts part of the week—a chance for the geeks to get their hands dirty. Attendees had to apply to this session; just 14 made the cut.
On the whiteboard Dennis has scribbled “Gerrymandr,” “Gerrymetrics,” and “Politishape.”
“What about Salamander?” offers 33-year-old Ariel M’ndange-Pfupfu, a data scientist from Washington, DC. Gerrymandering got its name, after all, in 1812, when then-Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry ratified a political map in which one district looked like a salamander.
Full Article: What I Learned at Gerrymandering Summer Camp | WIRED.