On this day in 1812 Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a redistricting law that created legislative districts advantageous to the Jeffersonian Democrats- forever associating his name with the process of redrawing voting districts to give unfair advantage to one party.

Almost 200 years later, Gerrymandering is alive and well in state politics- especially in Ohio.

Lawmakers on both sides are constantly battling to control the process of redistricting – which happens every 10 years after census numbers provide better insight into the population in different parts of the state- so they can draw the lines in favor of their own party.

In Ohio- the decisions are made by an Apportionment Board made up of the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and a lawmaker from each party.

And with the Dems currently holding 2 or these three important state offices, the Republicans are worried that in 2010 – when Ohio will again redraw the lines- they will have little say in the process.

As a result, republican lawmakers have been looking for ways around the problem.

I read about one such attempt today in a Dispatch editorial that urges lawmakers to support a new measure being introduced by Republican State Senator Gary Cates that “would add a member from each party to the current five-member State Apportionment Board.”

The stated purpose of Cates’ solution is to depoliticize the process – and he plans to do this by ADDING MORE POLITICAL PARTY MEMBERS to the process!

That makes absolutely no sense. None whatsoever.

So what’s a state to do if they want an unbiased, non-politicized solution to redistricting?

The answer, my friends, is called the Shortest splitline algorithm. It’s a simple algorithm that “uses only the shape of the state, the number N of districts wanted, and the population distribution as inputs.” And it can produce a completely unbiased set of voting districts- like this:

oh_final.png

Compare that to the actual voting districts in Ohio…

oh_districts_map.png

You can immediately see one big example of Gerrymandering in the 6th district… it’s the weird one that snakes up the right side of the state.

But Wikipedia details another good example right here in Columbus:

180px-columbus_ohio_congressional_districts.gif

An example of “cracking” style Gerrymandering, where the urban (and mostly liberal) concentration of Columbus, Ohio is split into thirds and then each segment outweighted by attachment to largely conservative suburbs.

Even though a fair and unbiased solution does exist to fix problems like this- it seems unlikely that we’ll see anyone propose any real solutions any time soon.

And with all the fuss about the dangers of electronic voting machines – I think Ohioans might not be ready to trust computers to lay out their voting districts just yet.

Oh well. Let’s just hope the Democrats stay in power through 2010.

 

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