“How Computers Turned Gerrymandering Into a Science”

A post from Jordan Ellenberg, in the weekend NYT.

FWIW, I’m hardly a Luddite, but I’m a little skeptical of the gerrymandering-and-technology story, at least in its strongest form.  It is unquestionably true that technology has democratized both gerrymandering and gerrymandering analysis, by allowing more people entry into what had been an exclusive world even within an exclusive world.  And it’s true that technology has helped both gerrymanderers and gerrymandering detectives test their intuitions, pretty rigorously (which is really Jordan’s point), to ensure that they’re not unwittingly making mistakes.

But there have long been political savants who knew constituents’ voting and turnout habits street by street, including an assessment of the differential extent to which particular incumbents could withstand an otherwise generic partisan storm.  And those folks could construct astonishingly effective gerrymanders to protect personal and partisan power, without much supercomputing and without much screwing up.  I’m not sure how heavily California’s Burton-driven maps of the 80s depended on technology, and I’m not sure how much more effective at achieving their purpose they would have been with GIS.

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