Political map-making requires a tedious series of adjustments, each one with the potential to disrupt the balance.
Trying to evenly redistribute population among districts — required by the U.S. Constitution each decade after the census count — may mean dividing a county or city. A district that’s physically compact might also be one that splits up a minority community.
But what if a computer could do all that monotonous work instead?
That’s a question a group of a dozen mathematicians and data scientists put to the test using advanced computational technology — until now only used in court battles — to run through millions of redistricting scenarios. They argue that by using science they’ve created a set of exceptionally fair congressional and legislative redistricting maps for Minnesota, ones no expert or a team of experts could hope to draw themselves.
“The number of combinations is astronomical,” said Sam Hirsch, an attorney who has been involved in redistricting cases for decades and helped assemble the group. “A decade ago, the kinds of things we’re doing were not known and were not possible.”
Their maps are among roughly a half-dozen submitted for consideration to a five-judge panel appointed by the state Supreme Court, which will draw new political borders in the event the divided Legislature cannot by a Feb. 15 deadline. The process has been kicked to the courts each decade for the past 50 years.