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Open Source Tool Lets Anyone Redistrict New York 102

Posted by timothy
from the move-staten-island-a-bit-closer-to-the-bronx dept.
First time accepted submitter Micah_Altman writes "As the next redistricting battle shapes up in New York, members of the public have an opportunity to create viable alternatives. Unlike the previously reported crowdsourced redistricting of Los Angeles, the public mapping of New York is based on open source software — anyone can use this to set up their own public web-based redistricting effort."
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Open Source Tool Lets Anyone Redistrict New York

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  • by Patrick May (305709) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:43AM (#38116956)
    Districting only serves to virtually guarantee safe seats for the incumbent parties. We need at large elections to increase the representation of minority views and weaken the established players.
    • by sribe (304414) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:46AM (#38116982)

      Districting only serves to virtually guarantee safe seats for the incumbent parties. We need at large elections to increase the representation of minority views and weaken the established players.

      At-large elections eliminate representation of minority views, duh (consult a history book or two about the civil rights struggles of the 60s).

      • by Patrick May (305709) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:19PM (#38117218)
        Perhaps you should spend some time looking into alternative voting systems before flaming on Slashdot. In an at large system with N representatives for M people, any candidate getting M/N votes will get a seat. That increases the chances of a minority view being heard. In a gerrymandered system, the incumbent parties can ensure that the minority view is spread out over every district, diluting it to insignificance.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by mysidia (191772) *

          In a gerrymandered system, the incumbent parties can ensure that the minority view is spread out over every district, diluting it to insignificance.

          In a gerrymandered system, incumbent parties can ensure that the majority view is spread out over every district, diluting it into a minority.

          Minority opinions are not supposed to be what get representatives elected.

          An optimal election looks like this: If a state has 5 seats, you get a pool of candidates, say 60 people who want to be a representative.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            An optimal election looks like this: [...]

            lol, what a load of crap. maybe you should read about electoral systems before spouting off. here's a start: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_transferable_vote

          • by Rolgar (556636)

            The majority would get to pick every candidate. Say, 55% of your voters decide to get a particular set of candidates elected, and they focus all votes on a particular candidate, and get him elected. Then for the second vote, they change and select their second favorite candidate. Executed on a nationwide level, a party with a slight minority would have a significant edge in representation in Congress.

            A much better way: Every voter picks their party. Each party gets representation based on the number of vote

            • by mysidia (191772) *

              A much better way: Every voter picks their party. Each party gets representation based on the number of voters registered. Party holds an internal election to choose their own representatives, guaranteeing each voter is represented by somebody of their own party assuming their party has enough voters to qualify for a representative.

              This isn't better... this substitutes voters picking a leader based on the merits of the person for the office and the candidates' political views and how they will represent

      • by thue (121682) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:27PM (#38117282) Homepage

        We have an at-large election system here in Denmark, as in much of continental Europe. This proportional representation [wikipedia.org] gives each voter a vastly better opportunity to vote for the candidate which best represents him, instead of just having to vote for the lesser of two evils or throwing your vote away.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Oh, please, the political situation in Europe isn't any better than it is in the US, you just have more illusion of variety due to the larger number of parties. When push comes to shove, you don't have any more variety than we do, it's just we have less party unity than you do.

          People keep repeating that logic and it's no more true now than it was decades back. The party affiliation means little to nothing when politicians aren't required to vote with their party. Some of the Democrats in our legislature are

          • by svick (1158077)

            From time to time, new political views get wider attention in Europe. In the past it was the greens, now it's the pirates. And they get into parliaments.

            I really don't think it's just an illusion of variety. And I've yet to see any such political party have any kind of success in the US.

            • From time to time, new political views get wider attention in Europe. In the past it was the greens, now it's the pirates. And they get into parliaments.

              From time to time new political views get wider attention in the US. In the past it was the neocons, now it's the Tea Party. And they get into office.

              I've yet to see any such political party have any kind of success in the US.

              That's because our political parties contain a much wider spectrum of opinion than yours. Blue Dog Democrats have vastly different views than Progressive Democrats or the Christian Left, for example. Log Cabin Republicans have a different agenda than the Tea Party, Neocons or the Religious Right. These are just a few examples. In Europe these would all b

              • by svick (1158077)

                Okay, let's say I support one of those sub-parties? How do I vote for them? I can't. I have to vote for the superparty they are part of and hope that the elected representative will be from the subparty I like.

                I don't think that's much of a solution. Why not have one superparty and decide everything by intra-party politics? Oh, wait, we (the eastern Europe) tried that and it didn't work. I have a feeling the US system is dangerously close to that.

                • by Wild_dog! (98536)

                  I agree... there is a dilution of ones voting power. One gets the choice of voting for some of the things one wants and accepts that a lot of other things they don't want will dominate as well.
                  It is a choice between greater evils rather than a choice for those who will do most of what one wants.
                  Not saying it is bad, but it is demoralizing and doesn't lead one to feel like their vote actually matters.

              • by The Conductor (758639) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @05:52PM (#38119558)
                I like to describe it like this: First-past-the-post forces coalition building into the political parties, whereas proportional elections have coalition-building in the legislature. Gerrymandering is like coding theory: The party in control of the districts can trade margin of victory (bit error rate) for number of seats (data rate), but if you design for a large number of seats (high data rate) a small decline in popular support (signal-to-noise ratio) will cause a large number of seats to flip (catastrophic rise in bit error rate).
          • by Ihmhi (1206036)

            Third party votes in America are usually anywhere from 1% to 10% of the vote depending on who's being elected. I think we have a grand total of 1 senator who isn't a Republican or Democrat (he's an Independent.)

            Under a proportional system, we would have 1-10% of the House and Senate (that's 1-10 Senators and ~6 - ~54 Representatives in the House) in third party control. Laws have absolutely been decided on a 10% margin, and there's been more than a few controversial congressional decisions that were decided

            • by AC-x (735297)

              Third party votes in America are usually anywhere from 1% to 10% of the vote depending on who's being elected. I think we have a grand total of 1 senator who isn't a Republican or Democrat (he's an Independent.)

              Don't forget that this is skewed by the voting system as many people will vote for the lesser of two evils instead of voting for their true preference, so I'd expect under a proportional system for there to be a large increase in votes to 3rd parties.

          • by chrb (1083577)

            The party affiliation means little to nothing when politicians aren't required to vote with their party.

            But politicians often are required to vote with their party. What do you think whips [wikipedia.org] are for? Politicians who defy the whip can be subject to a number of penalties, including removal from any official office they hold, and being kicked out of the party itself (which is effectively removal from public politics, since they are unlikely to re-win their seat running as an independent).

        • by todrules (882424)
          Right. They have that in Germany, too. It's one of the reasons that the Nazi party got the influence they did back in the 1930s. If they had districts, they probably never would have had any influence.
          • by chrb (1083577)

            Not true. The Nazis were a populist party and would have gained power anyway. Goering [slashdot.org] testified at his war crimes trial was that, under the British "first past the post" system (which apparently he was a fan of), the Nazis would have won *every seat* at the Reichstag in the 1932 national elections (based on 37.8% of the vote). In the 1938 Anschluss vote, Hitler apparently got the vote of 99.73% of the Austrian people.

            I don't know why it's such a surprise that people would vote for this; it is human instin

        • by westlake (615356)

          We have an at-large election system here in Denmark, as in much of continental Europe. This proportional representation gives each voter a vastly better opportunity to vote for the candidate which best represents him

          Demark has a population of about 5.5 million. 90% Danish. That is half the population of metro New York City and not remotely as ethnically and culturally diverse. Denmark [wikipedia.org]

          Adovocates of proportional representation in the states tend to ignore domestic cultural and political realities..

          The American voter wants a clear decision.

          The amiable non-entites that are everyone's second and third choices do not interest him at all.

          Absent some national calamity, he will not stray far from the centrist or center-r

          • > The American voter wants a clear decision.

            I hope not. If you're sufficiently enamored of strong leadership at the expense of representation, only the führer principle will do.

        • by Akzo (1079039)
          As a New Zealander I have to say MMP [wikipedia.org] is a pretty nice voting system.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        Now if someone could explain why people have gut reactions like this against any suggestion that gerrymandering is anything less than the one true god-given way to run elections, even though the evidence against its usefulness mounts higher every election, we might learn how to do away with this sort of unthinking gospel-following fervor.

        What IS it with you people and insisting on a system geared toward rampant abuse and then letting people with interest in misrepresenting the representation do exactly that

        • by hedwards (940851)

          The problem is that the majority party has to deliberately cede power to the minority party and the voters tend to want their candidates to run the show. It's just like taxes and spending cuts, most people are surprisingly fine with both as long as they hit other people. As soon as it's their taxes and their programs they're suddenly significantly less willing to allow it.

        • by todrules (882424)

          What IS it with you people and insisting on a system geared toward rampant abuse and then letting people with interest in misrepresenting the representation do exactly that until the cows come home?

          Because we like cows?

    • by FooAtWFU (699187) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:03PM (#38117112) Homepage
      And the incumbents / established players in charge of districting to begin with... they are going to cede their power and weaken themselves why exactly now?
      • by hedwards (940851)

        That's one of the rare situations where Initiatives are a reasonable response. Politicians aren't going to do it because the voters don't really want them to, and the ones that do aren't large enough in numbers to make it happen.

    • What might be interesting is an at-large election to vote for re-districting proposals. The top vote getting proposals that, in aggregate, received 50% of the vote could run-off again and again until we spend our entire lives voting on how we vote... that would be fair and equitable, right?

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Bullshit, that's a false dichotomy here in WA and in IA there's districting that's not done on a partisan basis. The net result is that any decisions that benefit one party tend to benefit the other.

      If you think that at large elections help minority views, then you haven't been following politics around here. The GOP has for years been trying to split the state for the purposes of electing senators so that they don't have to convince urban voters from the western portion of the state to vote for them.

  • by fsckmnky (2505008) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @11:59AM (#38117080)
    Solve the problem once, and not more than once.

    Standardize on a re-districting algorithm, and use it.

    Social Securities funds wouldn't be in the toilet, if someone just hit re-calc once a year, on the spreadsheet that contained formulas that accounted for the dynamic nature of the population. Instead, we get to argue over static numbers until the sun explodes.

    Dumb.
    • by scamper_22 (1073470) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:58PM (#38117474)

      That never works because by in large people are not willing to pay for the costs of all the programs they like.

      Bill Clinton tried to do that with Medicare. Payouts were tied to funding... automatic cuts were supposed to be made. And of course the medical associations and lobbyists made a fuss.. the cuts are postponed...

      It would be the same with social security. If the plans calls for automatic increases in contributions, people will make a fuss. If it calls for cuts in benefits.. people will make a fuss... and the government will cave.

      You can see this in action. Sweden for example is known to have one of the best 'formula' based pension systems...taking into account the economy, age, expected life span... All was wonderful of course when nothing bad was demanded by the formula. When the economic downturn occurred and it demanded pension cuts for the elderly... the government caved. it compensated for the loss of pension income with tax cuts for the elderly to make up the difference. So basically, even the swedes were unable to follow the formula when it came to take the bad side of the formula.

      If things are not politically possible, they're not possible. Not recognizing that... is even dumber.

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        You gave examples of how formulas for very complex and dynamic specific budgets failed to model them to the satisfaction of the people.

        The redistricting problem is one that a formula can model well, if it's parametrized to include the voting of the people. Just as the Constitution is a set of rules that's highly parameterized by voting (at multiple levels, in multiple cycles) to select the actual implementation, and even the judging after accusations a person has broken a law.

      • by fsckmnky (2505008)

        If things are not politically possible, they're not possible. Not recognizing that... is even dumber.

        Politics has little to do with reality. You can argue over whether people are paying enough, or too little, or receiving enough, or too little ... but in doing so you are operating a political system that ignores reality and creates and solves the same problem over and over again, for the sake of solving a problem. No amount of democratic procedure can solve a reality based problem, due to the fact that democracy ( allowing everyone to have an opinion, or a vote, and using the results to pass legislation )

        • I'm sorry... I really don't get your point. I'm honestly unsure if you're agreeing or disagreeing with me.

          If what you're saying is there are rational reasonable ways to solve a problem, then I'm afraid, I just have to repeat my line:

          "If things are not politically possible, they're not possible. Not recognizing that... is even dumber."

          Not taking into account human variables is simply ignorance. One, I'd argue the vast majority of academics are guilty of. It's like trying to solve a math equation while pur

          • by fsckmnky (2505008)

            Not taking into account human variables is simply ignorance.

            from wikipedia:

            Economics is the social science that analyzes the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services[1]

            Economic values *are* human variables. I didn't realize this needed to be stated.

            The political aspect of a topic, for example, social security, is "Do we need to provide a mechanism for retirement and disability income." It is a yes or no question, and needs to be resolved politically. That debate occoured a long time ago. The economic mechanics and mathematical structure of providing and budgeting for said service, is a mathematical formula, which can be optimized, and is devoid of polit

    • by hedwards (940851)

      The solution is to make the process either non-partisan or bipartisan. Doing that has done wonders for our local politics.

      Even better if you institute a top two primary system. We often times end up choosing between Democrats and in some other parts of the state they choose between Republicans, but it has the effect of pushing the legislature towards the middle as in all cases the less extreme candidate won. Normally in cases like this the more extreme candidate would win as that would be what it would take

      • by Nimey (114278)

        The budget supercommitte is bipartisan. That's /not/ a guaranteed recipe for success.

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Except that in the case of the supercomittee they can just do nothing and deal with the consequences of the default plan. In terms of districting there is no default, and as a result the people selected to make the decision reflect that.

          In terms of the supercomittee on the budget, that's more or less what I'd expect, nobody told the GOP that they lost the 2008 elections and they've been behaving like self entitled brats ever since. The Democrats can't cave as doing so is just going to encourage that sort of

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        The solution is to give a simple framework in which the people can vote for their own district's boundaries, and then vote for the officials representing the district. Parties in general are anti-democratic, and have worked against both democracy and the republic's integrity. Even if we let these private political clubs exist, with their frameworks for graft, bribery and other corruption, they should have no special advantage in getting on a ballot. Anyone with a minimum fraction (like 1-5%) of eligible vot

        • by hedwards (940851)

          Indeed, seems the only thing that the parties around here can agree upon is that the voters don't know how to pick candidates for the final election. They sued to get the previous system tossed and have been trying to get the new system tossed as well.

          • by Doc Ruby (173196)

            Politicians agreeing that voters don't know how to pick politicians is the most powerful truism of all.

        • > I favor letting each zipcode vote

          That would open the door to gerrymandered zipcodes, I would think.

          • by Doc Ruby (173196)

            The zipcodes are already set, and have an accepted basis for setting them. Gerrymandering zipcodes would be a lot more obvious than gerrymandering districts, which makes it harder. But of course ultimately any basis for districting can be gerrymandered, if the people don't pay attention. Zipcodes are easier to pay attention to.

            The main advantage to zipcodes is that they're small in population, and lots of their population sees each other at the post office, parks, and other, private places in the area. Zipc

    • by trenobus (730756)

      The general principle is that if people can agree on the goals of some process or system, an algorithmic or machine learning approach may be the best way to instantiate the agreement. For the principles of drawing political districts, it seems to me that such an agreement might be achievable. Whether geographic political districts still make sense is another matter.

      Of course there should be a way to appeal the decisions of a computer program to a human authority, based on either a failure of the program t

      • by Hentes (2461350)

        There are already many algorithms [wikipedia.org] for similar problems.

      • by Doc Ruby (173196)

        Funny how the current beneficiaries think Social Security is pretty great, as has always been the case since SS was implemented. And funny how the people who dislike it always dislike it only in principle, until they receive it.

        That sounds like SS is pretty great. Even if the people suck.

        • by fsckmnky (2505008)
          Yes. It's also funny how it's been known for 60's years Social Security was going to run out of money, but the current crop of beneficiaries, who marched the streets in the name of fairness, equality, and civility, didn't do a damn thing about it. They left it for their kids to sort out.

          A simple dynamic algorithm that took into account cost of living, average income, worker / beneficiary ratio, with some ARIMA sprinkled in for adaptation would have insured the proper payments in -> out. If you wanted t
          • by Doc Ruby (173196)

            Except SS isn't running out of money. Because the current beneficiaries, both Baby Boomers and older, did what was necessary: increased their contributions starting in the 1980s to cover the current beneficiaries. Though they deserve little credit for it; it was Alan Greenspan who raised taxes to protect Americans' pensions. Just as most Baby Boomers and their parents never marched in any streets, but rather voted for what those who did march opposed.

            Eventually, in the late 2030s, SS might not have the mone

            • by fsckmnky (2505008)

              Except SS isn't running out of money.

              Wikipedia ... "Assets in 2010 were $2.6 trillion, an amount that is expected to be adequate to cover the next 10 years. In 2023, total income and interest earned on assets are projected to no longer cover expenditures for Social Security, as demographic shifts burden the system. By 2035, the ratio of potential retirees to working age persons will be 37 percent — there will be less than three potential income earners for every retiree in the population. The trust fund would then be exhausted by 2036 w

              • by fsckmnky (2505008)
                fyi ... My point was more about the fact that, Social Security, the issue and the program, is in fact, dynamic in nature. A dynamic algorithm, that continually adjusted to insure its integrity, is more productive, than the members of congress, constantly wasting time and effort, manually adjusting the algorithm by committee.

                It wasnt my intention to imply, Soc Sec as a mechanism is doomed, or unfixable. Only that it would be nice if congress could finally stop arguing about it, and fucking with it, and use
              • by Doc Ruby (173196)

                Social Security well prepared for retirement of baby boomers in 2016 [epi.org]
                According to the latest annual report of the Social Security trustees, 2016 is the first year in which Social Security will no longer receive more in taxes than it pays out in benefits (SSA 2001). Yet from 2016 to 2024, the Social Security trust fund will actually continue to grow as its assets earn interest. Then, from 2025 to 2038, Social Security will be able to meet its obligations to retired baby boomers by selling its accumulated ass

                • by fsckmnky (2505008)

                  "make small changes"

                  You really have missed the entire point of this post, while simultaneously providing evidence to back it up.

                  Keep up the good work Euler.

                  • by Doc Ruby (173196)

                    Nobody denies that some changes are necessary. What some people are lying to say is that it needs either radical change, or should be eliminated.

                    Even without changes the fund only grows until 2024. Even without changes the fund pays full benefits through 2038. I really don't know what the point of your post is now, but the point about SS is simply that it needs only small changes to remain the most successful and popular government program of all time, except perhaps the Revolutionary War and WWII.

  • Let them eat cake (Score:5, Insightful)

    by sgt scrub (869860) <saintium@@@yahoo...com> on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:06PM (#38117134)

    Shouldn't it be 3d? That way they can draw lines so people living on top floors can vote and the people on the ground floor can eat cake.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Easy: You can vote if you live in Manhattan and your residence is above 200 feet above MCPL (mean central park level).

  • Ooh, I want One! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Greyfox (87712) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:06PM (#38117136) Homepage Journal
    Since we're redistricting this year anyway, I want my own one-house district! A representative will have to work hard to gain all the votes in Brucistan, but it will be well worth making the effort!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Would the candidate not be required to reside in Brucistan in order to be on the ticket?

      • by Soralin (2437154)

        Greyfox votes for Greyfox to be representative of Greyfox. Greyfox wins 100% of the vote.

  • TFA says they're gonna take the results to Albany. Is the state under any obligation to look at this?

    Also, on a somewhat related note, is there any desire amongst Americans to have proportional representation? There's pros and cons of course.

  • Not really useful? (Score:5, Informative)

    by el_flynn (1279) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @12:25PM (#38117266) Homepage

    The tool just teaches you how to redistrict - but has absolutely no real-life outcome. "It's full of smoke-filled back room dealmaking by political insiders with little public input" - highly doubtful that this will ever change.

    It's like watching Man vs Wild.

    • by Doc Ruby (173196)

      The redistricting that state politicians actually enact comes from the people who have access to those politicians. The people with access have tools to create and analyze the districting that serves them best.

      Until now, the public hasn't had a tool like that, so the people with access have all the advantages. Those people still have their access advantage, but that's partly because most people never have anything worthwhile to say to the politicians, certainly not in a form that politicians can understand.

    • by will_die (586523)
      It also ignores all the weird legal and court based rulings that have to be followed.
      For instance in Texas they are in a new redistricting and had the courts disallow the recent attempt not because they cut out minorities, they increased the number of district with a majority of minorities but because they did not account for the historic voting rate of people in those new districts.
      Try configuring all the laws like that into some software that any person can use.
  • Is it like Civil Service [youtube.com] game advertized in GTA IV radio?
  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Sunday November 20, 2011 @02:54PM (#38118286) Homepage Journal

    It's not obvious from the link to the blog how to get the source code. But you can get it [publicmapping.org], and read how to [publicmapping.org] set it up either on your own server or the Amazon hosting the project seems to prefer. The source is hosted at github, though there's a required R stats package hosted at sourceforge.

  • I want to use this SW to redistrict NY composed of its zipcode areas. Anyone know where I can get the zipcode population and boundaries GIS data, and have ideas on how to integrate that data with the source code [publicmapping.org] of this project's app?

    FWIW, I want to use other zipcode data, the demographics data, to aggregate zipcodes into the districts. I also want to simulate the self-selection aggregation method, where each zipcode's voters vote with which of the other zipcodes bordering theirs they want their zipcode to

  • ...given that they don't seem to have any problem convincing my/your/our members of Congress to represent them instead of us?
  • Districting is clearly a mistake as geography isn't the only thing guiding people's wishes for their representatives. However these are the rules, so maybe you could use unsupervised learning on political surveys with geographic data to create the districts. That way at the very least people will be represented in a way that has the least conflict between the wishes of members of the district and the politicians that represent them.
  • Disallow concave redistricting shapes

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