Gerrymandering: computers are impervious to power, users are not

Stony Brook University, New York, USA.

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Regarding the computing arms race in US voter redistricting (W. K. Tam Cho Nature 558, 487; 2018) between voting-rights advocates and users of sophisticated software for gerrymandering, a political solution could be simpler and more effective than a technological one.

Many criteria for electoral mapping compete with one another — such as population equality, compactness, maintenance of political and geographical boundaries and respect for communities of interest. Politicians can therefore argue for personally advantageous computer-optimized electoral maps while plausibly denying any nefarious intent to disenfranchise specific voters. However, turning the process over to an algorithm merely shifts the debate to the fairness of the algorithm itself. Computers might be impervious to the lure of power; their users are not.

Technology cannot readily resolve social problems that are based on conflicts over values and interests. To improve the ailing US political system, the country should instead consider a move to proportional representation — used in some form by many democratic nations. This would be much less susceptible to gerrymandering than the current winner-takes-all US voting system.

Nature 561, 33 (2018)

doi: 10.1038/d41586-018-06127-4
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