Technology can be a blessing for gerrymandering in Texas

by | Nov 15, 2019 | Policy, Politics

Computer algorithms have been used to make gerrymandering– a major problem in Texas — more partisan than ever. But they could also be used to make the redistricting process fairer. 

Gerrymandering involves drawing political district lines purposefully to favor one party. It’s the process of politicians picking their voters instead of voters picking their politicians. Under the GOP, Texas’ district lines have been drawn in ways that federal courts have repeatedly found to be racially discriminatory. Some districts are so ridiculously drawn that one company makes jewelry out of them.  

Engineering district lines dates back centuries, and advances in technology have taken the drawing process to new heights. Computer algorithms can now sift through vast quantities of data that would be incomprehensible to humans, and use that data to identify voting patterns. This in turn allows gerrymandering to be far more precise and scientific. 

Recently, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan warned of the risks that technology posed to American democracy in her dissent in a gerrymandering-related case. 

“Gerrymanders will only get worse (or depending on your perspective, better) as time goes on—as data becomes ever more fine-grained and data analysis techniques continue to improve,” she wrote. What was possible with paper and pen—or even with Windows 95—doesn’t hold a candle (or an LED bulb?) to what will become possible with developments like machine learning.” Machine learning in this case refers to the computer-generated algorithms.

The solution may be to fight fire with fire. Algorithms today have advanced to the point where they can do the redistricting themselves, and do so in a way that is more fair and less partisan if humans did it. “Bdistricting,” for instance, is an algorithm that can draw neat geometric shapes that reflect neighborhood boundaries rather than create squiggly, nonsensical lines that are common in gerrymandering. And “Auto-Redistrict” designs districts based on equality, minimizing differences like race and political leaning. 

The issue of redistricting will be an important one in Texas in 2021. Democrats are currently vying to flip the Texas House and, if successful, they will be in charge of undoing the heavily gerrymandered districts across the state. While not a panacea, technology can help bring social justice to the redistricting process.

Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Editorial Assistant/Staff Writer | + posts

William serves as a staff writer and editorial assistant at the Texas Signal, where he edits and posts articles and writes on topics ranging from national security to Louie Gohmert's plan to alter the orbit of planets. William has worked on Democratic campaigns in Texas, Colorado, and North Carolina and is an internet meme expert.

Are you tired of Texas Republicans pushing big lies and trying to steal your vote? So are we, that’s why we’re fighting back against the right-wing lie machine. Our commitment to ethical, fact-based journalism is vital to our democracy, and we can’t do it without you. Consider donating today to help us stay in this fight.

Continue Reading

Beto close to announcing bid against Abbott

Beto close to announcing bid against Abbott

Beto O’Rourke is close to officially announcing his run for Texas governor, both Axios and The New York Times are reporting. The former El Paso congressman received national fame when he challenged Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018 and came within three percentage points from...

5 big questions about the redistricting session

5 big questions about the redistricting session

With the third special session of 2021 getting underway tomorrow, Texas politics is again heating up to a boiling point. This set of maps may determine the fate of our district lines for the next decade, and we’re expecting a busy session. We’ve begun to see glimpses...