Thursday, January 27, 2011

Operations Research and gerrymandering

INFORMS blog challenge for January involves Operations Research and politics.  While public debate on politics will never change perhaps one thing that can change is the involvement better decision making to solving some of the political discourse.

One area of politics is the topic of gerrymandering.  For those that are not familiar to gerrymandering it is the process of resetting electoral boundaries for voting purposes.  Gerrymandering is a hot topic around any election because it is usually the party in power controls the rights to reset the electoral boundaries.  This leads to an obvious advantage to the party as they can maintain a seat in a legislature with setting boundaries based on past voting behavior.

Operations Research can be a valuable asset to the process of redistricting.  In fact Operations Research has been very much involved in redistricting for at least 50 years.  Decisions to draw electoral lines can follow any number of constructions including demographics, population centers, municipality boundaries or industry types.  As information abounds more freely there is more opportunity to use it for decision making.  It seems every new census brings more available data.  The growth of the internet has allowed information to be available more openly.  Opportunities should grow in Operations Research to provide redistricting decision makers the information for informed analysis.

Perhaps one of the better uses of Operations Research could be the ethical context of the gerrymandering debate.  I have often heard it debated that Operations Research may have created the politically polarized country we have today.  The same tools of Operations Research could be used to allow transparency in the redistricting process.  It could be useful for citizens to know how probable or likely outcomes of elections based on redistricting suggestions.  Websites like shows how money influences party affiliation and elections.   Perhaps similar websites can emerge on electoral districts and the legislation that helped create them.

The debate of gerrymandering will last for centuries I am sure.  I believe Operations Research can play a vital part in the debate.   Information is more open and easy to access than ever.  Let's use that to our best ability and help inform the voting electorate.

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