We, and many other reformers, advocate for transferring the drawing power from politicians to independent commissions. However, drawing maps that satisfy the legal requirements is difficult, time consuming, expensive, and prone to bias when people do it, even if they are part of an independent commission. Because of this, we envision an improved process following the 2020 Census that starts with an algorithm like ours generating a series of high quality maps, which would then form the basis of the independent commission’s decision.
We propose that the first step of the process starts with using our SHP algorithm (or similar), where we generate on the order of trillions of legal district maps. The second step is to filter these trillions of maps down to the thousands that are fair.
Our definition of fairness relies on minimizing the expected efficiency gap. The efficiency gap is a measure of wasted votes between two parties: votes cast for the losing candidate, and surplus votes cast for the winning candidate over what they needed to win. Using past electoral data, we can estimate how a district will vote in congressional elections for an arbitrary candidate, and can therefore estimate for a particular plan the likely electoral outcome and the resulting partisan balance.
The second step is to filter the thousands of fair maps to tens or hundreds of fair maps that are also compact, competitive, preserve existing political boundaries, have enough majority-minority districts, and fulfill any further criteria the commission may have. If the commission's criteria is too strict, there may be no such map and they would need to relax their constraints and choose only the most important criteria.
The last step isn’t so much a step, but a back and forth between commissions, citizens, and quantitative researchers (such as ourselves) to settle on the final district plan. Compromise is inevitable, as there is no such thing as a perfect map. The key is transparency and awareness, so both citizens and independent commissioners can make informed decisions.
Beyond redistricting, there are a number of other basic reforms that we believe would improve our democratic process. The first is a final 5 open primary system, where all candidates, regardless of party, run in a common primary, and the top 5 finishers move on to the general election. This would reduce the temptation for political candidates to run more extreme campaigns to appease the very narrow primary electorate in their party. The second is implementing ranked choice voting for general elections, where voters rank the candidates by preference, enabling them to worry less about who is most “electable” and instead on who they most want to win. The third is to provide additional financial support for all candidates, reducing the role of money in elections. In combination with redistricting reform, we believe these improvements to the political process will usher in a new era of citizen empowerment.