16 April 2013

James Bozeman Giving Faculty Fellowship Presentation on the Mathematics of Drawing Electoral Districts

MATH VERSUS GERRYMANDERING. Gerrymandering is a “form of redistricting in which electoral districts or constituency boundaries are manipulated for political advantage.”This can extend to members of a racial, linguistic, religious or a class group, and often favors incumbents. The combination of computer software and the development of detailed voter databases have made gerrymandering more precise. Political parties gather information about every household including party registration, campaign donations, and the number of times residents previously voted. When combined with other predictors of voting behavior such as age, income, race, or education level, this information allows gerrymandering politicians to accurately predict a district’s voting behavior.

 

On Thursday, April 25, Dr. James Bozeman will present his “Faculty Fellowship” presentation, which addresses the mathematical and computer measurements of the shape of legislative districts. Because these measurements can indicate gerrymandering, this research is a real-world application of mathematical principles. Some of Bozeman’s students will also present their work.

 

Bozeman explained the research, “The work uses mathematics and computer programming to determine whether or not a current or proposed legislative district is “nicely” or “poorly” shaped. A poorly shaped district may indicate partisan gerrymandering. This is accomplished by calculating a number between 0 and 1 based on the geometry of the district. The closer this number is to 1, the “nicer” the district is. The closer to 0, the more poorly shaped it is.

 

Bozeman was approached in 2002 by Progressive State House Representative Steve Hingtgen to testify about a bill Hingtgen was proposing. The bill included a mathematical measure of the shape of legislative districts. The measures are used to try to avoid partisan redistricting—one of Hingtgen’s goals. The bill never made it out of committee, but Bozeman’s interest was piqued. He began a research project in 2002 with math student Lauren Pyrik. Another student, Matt Pilling, continued the research. Both of these efforts led to publications.

 

The lecture is in the Burke Mountain Room on the fourth floor of the Samuel Read Hall Library and Academic Center at 4 p.m. It is free and open to the public. The presentation is part of Lyndon State College’s Spring 2013 Lecture and Arts Series, and is underwritten in part by the Harriett M. Sherman Lecture Fund.

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