Paper ‘Cracks Code’ of Partisan Gerrymandering

A Think Progress story referred to it as “the most exciting attack on partisan gerrymandering in over a decade.”

The “it” the author refers to is a new paper (by law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos and political scientist Eric McGhee) that debuted a mathematical formula judges can use to determine if a particular legislative district is “suspect” (i.e.: gerrymandered).

Here’s a little bit of background from Think Progress:

(The authors’) central insight is that gerrymanders operate by forcing the disadvantaged party to “waste” votes. Some voters are shunted into districts where their party’s candidate has no chance of winning, a process known as “cracking.” Others are crammed into districts that so overwhelmingly favor their party’s candidate that casting an additional ballot for that candidate merely adds padding to a foregone conclusion, a process known as “packing.”
“A gerrymander,” Stephanopoulos and McGhee write, “is simply a district plan that results in one party wasting many more votes than its adversary.”
To sniff out possibly gerrymanders, Stephanopoulos and McGhee begin by counting each party’s “wasted” votes. As the three-judge panel hearing the Whitford case explained in a recent opinion, a wasted vote occurs when a voter either casts a ballot “for a candidate who lost the election” (suggesting that the voter was targeted by cracking), or if they cast a ballot “for the winning candidate, but in excess of what the candidate needed to win.”

It should be noted that this formula is now the subject of a federal lawsuit (Whitford v. Nichol out of Wisconsin) and survived two motions to quash the case. Voting rights advocates say it could end up in front of the United States Supreme Court.

We recommend that you read the whole report, which can be viewed on the Think Progress website.