New Research: Even Computers Can’t Remove Human Bias from Redistricting

We let computers to determine our Facebook feeds and drive our cars. Why not let technology replace the political and personal interests of people when it comes to drawing district lines?

In a recent column for Bridge Magazine, Eric Lupher, president of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, considers whether a computer algorithm could indeed solve the problem of human influences on mapmaking.

Michigan, which boasts some of the most egregiously gerrymandered districts in the country, is one of several states that will consider redistricting reform on November ballots. The proposal from citizen activist group Voters Not Politicians, seeks to end partisan lawmakers’ influence on elections by transferring district drawing power to a 13-member citizens commission with equal representation from Republicans, Democrats, and independent or third-party voters.

Lupher proposes removing “human meddling” entirely from the process by creating a computer algorithm to draw districts.

But in unpacking the idea, he finds new problems:

“Redistricting algorithms do not exist on a store shelf for the state to purchase and plug in the requisite number of districts into which the state should be sorted. Someone has to create the algorithm. And that person will bring some level of bias to the task.”

Then there’s the matter of what data to use in the algorithm. Plans for how to solve gerrymandering abound, which again requires a person to decide among the options a computer could generate.

Which is why Luther concludes by posing a new question that Michigan voters must answer in the upcoming ballot question: “who should be responsible for choosing the criteria used in these algorithms and selecting the final output that will sort us as voters?”

It’s a good question. The answer is the Fair Representation Act, a bill introduced in Congress that combines nonpartisan redistricting commissions with ranked choice voting and multi-winner districts to create fairer and democratic elections. We can end gerrymandering, no algorithm needed.

Read his full column here.

Editor’s Note: This quick take originally published on FairVote’s website. 

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