Duke University professor says his mathematical approach can redraw district lines fairly

Durham County News

DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) – Phrases like “surgical precision” were used by judges as lawsuit after lawsuit was filed fighting the last GOP-devised legislative and congressional districts in North Carolina. That included challenges that made their way to the United States Supreme Court.

Case upon case, the maps were ruled unconstitutional. A number of those rulings were partially based on the testimony of Duke University Professor of Mathematics and Statistical Science Jonathan Christopher Mattingly.

The legislative delegation in North Carolina went from 10 Republicans and three Democrats, to eight Republicans and five Democrats after the courts ordered the maps be redrawn fairly.

“Historically, we’ve often had maps that were non-responsive to the people, that didn’t respond to the changing will of the people, and that’s not good for democracy,” Mattingly said.

The mathematician and his team have devised a way he believes can fix the long partisan fight of gerrymandering: math.

The district maps are re-drawn every 10 years by the party in power. Later this year, new census data will tell who lives where in North Carolina. Mattingly will use those numbers, public policy, court rulings, geography, population, and regions of ethnicity to calculate what a political outcome should look like based on votes. Those maps could then be compared to the maps drawn up by the state legislature. It’s an approach currently not used.

“In a simpler time, when we were a smaller country. maybe it made sense. But now we are trying to have a more inclusive and effective democracy, and you have to ask if that’s the best thing to do,” Mattingly said.

Mattingly said part of that democratic process should include transparency by laying everything out there for voters to decide whether they think district maps are drawn fairly.

“I think the real take-home message is you should care about redistricting because it’s the thing that sits between your vote at the ballot box, and how we interpret that election, how we decide who is elected.”

Mattingly will speak at the upcoming SIAM Annual Meeting presentation, entitled “Can You Hear the Will of the People in the Vote? Assessing Fairness in Redistricting.”  He will demonstrate how math will similarly be used across the U.S. this fall to show what fair, unbiased maps should look like ahead of redistricting. The event is July 20 and the public will have access to the presentation online.

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