For the fifth year, Cap Times reporters asked several Madisonians to share their "bright ideas" for the new year. We will publish the 2018 edition of Bright Ideas throughout the next week.
The Wisconsin Assembly has a single overriding purpose: to represent the people of the state. It’s not doing that. Our legislative district map, drawn by Republican legislators and operatives in 2010, is gerrymandered, designed to pack Democratic-leaning voters into a few districts, leaving the rest of the state with a modest but decisive lean toward Republicans. Even if a substantial majority of Wisconsinites vote Democratic, the map we have will likely preserve Republican control of the Legislature.
Wisconsin’s government says there’s no Constitutional reason the map has to be fair. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide the legal point this spring. What can we do besides wait for the justices to weigh in?
We can do math. At workshops around the country, including one in Madison, mathematicians are joining with political scientists and lawyers to work on problems that mix all three fields. Can we make a definition of gerrymandering that works both mathematically and legally? Can we quantify just how unfair a district map is? What are the best ways for lawyers to present and assess statistical evidence about voting? At Tufts University, the Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group is crunching ward-by-ward data in all 50 states, so researchers can get a clear picture of which maps are skewed to favor which parties, and how much so.
Math can’t make our democracy fair. But it can help us reason clearly about what counts as fair and what counts as rigged. We need that clarity if we’re going to move back toward a system where state representatives represent the state.