Gerrymander Gobbledygook

Dear Duy Nguyen,

Kudos for your column on gerrymandering, especially your mention of objective quantitative measures of that deplorable practice (NYT, 1-13-22). But how do we get the courts to understand and adopt such measures? 

Chief Justice Roberts illustrated the problem when he dismissed the efficiency gap measure as “social science gobbledygook.” And many will admit that it is not easy to see how the Constitution guarantees equal efficiency gaps between parties in our elections. 

Perhaps a more transparent measure comes from the notion of proportional representation, whereby each party’s representation in Congress or the state legislature is proportional to its share of the popular vote. Thus, if the party wins X percent of the popular vote, it wins approximately X percent of the seats. This notion, one person-one vote regardless of party affiliation, comes clear as a bell from the equal protection clause. 

So far, the notion’s metric, seats/vote, appears to track the gerrymander very well.  Applied to 2018 election results, this metric revealed statistically significant Republican gerrymanders in Indiana, Wisconsin and North Carolina, a Democratic one in Maryland, and no significant partisan gerrymander  in Minnesota. I found in addition that minor changes in the gerrymandered maps could have produced proportional representation.

We have the necessary metrics. Our job now is to explain them satisfactorily to the judicial community and everyone else. (Incidentally, Senate Bill 2747 attacks the gerrymander by declaring invalid any election that deviates 7% or more from proportional representation.)

James Allison
Professor Emeritus, Psychology, Indiana University

“Ohio Supreme Court Rejects G.O.P. Gerrymander of Map,” Trip Gabriel, New York Times, 1-15-22.  “The map would have given Republicans an advantage of 12 seats to three in elections for the House of Representatives, even though the G.O.P. has lately won only about 55% of the statewide popular vote.”  Jim Allison’s comment:  So, why aren’t we bringing such a challenge to the Indiana judiciary?