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Like Abstract Expressionists, They Draw the Totally free-Kind Political Maps Now Below Scrutiny


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Like Abstract Expressionists, They Draw the Cost-free-Form Political Maps Now Under Scrutiny

Like Abstract Expressionists, They Draw the Totally free-Kind Political Maps Now Below Scrutiny

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WASHINGTON — In a huge partisan gerrymandering case that will come just before the Supreme Court in March, lawyers, and judges have currently devoted thousands of words to the query of why some of Maryland’s eight congressional districts are so, ah, creatively drawn.

But the very best answer by far comes from the man who drew them.

In 2011, Eric Hawkins lugged a laptop loaded with demographic data and a program known as Maptitude to Capitol Hill and the offices of the state’s six Democratic Residence members. Over a series of meetings of which there apparently are no written records, Mr. Hawkins not only crafted new districts for those members, but rerouted the district of ten-term Republican Rep. Roscoe Bartlett to make it substantially much more difficult for a Republican.

In the 1st election right after the new maps were drawn, Mr. Bartlett failed to muster even 38 % of the vote. And Maryland Democrats added one more Home seat to the six they currently boasted.

Asked in a deposition final year why the state’s Democratic House members met with him, Mr. Hawkins was refreshingly forthcoming. “They wanted to get re-elected,” he mentioned.

Mr. Hawkins, an analyst for a Washington political consulting firm called NCEC Services Inc., is element of a cottage sector of statisticians, computer jockeys and political sages whose company is to turn demographic data into electoral maps. His firm functions exclusively with Democrats other folks — like Geographic Techniques, run by the former Republican Celebration redistricting expert Thomas B. Hofeller — are dog-loyal to Republicans.

By and big, they are political junkies and information nerds. Mr. Hawkins left the University of Colorado in the 1980s to join the doomed presidential campaigns of Senator Gary Hart and Governor Michael Dukakis of Massachusetts ahead of going into consulting. Mr. Hofeller holds a Ph.D. in government, helped create the first computerized redistricting system for California’s State Assembly, and has extended been the mapmaking éminence grise in the Republican Party.

The Wisconsin State Assembly, which approved new political maps, in Madison, Wisc., in 2011.CreditScott Olson/Getty Photos

In the current stew more than partisan gerrymandering, handful of mapmakers are eager to talk about the back-room sausagemaking that occurs when state and congressional political boundaries are redrawn. A lot of what they do say, like Mr. Hawkin’s concise reflection on politics, comes from court depositions. And understandably so: To their a lot of detractors, redistricting consultants surface each ten years, cicada-like, to ravage the landscape of minority parties in state legislatures and Congress. A 2012 magazine post named them “The League of Hazardous Mapmakers.”

But the reality is at least somewhat different. If most mapmakers are unabashedly partisan, their work goes effectively beyond back-space politics. A good map meets constitutional specifications, such as allotting an equal quantity of people to every single district and respecting racial and ethnic populations. It keeps communities intact rather than splitting them into various jurisdictions pays interest to rivers and other geographic functions that shape jurisdictions. It does not needlessly oust incumbents.

And when one celebration controls the procedure, even great maps usually strengthen majority manage. The Supreme Court has permitted that some partisanship in redistricting is inevitable the question in the Maryland case is regardless of whether it has run unconstitutionally amok.

In the most egregious partisan gerrymanders, maps generally ignore some or all of these strictures. For their component, mapmakers are fast to point out that their job is to implement political will, not to figure out it.

“The person paying the bills drives it,” mentioned Keith Gaddie, a University of Oklahoma political scientist who advised Republicans’ 2011 redistricting of the Wisconsin State Assembly, which was challenged in the Supreme Court final fall. “You can give them caution and counsel, but they’re going to do what they’re going to do.” (Mr. Gaddie and a second scholar filed an amicus short in the Wisconsin case urging the Supreme Court to rein in gerrymandering.)

Stated one Republican consultant, who would speak only on situation of anonymity: “Some people think I just walk into a legislature with a map and they genuflect to me. That’s not the way it performs.”

Certainly, as court records in the Maryland case show, incumbent politicians frequently make demands of mapmakers that go beyond drawing themselves a protected seat. Representative C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberg, a Maryland Democrat who served at the time on the House Intelligence Committee, insisted that Fort Meade, the residence of the National Safety Agency, be portion of his turf, according to a deposition of then-Governor Martin O’Malley. Representative Donna Edwards, another Democrat who left workplace final year, insisted that her district be left untouched— no easy job, as population shifts alone required that new boundaries be drawn.

Besides the Wisconsin and Maryland instances, partisan gerrymanders are under assault in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where courts invalidated Republican-drawn congressional maps this month. Mr. Hofeller’s firm, Geographic Techniques, drew the North Carolina districts — as in Maryland, according to court depositions, without having leaving a paper trail. Pennsylvania relied on legislative employees members to carve up the state’s Home districts.

But in all circumstances, the method is much more or less the very same. Mapmakers start with Census Bureau information that marries political boundaries and geographic functions like rivers and roads with data on residents’ ages, races and ethnicities. Redistricting computer software can add custom-tailored political data to the mix, allowing map-drafters to see instantaneously the partisan effect on a proposed district of adding or removing locations as tiny as a block.

Kimball W. Brace, whose firm, Election Information Services, mostly assists Democrats, mentioned the basics are small changed from the 1980s, when he employed massive paper maps and acetate overlays to develop districts in Illinois. Back then, he stated, finished map information was entered onto coding sheets by hand, then taken to a neighborhood bank whose mainframe would crunch the numbers overnight after it finished clearing checks.

Modern day computer systems have lowered these weeks of perform to hours, and both maps and census and political information have turn out to be far much more correct, he stated. In producing 2011 redistricting maps, Wisconsin Republicans developed a composite partisan score for each and every of the state’s six,000-plus wards primarily based on the final results of statewide elections considering that 2004. North Carolina utilised results from as many as 20 state elections Maryland’s NCEC Solutions utilized a frequently updated “Democratic efficiency index,” a proprietary evaluation of the party’s strength in state and federal races.

Redistricting that starts in 2021 is probably to be even far more finely tuned, Mr. Brace mentioned, relying on the explosion of marketing and advertising and on-line data that can infer personal preferences down to individual households. “We’re seeing that far more and far more in campaigns,” he mentioned, “so I feel you’ll see people wanting to use it in redistricting.”

Whilst consultants can and occasionally do generate hundreds of recommended maps, most present political leaders with among 5 and 10 choices that can be fine-tuned to meet incumbents’ wishes.

In states exactly where political power is divided, district maps might be politically neutral — or drawn to shield incumbents in each parties. In other states beneath one-party manage, the political marching orders may be a lot more brazen: North Carolina Republicans ordered that no much more than three of the state’s 13 House seats be given to Democrats.

Mr. Gaddie, who analyzed the partisan effect of proposed Wisconsin State Assembly maps for the chamber’s Republicans, says partisan gerrymandering has turn out to be a threat to the political technique simply because politics has devolved into all-out ideological war, not because of redistricting software or dark-hearted mapmakers. He mentioned he abandoned a sideline as a redistricting adviser and specialist witness in redistricting lawsuits following finishing function in Wisconsin.

“I liked working for them in ’02,” he said, “because I’d sit down with a lawyer and they’d say, ‘I like competitive maps. When a map is competitive, we can win on the merits.’ By the time I get around to 2011, they’ve changed. I can’t defend this crap.”

That is not to say that mapmakers are wholly innocent bystanders in the process. “It would be good for the nation and politics if partisan gerrymandering ended,” Mark Gersh, the president of NCEC Solutions, said in an e-mail this week. But in a subsequent interview, Mr. Gersh stood up for his firm’s work in Maryland and elsewhere.

“I do not think in unilateralism,” he mentioned. “If one particular side does it, the other has to. If that makes me unethical, so be it.”

Maryland’s redistricting was driven by the Democratic governor, Mr. O’Malley, who testified in a deposition that he felt “it was not only my duty, but my duty” to saturate Maryland’s Republican-leaning Sixth District with Democratic voters “provided we obeyed the dictates of the law.”

They eventually flipped the Sixth District to Democrats, but only by redrawing other districts, domino-style, to make sure that the loss of Montgomery County voters did not endanger other individuals in the delegation. In the resulting map, the Democratic Third District was so laughably contorted that a federal judge compared it to a “broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”

“Incumbent protection,” Mr. Hawkins testified in the Maryland lawsuit last year, “was the major focus of this.”

Asked no matter whether those incumbents included Representative Bartlett, the Republican in the Sixth District, Mr. Hawkins replied, “No.”

A version of this write-up appears in print on , on Web page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: The Furtive Artists of Power Politics: Mapmakers. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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Published at Mon, 29 Jan 2018 20:53:29 +0000


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