Students Utilize Math to Help Solve Gerrymandering
April 24, 2018
by Yancee Gordon BA ’21
Three Lewis & Clark students—Sherlock Ortiz BA ’20, Adriana Rogers BA ’19, and Anna Schall BA ’20—have been accepted to participate in the Voting Rights Data Institute, a six-week interdisciplinary summer program sponsored by Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, which employs professionals from Tufts University, Harvard University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This highly competitive program only accepts 35 students from across the nation, and aims to create mathematical solutions to partisan gerrymandering.
Students will utilize various mathematical practices to analyze recent political outcome data and create population graphs for all 50 states. The students hope to use their time in the program to analyze past political trends and biases in districts across the country, and ultimately create a solution to partisan gerrymandering in time for the 2020 federal redistricting.
“As a computer science and mathematics major at a liberal arts college, I am excited to apply the interdisciplinary skills that I have learned to important social and political issues,” says Rogers. She hopes this collaborative opportunity will contribute to a solution that has large societal impacts.
Along with campaign finance reform, which Lewis & Clark students have also recently studied, gerrymandering is especially pertinent, with the United States Supreme Court hearing cases on partisan gerrymandering this year and Justice Kennedy himself calling for a “manageable standard” to detect partisan gerrymandering.
Ortiz—who hails from Chicago—is adamant that political participation matters, and is excited to be involved with the project. “I am most excited to build algorithms that can help draw congressional district boundary lines.” He hopes his work in the program will create more representative boundaries and give a voice to all citizens.
A Pamplin Fellow and an economics and mathematics double major from Memphis, Tennessee, Schall appreciates the opportunity to combine her academic interests with helping others. “Gerrymandering is an issue I’ve been interested in since high school, and I never imagined I’d be using math to help society work toward being more fair and representative.”
“Adriana, Anna, Sherlock, and the Voting Rights Data Institute itself epitomize the kind of thinking that Lewis & Clark is all about,” says Associate Professor of Mathematics Liz Stanhope. “I see the program as a training ground for new leaders to bring together math, political science, and social justice in novel and brilliant ways.”