Monday, April 04, 2011

Carving Up Eagle River - If You Only Read One Redistricting Post This Is The One

Why?  Because I've outlined the very basics with a map, some numbers, and video to give you a sense what it's about and why you might want to let the Board members know about your district. If nothing else, watch the video.

This afternoon was the first meeting where the board got together with a computer and looked at the maps with the Census Data and the software for playing with the maps. The video below will show you the level of analysis going into this. 

The Objective

So here's the basic game they're playing.  They have a part of Alaska on the screen.  This is Eagle River - including Districts 17 and parts of 16, 18 and 32.  The board's job is to create 40 House Districts with each as near to 17,755 as possible.  There are other rules they must meet.  This earlier post covers other criteria. But let's just deal with the numbers now.

17,755 comes from dividing 2010 Census Alaska population of 710,200, by 40 House districts.
So they have the state on computers by Census districts down to 'blocks.'  The data base also has information on the political district boundaries, and race, as well as topographical information.

So, this afternoon, they wandered around the state by computer looking at different districts.  Below the maps are numbers.  I'm sorry this picture isn't as clear as it could be, but I think you can get the idea.

On the far left are the current district numbers.  (This map is for downtown Anchorage.)  Then comes the current population of that district.
Then the ideal of 17,755.
Then the deviation from the ideal number as a  % and then as a real number.

I think that's enough for you to understand what they were doing.  The were going through districts, say, District 20, and seeing that it had 18,540.  It's 4.42% above the ideal number, so they were trying to get rid of as many of the extra 785 people as possible.

The next district, 21, is about 8% below 17,155, and needs 1,452 people.

So they would look for the smallest blocks they could move in this computer program, and move them from District 20 to District 21. Then another chunk.  Each time the computer would recalculate the map and give new numbers.

That's how they spent the afternoon.  At least until I left at about 3:30 pm.   At first glance it was pretty casual and the only factor they were really looking at (in non-Native districts - that's another story I'll tell later) was numbers.

There are no board members from Anchorage,  and they moved chunks of districts willy-nilly to see how close they could get the numbers to 17,755 without any understanding of the which neighborhoods fit most closely together.  

I think this may be ok for today.  They were sort of test driving the software to see how this is going to work.   If they keep up like this in the next few days, it will be problematic, but if this is just test driving, then ok.

To get a sense of it, you can watch this video clip of them playing around with Eagle River. 

One interesting thing today is that Kodiak member Robert Brodie sort of took over the afternoon part of the meeting.  He's the one who objected the first meeting when Chair Torgerson suggested morning time for individual board members to work on their own plans.  Brodie wanted to do it as a group.  Well, today they did, but it was almost as though Brodie was doing it alone with everyone else watching him.  Except for Juneau member PeggyAnn McConnochie, the other members were pretty quiet.  So, the two real estate brokers were busy carving up real estate.

In the video you can hear that they don't understand the neighborhoods and which parts naturally fit together.  At the hearings last week, one of the issues that came out very clear was that both the Eagle River folks and the Muldoon folks want to be separated.  But since no one on the board is from Anchorage they really had no sense of what they were hearing.  No one - not even the staff - referred back to that testimony to say, "Well, clearly we should take out this part of Muldoon."

Instead, we get a comment like (paraphrased), "It's amusing to hear people who live ten miles apart say they have nothing in common, while we have [in some districts] people hundreds of miles apart."  While this is true, and I thought it myself when the Muldoon folks were complaining, at this point they need to split people out of Eagle River and people did tell them which ones to take out.  To her credit, McConnochie did mention the testimony, but she said it was conflicting.  I don't remember that it was. In any case splitting Muldoon from Eagle River seemed to be agreed to by all. 

But my eyes glazed over when Fairbanks people went street by street explaining how to divide things, so I understand their confusion.  But I did take notes and I could go back and see what that Fairbanks man said, and I have his name and could call him if I were on the board.  These folks didn't take a lot of notes.  They are waiting for the transcripts. 

It will be interesting to see the dynamics between Brodie and Torgerson as things proceed  One's a realtor who's chopping up real estate by the numbers.  The other is a former politician who I'm assuming sees each precinct as a living and breathing entity. Brodie seems very task oriented.  Torgerson doesn't seem to like to change things once they're set, but he does.

And they have ten more days to do this for the whole State of Alaska.  The draft plan is due on April 14, 30 days after they got the Census data.  Then there are 60 more days for people to present suggestions for changes.

By the way, they did add a lot of stuff to the website and Facebook today.

1 comment:

  1. Just a note, for next time,unfortunately. It isn't true that the data are "too complicated" and the software "too expensive" for us regular folks (non-commission) to draft these maps as someone on the commission has stated. The data are in tables, electronic format. The software can be expensive. I believe it is ArcGIS. The company offers a 60-day trial period free for individuals, normally used for running their tutorials. It fits onto a home computer. Using the software requires skill as does computing nearest neighbor or some other statistics. But the cultural data also requires expertise-- lumping all Alaska Native people into one category will not meet representation standards.

    When all this is over (after the court cases), we will all have noted once again that authentic Public Involvement is so much cheaper and efficient than not. Then, we'll all proceed as we always have. Sigh.


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