Thursday, June 13, 2013

Redistricting Board's GIS Techs Are Designing New Districts

The term "watching paint dry" comes to mind.  I'm just going to show you some photos of what's going on.  Basically, they are working with the Auto Bound Redistricting software to get some districts together.

The two new techs appear to be just trying to make things work, technically, without political consideration.  They seem to just be trying to get districts that meet the parameters - 17,755 people per district, compact, socio-economically integrated (though I'm not sure how they figure that from the data on the computer).

There are long periods of silence and then there's some discussion which is hard to catch on video because of the noise of the fans and coolers.

But here are some pictures so you can see what's happening

Eric working his computer which is projected on the wall behind him.

This is Ray doing the same thing.  He was working on Fairbanks here I believe.

I'll add some video below, but here's a sense of how they are doing things.  From the upper left image, Eric zoomed into the middle image, and then to the lower right image.  For the middle to lower right transition I'm not completely sure why there's a flat line on the bottom - maybe the angle continues, but it just got cut off at the bottom.

On the bottom of the screen are stats for the districts they are looking at. They can change which stats to see.  Here the columns are TAPERSONS (not sure, I think it's total persons); Target (this should be 17,755*, which is the total population divided by 40 districts to make them all equal);  DEV (deviation);  Difference (Actual number - Target);  PctNatWht (I think this is percentage of Native to White population - something needed to make sure the Board has maintained the Native districts to comply with the Voting Rights Act);  PctNatAB (percentage NativeAlaskan??); PctVANW (percentage voting age Native/White); PctVANA(percentage Voting Age Native Alaskan). I'm not 100% sure I got the names right, but enough for you to get a sense of things.

*I asked Eric why the Target column said 17,756 and he said something like, it was an adjustment the computer did and it would have to be reset to 17,555.  

So, each time they make a change in a district - like move a census bloc to a different district - these numbers can change.

These are the controls they have for making changes.

Every now and then there is some discussion.  The third tech, whose name I haven't gotten yet, switched computers with Eric, so her map is now projected on the screen.  When she moved over, Torgerson asked her some questions, like "why do you have that big thumb sticking out?"  Then he saw that it followed the river, which conforms to the principle of 
"Follow natural and physical geographic boundaries such as major roads, major arterials, rivers, streams and creeks."

At least on the river side, but what about the neighborhood on the other side?  That's one of the problems here - you can only use the census blocs and they may not fall the way that looks best.  

As I'm watching this, it seems more and more obvious that at least the first stabs at the districts should just be done by computer which would be infinitely faster than humans moving census blocs around.  Then people could eyeball the results for those kinds of things human brains can still see better than computers can.

The video is short - I spared you the long waiting for the computer to react to the click of the mouse.  It gives you a sense of what most of today has been like.

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