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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios

The political world is waiting for the Supreme Court ruling on gerrymandering — the practice in which the party in power artfully redraws voting districts so its members can more easily win election. One problem, though, is that, even if the justices create a definition for gerrymandering, experts must then get to work producing a broadly accepted prescription for it. But researchers at Carnegie Mellon University suggest that a gaming solution may work.

Why it matters: The CMU researchers say their system outperforms using an independent body to draw districts — the leading solution many propose at the moment — because independence can be subjective.

In a new paper, Wesley Pegden, Ariel Procaccia and Dingli Yu plot out a game of alternating rounds of play, in which each political party takes its best shot at maximizing advantage on a districting map.

Player A maps a state into districts; Player B then peruses those districts, and selects one to freeze — no changes can now be made to that district. Then Player B takes over, mixes up the game board as he or she sees fit, and now Player A freezes another district in place, and so on, until all the districts in the state are fixed. In the end, neither player has an inordinate chance to pack districts with an unequal voting balance.

  • "In the real world, you still might expect the results to be less than perfect," says Pegden. "But this would be much, much, much more fair and balanced than having one party do essentially whatever it wants."
  • There is more work to do, he says — their proposed system cannot simply be installed in Wisconsin, for instance, the venue of the dispute in the Supreme Court case. "The point is that it shows that a major obstacle to fair districtings (where do you find independent agents?) can be overcome by using a fair division approach to drawing the districts," Pegden says.

Using mathematical reasoning, the researchers found that players did not necessarily take the simple choice of freezing a district in which they have a majority. For example, Player A might concede a large majority in a district to Player B, with the goal of reducing the number of supporters available to "B" later in the game.

"After freezing that district, there are much fewer supporters of B left, and that could allow A to win more districts down the road," Procaccia told Axios in an email exchange. "An optimal strategy looks into the future and considers all possible outcomes."

Go deeper for gaming wonks: "Districts can be good for Player A either because Player A wins a district without using too many more than 50% of the votes to do so, or because Player B wins but needs to waste a lot of votes to do so," says Pegden.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

Texas abortion law remains in effect after appeals court ruling

Pro- and anti-abortion protesters outside the Supreme Court as arguments begin about the Texas abortion law on Capitol Hill in November. Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

A U.S. appeals court transferred a challenge to Texas' law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy to the state supreme court in a 2-1 vote on Monday evening.

Why it matters: The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision means the country's most restrictive abortion law can remain in place for the time being.

5 hours ago - World

At least 2 dead after Tonga volcano eruption and tsunami

A satellite image of the explosive eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano on Saturday. Photo: UNICEF/NOAA

At least two people are confirmed to have died in Tonga following the undersea volcanic eruption that sent tsunami waves toward the island nation and across the Pacific over the weekend, officials said Monday.

The big picture: Officials reported major damage along the western coast of the main island of Tongatapu, where the capital, Nuku'alofa, was covered in ash and dust, including on the runway of the airport. A New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson told Axios over the phone that two people had been confirmed to have died in the disaster.