Research on Washington State districting
This summer, Professor Daryl DeFord will be directing an undergraduate research project of Elliot Kimsey, who has won a research scholarship from the College of Arts and Sciences to pursue research in malapportionment in legislative districting, using Washington State as a case study. While districts are initially drawn to be population balanced, based on the census data recorded at the beginning of the cycle, natural population flows can lead to large imbalances by the end of the decade. Since population changes are correlated with the political geography of the state, including differences between urban and rural areas, trying to model expected population shifts and their interactions with other redistricting criteria is an important step in understanding the consequences of new maps.
In addition to directing Elliot Kimsey's research this summer, he will also supervise a research team funded through the University of Washington's Data Science for Social Good Program. The main focus for the project will be the application of ensemble methods to the initial map creation process, particularly evaluating proposals for using sampling metrics to support court challenges. This is the first census cycle where there will be widespread public availability of computational tools for analyzing districting plans (including the GerryChain package) that may be found here: github.com/mggg/gerrychain. Professor Deford led the development of this while he was a postdoctoral associate at MIT. These computational tools will have a large impact on how people view the redistricting process and what is considered a valid map. There have been several recent legislative proposals that explicitly incorporate ensemble methods, so the program's first goal will be to evaluate these proposals against historical data to evaluate the likelihood of unintended consequences. The research team will also work to develop protocols to help map drawers use information generated by Markov Chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) sampling more effectively. For more information about MCMC see math.wsu.edu/faculty/ddeford/mcmc_intro.php.
For more research problems regarding computational redistricting, Professor Deford provides some background and starting points at math.wsu.edu/faculty/ddeford/GerryProjects.pdf
Deford received an undergraduate degree in mathematics from Washington State University and a PhD in mathematics from Dartmouth College before returning to Washington State University as an assistant professor of data analytics in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics.