How To Quickly Create A Neutral, Non-Gerrymandered Election Map

Creating A Politically-Neutral Election Map Is Relatively Easy. Google Could Probably Do It In A Few Weeks

Apr 22, 2017 · 5 min read

By David Grace (

The Clean-Room Process

When IBM created its first personal computer, the heart of its machine was a BIOS (Basic Input-Output System) written and copyrighted by IBM. This BIOS ,together with the Microsoft MSDOS operating system, comprised the software system that controlled the machine.

In order for other manufacturers such as Compac to sell machines that could compete with the IBM PC they had to have their own BIOS that would work exactly like the IBM BIOS, but which would not violate IBM’s copyright.

Two companies, Phoenix and AMI, each set out to create a compatible PC BIOS that was immune to legal challenge by IBM. They did this by hiring programmers who had never seen the IBM BIOS code. These programmers worked in a facility that had no access to the IBM BIOS. They started from scratch and wrote a new BIOS that would perform in the exact same way as the IBM BIOS.

Since they had never seen the IBM BIOS and had no access to it, they could not be accused of copying it and thus the new BIOS they created was immune from charges that it infringed IBM’s copyright.

This creation method is called a “clean room” process.

No Demographic Data

You can use this same clean-room process to create politically and ethnically neutral election-district maps.

You start with a database that has only the following data and nothing else:

  • The boundaries of every nine-digit zip code in the United States
  • The number of registered voters in every nine-digit zip code in the United States
  • The boundaries of every city, county and state in the United States
  • The boundaries of every river, lake, highway and bridge in the United States

It’s equally important what information the database does NOT have about each nine-digit zip code.

It has zero information about:

  • The gender of registered voters
  • The age of the registered voters
  • The party affiliation of the registered voters
  • The wealth of the registered voters
  • The ethnicity of the registered voters

In fact, it has no other data whatsoever about the zip codes beyond their boundaries and the total number of registered voters in each nine-digit zip code.

Drawing The Election Districts

The software you create will need to have an understanding of basic shapes such as squares, rectangles, ovals and circles.

A group of software engineers would be put in a clean room with access only to this database and would be told to write a program that would create a specified number of collections of nine-digit zip codes (election districts) within the confines of some specified political boundaries (a county or a state).

Each zip-code collection (election district) would contain a specified number of registered voters plus or minus some percentage amount of variance.

To create a map of congressional districts, by default the boundary of each congressional-district would be composed of the boundaries of the included nine-digit zip codes unless a zip code spanned the state line, in which case the election district’s boundary would be the state line.

For county election districts, if a collection’s zip-code boundary spanned a county line then the district’s boundary would be the county line.

For city election districts, if a collection’s zip-code boundary spanned a city line then the district’s boundary would be the city line.

The hierarchy of preferred shapes for the election districts would be: square, rectangular, circular, oval, and other.

If reasonably possible a district’s boundaries would not span a river, but if it did, then there would have to be a bridge over the river within the district.

The Software Would Be Able To Create Both State & Local Election Districts

The software’s interface would have input fields for:

  • The gross number of registered voters to be included in each election district;
  • The political boundaries of the jurisdiction containing the specified number of election districts, e.g. the State of California;
  • The number of election districts to create within that jurisdiction, and
  • The percentage variance allowed in the number of registered voters from district to district, e.g. plus or minus X%.

The program would be designed follow the boundary-line rules and, to the extent possible, the geometrical-shape rules.

Source Code Publicly Available

Since the election districts would be completely created by the software and the software would have no access to any demographic data whatsoever, it would be impossible for the system to create election districts designed to favor any one political, ethnic or interest group.

The software’s source code would be made publically available so that any interested person could confirm that it did not use and could not use any demographic data in the creation of the election districts.

By simply plugging in a different number of voters per district, a different number of election districts withing a jurisdiction and a boundary map of the jurisdiction, the program could create state senate districts, county commissioner districts, and city ward districts as well as congressional districts.

Who Could Write This Software?

The key requirement for the programmers creating this software would be that they would be familiar with mapping software and that they would have access to a comprehensive map database that would contain all the boundary lines for the nine-digit zip codes, political entities (cities, counties, states) and major bodies of water and bridges.

There are probably hundreds of software engineers at Google and Apple who possess both this expertise and have access to such a database.

I suspect that Google or Apple could put together a small team that could write a clean-room, politically and ethnically neutral, election-district drawing program in a few weeks.

Adopting These Election Maps As Law

There are lots of politicians who say that if there were a fair, independent, neutral, efficient way to draw election-district boundaries that they could be absolutely sure did not favor any party, ethnicity or special-interest group that they would use that system to draw the lines for the election districts in their state.

Such an open-source software program would meet that test.

If those politicians refused to keep their promise and adopt such a clean-room-drawn map, the fall-back position would be for the voters to pass an initiative that would require the state to use that software-drawn map for its election districts.

Not all states support the initiative process, but at least for those that do we would have a chance to replace gerrymandered districts with fair, independent and neutral ones.

Of course, first Google or Apple would have to step up to the plate, write the software and release it into the public domain.

–David Grace (

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Graduate of Stanford University & U.C. Berkeley Law School. Author of 17 novels and over 200 Medium columns on Economics, Politics, Law, Humor & Satire.

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