Data scientists in America and mathematicians in Germany are developing models to make democracy in their countries more trustworthy.

In the US ‘congressional redistricting’ is often viewed as something politicians tinker with to gain advantage. It happens every 10 years in response to census changes and is carried out by each state legislature. To offer an alternative to human decision making, and its shaky claims to impartiality, a team from the University of Illinois is using algorithms to offer a more robust system.

“As data scientists who study and analyze algorithms, we bring a nonpartisan approach to this problem. It’s just data. It happens to have significant political ramifications, but it is still just data,” explained Illinois professor of computer science Sheldon Jacobson.

The research was conducted in collaboration with Douglas King, an industrial and enterprise systems engineering lecturer, and suggests a ‘geographically based and data-driven algorithm’ to formulate districts computationally.

“The use of our algorithmic framework is just one step in the direction of transparency when it comes to congressional redistricting. I think any legislator who is truly committed to their citizens must consider algorithmic redistricting as an available, and viable, option during the next redistricting period that will take place after the U.S. census in 2020.” added Jacobson.

In Germany mathematicians from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have created a  fairer way of restructuring voting districts by producing a methodology to calculate how to ensure areas are more equal in size.

Stefan Wurster, Professor of Policy Analysis at the Bavarian School of Public Policy at TUM, said: “The acceptance of democratic elections is in danger whenever parties or individuals gain an advantage out of the gate. The problem becomes particularly relevant when the allocation of parliamentary seats is determined by the number of direct mandates won. This is the case in majority election systems like in USA, Great Britain and France.”