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Random Redistricting Maps via Random Spanning Trees

28 Nov
Tuesday, 11/28/2023 4:00pm to 5:00pm
Computer Science Building, Room 140
Theory Seminar

Abstract: In the United States, a now widely-accepted legal framework for judging the fairness of a political redistricting map is to compare it to an ensemble of randomly generated alternatives. But what should we mean by a “random” map, and how can we efficiently generate one? There are a family of algorithms for this task all based on the following idea: draw a uniformly random spanning tree on the graph of indivisible geographic units (e.g., precincts or census blocks), find edge(s) that split the tree into sub-trees of roughly equal size, and then take the graph partition induced by the sub-trees to be your redistricting map. These algorithms are very efficient in practice and have been successfully used in several high-profile court cases. However, numerous graph-theoretic and combinatorial questions about these algorithms remain open, which are of both theoretical and practical interest. In this talk I will discuss recent progress on some of these fronts, including:
– An approximate relationship between the “compactness” of a map and the probability of the map being sampled
– A 1/poly(n) lower bound on the probability that a random spanning tree of a grid graph can be split into exactly equal-sized pieces
– Obstructions to MCMC algorithms on grid graphs with many small districts, which can be thought of as a polyomino tiling problem

No prior knowledge of redistricting will be assumed; I will explain the setting and algorithms from scratch.

Bio: Jamie is a fourth-year computer science PhD student at Harvard University advised by Ariel Procaccia. His research focuses on applying techniques from theoretical computer science to improve political and economic institutions. He works on a range of topics in fair division, social choice theory, and algorithmic game theory, with further interests in descriptive complexity, computational topology, and graph theory. He is especially interested in algorithms for fair redistricting and gerrymandering detection.


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