SCOTUS hearing VA & NC Gerrymandering cases today. Suffice to say, Racial Gerrymandering in Deep South states is even worse

Today, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments in gerrymandering cases from North Carolina and Virginia. Plaintiffs claim that GOP lawmakers in the two states excessively packed black voters into congressional and state legislative districts, thus diluting the influence of black voters. Attorneys for the majority lawmakers, in contrast, claim they are merely complying with provisions of the Voting Rights Act by creating majority-minority districts to enhance the representation of minority voters.
However the Court rules, it is important that context matters when drawing minority access districts. My colleagues (Will Hicks, Appalachian State; Carl Klarner, University of Florida; Seth McKee, Texas Tech) have a paper that examines the likelihood of electing African Americans to state legislatures, comparing the threshold of black voting age population needed to elect a black lawmaker in Southern and Non-Southern states over time. We also look across states within the South. Suffice to say, there’s a considerable difference across regions, and even within the South, of how packed a district needs to be in order for voters to have the ability to elect an African American to the state legislature.

We find that the black population threshold required for a Deep South (Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina) state legislative district to elect a black lawmaker is significantly higher than the black population threshold in districts in Rim South or Non-South states. The figure below graphs the probability a district elects a black legislator conditional on region and the size of that district’s black population.

figure-6-hmks

The probability a district elects a black lawmaker in the Deep South (left panel) versus the Rim South (right panel) depends on the size of a district’s black population. Across the three decades for the given election periods, it is clear that black legislators are elected with smaller black populations in the Rim South relative to the Deep South.  In 1993-1995, for example, the probability that a Deep South district elects a black lawmaker reaches 0.5 (even odds) when the black population is between 54 and 55 percent. In that same period, the probability a district in the Rim South elects a black legislator reaches 0.5 when the black population is between 49 and 50 percent. This 5 percentage-point difference nearly doubles in 2003-2005 (52 to 53 percent for the Deep South versus 43 to 44 percent for the Rim South) and in 2013-2015 (48 to 49 percent for the Deep South versus 40 to 41 percent for the Rim South).

Beyond the pressing normative views regarding the broader political and representational implications of the relationship between majority-minority districts and black representation, our empirical analysis indicates an inexorable dynamic in party politics. Our findings leave no doubt that a considerable reduction in majority-minority state legislative district populations can be accomplished while ensuring black descriptive representation. In light of the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which scrapped the federal enforcement of the Section 5 preclearance provision of the Voting Rights Act, we expect in the next decennial round of redistricting most Democrats will push for a reduction in the size of minority populations in majority-minority districts, while almost every Republican will continue to insist that majority-black districts should remain as is, or better yet, contain even higher African-American populations.

Forthcoming in Political Behavior: “Reprecincting and Voting Behavior”

Reprecincting and Voting Behavior

Brian Amos, Daniel A. Smith, and Casey Ste. Claire

University of Florida

Abstract

Despite the expansion of convenience voting across the American states, millions of voters continue to cast ballots at their local precincts on Election Day. We argue that those registered voters who are reassigned to a different Election Day polling place prior to an election are less likely to turn out to vote than those assigned to vote at the same precinct location, as a new precinct location incurs both search and transportation costs on reassigned voters. Utilizing voter file data and precinct shape files from Manatee County, Florida, from before and after the 2014 General Election, we demonstrate that the redrawing of precinct boundaries and the designation of Election Day polling places is not a purely technical matter for local election administrators, but may affect voter turnout of some registered voters more than others. Controlling for a host of demographic, partisan, vote history, and geospatial factors, we find significantly lower turnout among registered voters who were reassigned to a new Election Day precinct compared to those who were not, an effect not equally offset by those voters turning to other available modes of voting (either early in-person or absentee). All else equal, we find that registered Hispanic voters were significantly more likely to abstain from voting as a result of being reassigned than any other racial group.

Here’s the link to the pre-publication draft.