Archives for category: Redistricting

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) resisted the lock-step effort by House Republicans last week. In a lame-duck session, Republicans in the House voted to eliminate the right of registered voters who lacked an acceptable photo ID to instead vote a regular ballot after signing an affidavit attesting to their identify. House Bill 6066 would have done away with affidavit ballots–some 18,000 of which were cast (and counted) in the 2016 General Election.

Although Republican support for strict voter ID laws is a necessary condition–only a single Democratic-controlled legislature (Rhode Island) has passed a restrictive law, as my colleagues and I argue in our 2015 Political Research Quarterly article, it’s not a sufficient condition. Not all Republican-controlled legislatures have pushed for, nor adopted more restrictive voter ID laws. Instead, our findings show it is a combination of partisan control and the broader electoral context in a state that drives enactment of such measures.

We extend this analysis in our 2016 State Politics and Policy Quarterly article, in which we examine individual legislators’ votes on all of the restrictive voter identification (ID) bills that received a floor vote across the states from 2005 to 2013. Again, going beyond the base partisan polarization that characterizes the the votes of most state lawmakers on voting related issues, we find a notable relationship between the racial composition of a member’s district and electoral competition shapes the likelihood that a state lawmaker supports a restrictive voter ID bill. Most notably, we find that Democratic lawmakers representing substantial black district populations are more opposed to restrictive voter ID laws, whereas Republican legislators with substantial black district populations are more supportive of the laws.  Finally, we find that in those state legislatures where electoral competition is not intense, polarization over voter ID laws is less stark, which likely reflects the expectation that adopting restrictive voter ID laws will have little bearing on the outcome of state legislative contests.

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.


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.

It’s online, here.
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