The Importance of Weighting when Discussing the Representativeness of State Legislatures

In light of several news articles that have reported the findings of a recent joint NCSL & PEW Report, “Who We Elect: The Demographics of State Legislatures,” I thought it might be useful to convey some points made by Dr. Carl Klarner regarding the inherent problem when comparing “average” state legislative racial and ethnic (and other socio-demographic data) with national averages.  As Klarner writes in his recent Report (p6),

“state level figures [should] always [be] weighted by state population when being averaged to the nation level. This is done to approximate the importance of a particular state legislative chamber….
The issue of weighting by population is especially relevant to assessing minority representation, as it makes a big difference. Reports of minority state legislators frequently state them as a percentage of all legislators in the country.17  It is also sometimes asserted that descriptive representation is lower in state legislatures than in the U.S. House. But it is important to take the varying size of state legislative districts into account. For example, there are currently 498 African-American state house members, or 9.2% of the 5,411 state house members in the United States. But African-American state house members actually represent 11.9% of the United States, if you factor in the size of the districts they represent. This is substantially closer to the 13.7% of the United States that is African-American.18  The simple reason for this is that Northeastern states, with unusually large state houses, have few African-Americans living in them. Looking at minority descriptive representation in this way gives us more insight into what types of electoral arrangements are conducive to the fair representation of racial minorities.”

I agree with Dr. Klarner. Weighting state legislators by population is essential when comparing national averages with minority representation across the 99 state legislative chambers.

According to the 2010-2014 5-year averages of the American Community Survey (ACS), conducted by the U.S. Census, African-Americans make up approximately 13.7% of the national population, Hispanics 16.9%, and Asians 5.9%.

According to Dr. Klarner, here are the percentages of current state legislators who are racial/ethnic minorities, unweighted v. weighted:

State House Members                   Unweighted                Weighted

  • African-American:                       9.2%                             11.9%
  • Latino                                           4.0%                               8.5%
  • Asians                                          1.5%                              2.3%

 

State Senators                                Unweighted                Weighted

  • African-American:                         8.3%                             10.1%
  • Latino                                           3.6%                               6.9%
  • Asians                                          1.7%                              1.9%

 

More later…

 

Assessing the Potential Impact of Evenwel v. Abbott

Dr. Carl Klarner has posted “Assessing the Potential Impact of Evenwel v. Abbott” on SSRN.  I look forward to contributing more to this important preliminary analysis of the representational impact of the Evenwel v. Abbott case that SCOTUS hears tomorrow morning, weighing the “one-person, one-vote” principle under the Equal Protection Clause.  Klarner’s analysis shows the potential impact on representation when instead of total population, districts are apportioned based on the number of citizens who live in state and congressional legislative jurisdictions, or, even more narrowly, when districts are apportioned based only on the number of citizens over the age of 18 (CVAP).  His empirical analysis goes beyond recent analyses conducted by Michael Li & Eric Petry at the Brennan Center and by Andrew A. Beveridge, Professor of Sociology at Queens College.  In this iteration, Klarner “assesses the potential impact of such a ruling on the political power of African-Americans, Latinos, individuals residing in poverty, as well as the extent of the electoral advantages a ruling might provide to the Republican Party.” The findings are stark.

Here’s the Abstract:

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear Evenwel v. Abbott on December 8, 2015. If the high Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, redistricting across the country will be accomplished by nearly equalizing the number of people eligible to vote in a jurisdiction instead of the current standard of nearly equalizing the total population of legislative districts. This analysis assesses the potential impact of such a ruling on the political power of African-Americans, Latinos, individuals residing in poverty, as well as the extent of the electoral advantages a ruling might provide to the Republican Party. It draws on Census data first available on December 3, 2015 and a database of all state legislative elections from 1968 to 2015. It finds that drawing districts on the basis of citizens of voting age would reduce the power of Democratic state legislators by 1.4% in state houses, 1.2% in state senates, and 1.1% in the U.S. House. The representation of Latino state house members would go from 8.4 to 7.4%, 6.7 to 5.8% in state senates, and 6.7 to 5.8% for the U.S. House as well.

 

The Sorry State of Representative Government in Florida

One-third of Florida Legislature faces no opposition at polls

Michael Van Sickler reports.

TALLAHASSEE — Millions of voters in Florida will get no vote in choosing who represents them in the Florida House and Senate next year. That’s because the deadline for candidates expired at noon Friday with no challengers qualifying to run against a third of the state Legislature.

The lack of opposition means candidates for eight state Senate seats — all incumbent Republicans — and 38 House seats, all but one an incumbent, automatically won their seats despite no ballots being cast in those districts. That will make 2014 even less competitive than 2012, when 24 percent of lawmakers ran unopposed.

More here.

My Latest Research on Legislative Reapportionment

…in Ghana (West Africa).

For all of you Floridaphiles (or Floridaphobes), don’t worry…I’m working on a paper examining the popular support for Amendments 5 & 6 in Florida.

And for those of you interested in nonpartisan election commissions and the allocation of parliamentary seats in Africa, by all means, plow ahead.

The Re-demarcation and Reapportionment of Parliamentary Constituencies in Ghana

Introduction

In February, 2011, the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS)
released provisional results of the 2010 Population and
Housing Census. All eyes are now on Ghana’s National
Electoral Commission (EC), as it is constitutionally required
to use the new census data to determine the allocation,
demarcation, and apportionment of parliamentary
constituencies in the country. In this essay, I attempt to
address—from an admittedly Americanist standpoint1—
questions pertaining to legislative representation in Ghana.
I argue that the EC is uniquely equipped to carry out its
constitutional duty to prescribe the boundaries of the
country’s parliamentary constituencies, as mandated under
Article 47 of the 1992 Constitution. Yet, as the EC embarks
upon its re-demarcation and reapportionment duties, there
is good reason for Ghanaians of all political stripes to be
concerned. The EC’s decision in 2003 to create 30
additional parliamentary constituencies based on the
boundaries of administrative districts is fraught with unsettling
representational and political ramifications, yet it has not
received the kind of critical scrutiny it deserves.

By no means is this essay an attack on the Electoral
Commission. Since the commencement of Ghana’s 4th
Republic, on a range of contentious issues—from the
maintenance of the voters’ register and distribution of voter
registration cards, to staffing polling stations and tabulating
and announcing the final vote, to current considerations of
overseas voting and biometric ID cards—the Chairman of
the EC, Dr. Kwadwo Afari-Gyan, and the EC staff have
continually stepped up to the challenge. Of course, the EC
is not without its critics. Nevertheless, the EC is the envy of
democracy advocates throughout the sub-region and
beyond, as outsiders recognize the many institutional benefits
of having a permanent, independent, nonpartisan elections
commission overseeing the electoral process.

As a scholar whose nonpartisan interests are informed
by democratic theory and questions of representation,
my concerns with the allocation and demarcation of
parliamentary seats in Ghana today remain as ardent as
when I first broached the topic a decade ago.2 I restrict
my comments here to the EC’s immediate task of
demarcating and apportioning parliamentary seats in
Ghana. I begin with comparative insights on the
redistricting process in the American states, discussing
the partisan task of drawing single-member legislative
districts. I then discuss the EC’s decision in 2003 to
apportion 30 new parliamentary constituencies, using
existing administrative districts—rather than the
“population quota”—as its guiding principle. In doing so,
I analyze how the EC’s rationale may be exacerbating
the problem of malapportioned parliamentary seats. I
use the GSS’s preliminary Census 2010 data, as well as
administrative district data across the 10 regions, to
conduct an analysis of the current distribution of
parliamentary seats in the country. My research reveals
the unequal allocation of parliamentary seats across the
country with respect to their populations. I conclude by
discussing some of the representational and political issues
stemming from the EC’s rationale to use administrative
districts to allocate parliamentary seats.

Full essay available here