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.

“The Battle Over ‘One Person, One Vote,’ Has Just Begun”

Carl Klarner and I have written this piece for The American Prospect regarding the aftermath of SCOTUS’ Evenwel decision.

We conclude:

Changing who is counted under a one-person, one-vote standard will not markedly alter the relative fortunes of the two major parties in most states, and state lawmakers across the country will be resistant to reconfigure their own districts. But in this era of extreme partisanship, this issue will inevitably open a new front in the ongoing election wars.

 

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.

 

Data sleuths decoded Florida’s redistricting conspiracy

Mary Ellen Klas of the Tampa Bay Times provides the inside story on how on we decode the Florida Legislature’s unconstitutional Congressional gerrymander.

Data sleuths decoded Florida’s redistricting conspiracy

Mary Ellen KlasMary Ellen Klas, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Saturday, September 5, 2015 10:00am

TALLAHASSEE — The legal team that uncovered the shadow redistricting process that invalidated Florida’s congressional and Senate districts didn’t rely just on maps and cloak-and-dagger emails to prove that legislators broke the law.

The best clues came in the form of data — millions of census blocks — delivered electronically and found in the files of political operatives who fought for two years to shield it.

The Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 in July that lawmakers were guilty of violating the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution and ordered them to redraw the congressional map.

It was a landmark ruling that declared the entire process had been “tainted with improper political intent” — a verdict so broad that it prompted an admission from the state Senate that lawmakers had violated the Constitution when they drew the Senate redistricting plan in 2012. The Legislature has scheduled a special session in October to start over on that map.

But the breakthrough for the legal team — lawyers for the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, a coalition of Democrat-leaning voters and their redistricting experts — came just days before the May 19, 2014, trial on the congressional map was set to begin.

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The first place the challengers looked for clues was in the House’s batch of seven proposed congressional maps in November 2011.

Daniel Smith, an elections expert and University of Florida political science professor, was among the experts hired by the League of Women voters in 2012 to analyze the redistricting maps drawn by the Legislature for evidence that the process had been used to favor incumbents or political parties.

Moonlighting and working from home, Smith examined what made the House’s drafts different, looking for shifts that would tilt the 27 available congressional seats more Republican.

“The mapmakers in Tallahassee — either the state legislative staff or Republican operatives — were literally going down to the census block level and figuring out what the performance of a district was by moving people in or out of key districts,” he said. “Each map exposed the decisions by leadership.”

He found that to help U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Winter Haven, the maps moved Democrats out of his district and into Democrat U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown’s sprawling north-south district.

“Dan Webster’s residence was actually in Corrine Brown’s district but that was because there were so many Democrats in that census block and precinct that his house came with it,” Smith said. “The final map tipped the minority voters in Brown’s district for the first time over 50 percent plus.”

But the data showed that mapmakers went beyond saturating Brown’s district with black voters. “They also sought other Democratic-performing white census blocks to pack into that district,” he said. “It made sure those Democrats were not in the adjacent competitive district.”

As Smith compared 400,000 census blocks on each of nearly 100 maps, he found “a unique aggregation of census blocks” that didn’t exist in the 2002 congressional map used by lawmakers as their baseline. Yet these pieces existed “across different maps — from maps drawn prior to any public map, all the way to the final adopted map,” he said.

One map, titled “Perfect Pieces” by Reichelderfer, “contained the fundamental structure for subsequent maps introduced by the Florida House,” Smith wrote in his analysis.

Legislative lawyers tried to block Smith’s report from being entered into evidence at trial, and the plaintiffs never called Smith as a witness. But Smith said the conclusions were unavoidable: The similarity between Reichelderfer’s maps and the ones enacted by legislators “can’t be a coincidence. There has to be some grander coordination going on.”

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Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis said when he invalidated the congressional map in 2014 that the operatives “might have successfully concealed their scheme and their actions from the public had it not been for the (challengers’) determined efforts to uncover it in this case.”

For King, the head of a six-member law firm who had never before handled a redistricting lawsuit, the case was like “piecing together a puzzle.”

“It’s just like any other case except you’ve got maps,” King said. “The maps tell a story and you’ve got to interpret them.”

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@miamiherald.com. Follow @MaryEllenKlas.