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As I wrote in today’s New York Times, despite the failure of the Supreme Court to act, there’s a way forward to stop gerrymandering. Here at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, we’ve assessed the best route to reform in your state. Check it out!

This reflects a team effort by (alphabetical) Hope Johnson, James Turk, me, and Ben Williams. Email us at gerrymander@princeton.edu with your local reports and any corrections!

Now that the Supreme Court has run away from partisan gerrymandering, it’s time to fight on a state-by-state basis.

Here’s a long list of actions for individual states. I’ll add to it as more ideas come up.

First, the categories of actions you can take:

— Sam Wang (@SamWangPhD) June 29, 2019

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Despite the failure of the Supreme Court to act, there’s a way forward to stop gerrymandering. Here at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, we’ve assessed the best route to reform in your state. Check it out!

This reflects a team effort by (alphabetical) Hope Johnson, James Turk, me, and Ben Williams. Email us at gerrymander@princeton.edu with your local reports and any corrections!

Now that the Supreme Court has run away from partisan gerrymandering, it’s time to fight on a state-by-state basis.

Here’s a long list of actions for individual states. I’ll add to it as more ideas come up.

First, the categories of actions you can take:

— Sam Wang (@SamWangPhD) June 29, 2019

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Michigan’s new redistricting commission is getting off the ground! Here’s an early step: a request for statistical assistance in selecting commissioners at random from the applicant pool. Statistical consultants, put in a bid – and help move reform forward!

To see the state government’s full RFP, follow this link, click on Guest Access, and do a key word search on “statistical.”

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So again, not to bang this drum too hard, but this is the thing about search traffic and the like not being a proxy for voter intention. https://t.co/ugJxqzDimO

— Ariel Edwards-Levy (@aedwardslevy) June 28, 2019

In such a crowded field, it’s inevitable that some candidate will get a boomlet. How long does a boomlet last, and how does it end?

We know what a cycle of boom-and-bust looks like from the contested 2012 and 2016 GOP primaries:

  • Step 1: Start with obscure candidate X.
  • Step 2: X says something catchy.
  • Step 3: The press and pundits go wild! Watch out for meaningless words like “electable.”
  • Step 4: X inches upward in the polls.
  • Step 5: The press does more digging, and X gets more attention.
  • Step 6: Surprise! Something bad happens. A gaffe, a skeleton in the closet emerges, or they just get boring. Bad coverage follows.
  • Step 7: X drops in the polls.

Time elapsed: 1-2 months.

As an example of this cycle, think of the 2012 GOP primary: Herman Cain, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann. All rose and fell.

We won’t know until some polling data comes in, but changes for Harris and Biden seem likely based on snap audience reactions and web search frequency. Senator Harris has evoked strong positive reactions, and appears to be at Step 2-3. The next question is: does she have the abilities and resources to escape the usual cycle of boom and bust?

Perhaps less appreciated, Vice-President Biden may have just had his Step 6. His bump in the polls started at the end of April, when he announced his candidacy. It’s been two months – is his time up?

And who knows – will we see a Marianne Williamson boomlet? Her web search frequency went through the roof last night. Since she’s polling in the 0-1% range, there’s nowhere to go but up. As a spiritual adviser to Oprah Winfrey, up seems like a good direction for her.

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Today, the Supreme Court ran away from the question of partisan gerrymandering. Chief Justice Roberts’s majority decision cited the problem of “proportional representation” as an impediment to establishing a standard of fairness. His argument has a major logical problem which is easily fixed – though at this point, it will have to be done in state courts. Here’s how.

Roberts asserts that claims of partisan gerrymandering rely on an assumption about what would be appropriate levels of representation. Specifically, he says that the number of seats is not guaranteed for a given number of votes cast statewide – a quota of sorts. (Note that although he says “proportional representation,” he doesn’t mean literal proportionality. He means any diagnostic tool that uses the number of seats won by either party, compared with their vote share.)

To be sure, some tests count wins and losses. The efficiency gap comes to mind, as well as a well-established measure called “partisan bias.” But not all tests do that.

In several law articles [Harvard Law Review Blog]  [Election Law Journal] I argue that the tests fall into two categories:

  1. Inequity of opportunity: did both parties have similar opportunity to win seats?
  2. Inequity of outcome: did the parties get a fair share of seats?

Roberts has focused on category (2). But category (1), inequity of opportunity, fits very well with previous doctrine – which has focused on race as a factor. Was a group packed? Then they would have lopsidedly large wins. Was a group cracked between districts? Then their opponents would have carefully arranged, narrow wins.

Here are some tests that probe for inequity of opportunity:

  • The lopsided-wins test: in a closely-divided state like North Carolina, does one side have more lopsided wins than the other? The t-test does this. As students of science and engineering know, this is literally the oldest test in the book. [Stanford Law Review]
  • In a party-dominated state like Maryland, were the wins engineered to be very uniform, thus protecting the majority party? Again, it’s a simple test – and again, it doesn’t count the number of wins. [Election Law Journal]

Finally, if the Court didn’t want to get into math, they could have done what they’ve always done in racial gerrymandering cases: inspect individual districts for evidence of packing and cracking.

So basically their reason for not addressing partisan gerrymandering is at best a misunderstanding of the detection methods; at worst, it’s a clever dodge.

Would pointing all this out to the Supreme Court have swayed them? I doubt it. Fundamentally, I suspect Roberts didn’t want to address these cases at all. If in her dissent Justice Kagan had cited the arguments I’ve written about, I am sure Roberts would have found another excuse.

Although federal courts are now closed, state courts are wide open – indeed, Roberts leaned on this point fairly hard. And all the data-based arguments for partisan gerrymandering can still work in state court. We’ve built a legal doctrine that finds relevant principles in all fifty state constitutions. [U. Pennsylvania Journal of Constitutional Law, forthcoming] In North Carolina, where plaintiffs lost in today’s Supreme Court decision, the state supreme court is friendly to voting rights. There’s a lot of hope for the Tar Heel State.

The dream of fair districting lives on!

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This summer, I’ll be on a panel at Netroots Nation to talk about state-level strategies to achieve fair districting. It will be in Philadelphia from July 11-13. Our panel’s on the first day.

The other panelists are great. They include a member of the California redistricting commission, widely considered to be a bipartisan success. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project is similarly nonpartisan. We are open to a wide variety of audiences and allies, including Netroots Nation, a progressive gathering.

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Partisan gerrymandering makes the primary the only election where there is real competition. In the New York Times, a former Senate candidate writes on how even this avenue can be manipulated to reduce competition by the political parties.

The author’s proposed solutions can conceivably help. A top-two primary system, as implemented in California, can increase competition. Elimination of partisan gerrymandering can reduce the number of safe seats somewhat, though his approach, a constitutional amendment, seems doomed to fail. Other approaches, such as state-by-state independent commissions, or H.R. 1, the For The People Act of 2019, have clearer routes to eventual passage.

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…and here’s our podcast on Volume II. Our guest is the incomparable Quinta Jurecic, of Lawfareblog.

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Been meaning to pick up that Mueller Report, but gotten a little scare of its heft? Wondering what all the fuss is about? Concerned for your democracy? We have the answer for you!

In the latest episode of Politics And Polls, Julian Zelizer launch our book club on the Mueller Report. This week we do Volume I, Russian Interference. Joining us is Marcy Wheeler, who writes about national security issues at Emptywheel.net. Marcy has an enormous amount of in-depth knowledge. We had a focused discussion, complete with page and section numbers.

Get a hard copy of the Report (or use this searchable PDF), brew some tea or coffee, and join us!

In upcoming weeks we’ll do Volume II (guest Quinta Jurecic of Lawfareblog) and constitutional issues (Marty Lederman of Georgetown Law School).

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Truly it is now cool to care about gerrymandering. Check out this great article in Bustle. It features Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s own Hannah Wheelen and Ben Williams. Also Katie Fahey, Justin Levitt – they went deep and talked to the right people!

To quote Ben: “Gerrymandering isn’t the issue you have to care about most, but it is the issue you have to care about first.”

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