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Princeton brief in Rucho v. Common Cause

March 8th, 2019, 5:26pm by Sam Wang

Wesley Pegden of Carnegie-Mellon University, Jonathan Rodden of Stanford University, and I joined forces on an amicus brief (PDF). We offered the court our views on the federal partisan gerrymandering case from North Carolina, Rucho v. Common Cause (this link goes to all the other briefs as well). We describe to the court how the various tests of partisan unfairness fall into two big categories: inequality of opportunity and inequity of outcome. We furthermore describe how the drawing of many alternative maps can do both jobs.

Wesley Pegden is best known in redistricting circles for a theorem he and co-authors published last year regarding the Monte Carlo Markov chain approach. This approach finds many (typically billions) of maps that are made by making small changes to a candidate map. He showed that if the candidate map is most extreme of N such maps, it must be in the O(1/sqrt(N)) range of maps that can be reached by MCMC. He, Moon Duchin, and Jonathan Mattingly (expert in the N.C. case) have all been applying this approach to redistricting with great effectiveness.

Jonathan Rodden has a long history of drawing ensembles of maps. Using older methods, he and Jowei Chen (now at University of Michigan) have used a random-seeding approach to draw hundreds of maps, not related to one another, to explore a wide range of possibilities.

My own contribution to this brief was to point out that despite the proliferation of map-based and simpler numerical-measurement tests, they fall into two big buckets from a legal standpoint: inequality of opportunity and inequity of outcome. That was the subject of our recent prizewinning entry in the Common Cause contest. Examples include lopsided wins (test of opportunity; applies to N.C.) or uniform wins (again a test opportunity; applies to Maryland). MCMC tests both opportunity and outcome.

We were very ably represented by Tacy Flint. She is a former clerk of Richard Posner and of Stephen Breyer, and she led a legal team at Sidley Austin. All in all, it was a dream team of co-authors and counsel. It was a pleasure to work together!

→ 3 CommentsTags: Redistricting · Supreme Court

NJ Redistricting Forum at Princeton University – postponed to Tuesday February 26th

February 20th, 2019, 12:18pm by Sam Wang

The redistricting forum scheduled for tonight at Princeton University is postponed on account of weather. It’s now resecheduled for next Tuesday, February 26th. The location’s the same, Maeder Hall. Here’s the flyer.

This is an event hosted by the League of Women Voters New Jersey and FairDistrictsNJ. It’s part of a series.

See you next week, and stay warm!

→ 1 CommentTags: Redistricting

Meet the Woo Students!

February 18th, 2019, 4:20pm by Sam Wang

In our recent report on Michigan’s new commission, the main movers were M.P.A. students of the Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Affairs. Above, meet Tarrajna, Henri, and the rest and learn how they did it!

→ 2 CommentsTags: Redistricting

Laboratories of Democracy Reform: State Constitutions and Partisan Gerrymandering

February 15th, 2019, 10:46pm by Sam Wang

Uncertain about whether the Supreme Court will do anything about partisan gerrymandering? We have something for you. Rick Ober, Ben Williams, and I have completed a manuscript, “Laboratories of Democracy Reform: State Constitutions and Partisan Gerrymandering.” It’s available here on SSRN.

In our article, we argue that partisan gerrymandering can be curtailed on a local basis using state law and constitutions. The intellectual framework was laid out by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Elena Kagan in their decision and concurrence in Gill v. Whitford. And even if they themselves don’t use it, this framework is available for state courts to use under state law.

Their logic is built upon the concepts of equal protection and freedom of association: voters should not be penalized individually (Roberts; equal protection) or in the aggregate (Kagan; freedom of association) for expressing partisan views. As it happens, these provisions are found in state constitutions across the nation.

So long as it doesn’t conflict with federal law, a state court-based ruling is not subject to review in federal court. And generally, it is possible for state courts to provide for more rights than federal courts do. So a new state protection can be reconciled with a wide range of possible actions by the Supreme Court on the North Carolina and Maryland cases currently before it. We give dozens of examples where states used their own law or constitution to overturn a map. Finally, we suggest states where conditions may be right for a local approach, including North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Unleash your inner Federalist!

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On Michigan Radio

February 11th, 2019, 10:04pm by Sam Wang

Today I spoke with Cynthia Canty of Michigan Radio about the road ahead for the Michigan redistricting commission. Great conversation – take a listen!

Comments Off on On Michigan RadioTags: Redistricting

A Commissioner’s Guide to Redistricting in Michigan

February 4th, 2019, 12:00pm by Sam Wang

Today we’re releasing a detailed report on Michigan’s new Independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission!

In November, Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to their state constitution to remove the power of the state legislature to draw legislative and Congressional district boundaries. The vote was a victory for those seeking to end gerrymandering, but it’s the only the beginning of a process.

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project has been helping master’s of public policy students at the Woodrow Wilson School to prepare a report highlighting best practices in forming the commission and in executing its constitutional duties. The report is titled A Commissioner’s Guide to Redistricting in Michigan. You can read it here, or download a PDF.

Among our major findings: [

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A Redistricting “Reform” Bill in Virginia Would Entrench Politicians Further

February 3rd, 2019, 2:20am by Sam Wang

No matter who is governor of Virginia by next week, Republicans have a problem: in 2021, Democrats may control redistricting. In response, Republicans have introduced ostensibly nonpartisan reform. Their “reform” is a hedge – one that weakens the ability of voters to remove legislators from office.

The Virginia redistricting bill HJ615 removes oversight by the governor, removes oversight by one chamber of the General Assembly over the other, and prevents a minority party from speaking for itself.

But why are Virginia legislators proposing any legislation at all? Because of an imminent threat to their power. [Read more →]

Comments Off on A Redistricting “Reform” Bill in Virginia Would Entrench Politicians FurtherTags: Redistricting

The Electoral College: Origins, Consequences, and Flaws

January 27th, 2019, 11:14pm by Sam Wang

I have some thoughts on the Electoral College. I hope you don’t mind the Twitter format!

You can also see a single-page version here thanks to ThreadReaderApp.

→ 8 CommentsTags: President · U.S. Institutions

Politics & Polls: talk back to Julian and Sam

January 22nd, 2019, 4:19pm by Sam Wang

In our Politics & Polls podcast, Julian Zelizer and I talk to our guests, and sometimes to each other. This week we want to hear from you.

Do you have questions? Ideas that interest you? Email them to Do it now!

(For regular commenters: you can use the comment thread here too.)

→ 5 CommentsTags: Princeton

Correcting the Economist: Partisan gerrymandering, still going strong

January 21st, 2019, 9:44pm by Sam Wang

The Economist ran a Graphic (January 5th) purporting to show that in the 2018 election, partisan gerrymandering was overcome by a wave of opinion. However, this is simply not true.

In the November Congressional election, Democrats took over the House despite about a dozen seats being safely Republican by nefarious means. I wrote them a letter explaining their error – which they printed in their January 19th issue. Go read it!

For those without access, the full text comes after the jump. Also, a scan is here.

Thanks to The Economist and G. Elliott Morris for giving us a hearing!

Postscript: G. Elliott Morris points out that their headline gave a wrong impression. Headline writers have the power to simplify – and to oversimplify. [Read more →]

→ 1 CommentTags: 2018 Election · Redistricting