Princeton Election Consortium

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The Princeton Gerrymandering Project is expanding!

June 1st, 2018, 11:20pm by Sam Wang


Anyone interested in containing partisan gerrymanders is waiting for several major decisions from the Supreme Court this  month. But no matter which way those decisions go, the next stage of reform will be local. For this reason, my team at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project is making plans to expand our research efforts, which bridge mathematics and the law, to individual states.

Here’s what we have planned ahead in our effort to fix a major bug in democracy. [Read more →]

→ 2 CommentsTags: Princeton · Redistricting · Supreme Court

This Saturday at Princeton: A bipartisan panel on gerrymandering

May 31st, 2018, 1:10pm by Will Adler


Alumni, welcome back for Reunions!

This Saturday, as part of Princeton’s annual Reunions, Sam will be moderating a bipartisan panel on gerrymandering. Our new initiative, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, uses data analytics and the law to address gerrymandering. We’re working at the federal level (see our last-minute appeal to help the Supreme Court) and the state level, partnering with reform efforts in Michigan and Virginia, as well as setting up a major data hub to help redistricting and voting reform movements. And we’re gearing up for whatever comes out of the Supreme Court later this month.

We hope those around this weekend will come out and join us this Saturday, June 2nd, 8:45am, McCosh Hall 10.

Alumni-Faculty Forum: Shifting Boundaries: Redistricting, Gerrymandering & Election Reform — Saturday, June 2, 8:45am—10:00am, McCosh Hall 10

  • Moderator: Sam Wang, Professor of Neuroscience and Molecular Biology, and Founder, Princeton Election Consortium
  • Peter Smith ’68, Former Member of Congress (VT) and Founding President, Community College of Vermont and California State University, Monterey Bay
  • Nellie Gorbea ’88, Rhode Island Secretary of State
  • Vanessa C. Tyson ’98, Associate Professor of Politics, Scripps College, and incoming Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University
  • Amanda H. Neely ’03, General Counsel to U.S. Senator Rob Portman and Deputy Chief Counsel of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

Sponsored by the Alumni Association of Princeton University.

Comments Off on This Saturday at Princeton: A bipartisan panel on gerrymanderingTags: Redistricting

SCOTUS Tea Leaf Watch

May 23rd, 2018, 8:51am by Sam Wang


The anti-labor Epic Systems decision reminds us that the Supreme Court is fundamentally conservative in its outlook – in the political sense, not a textualist sense. Edith Roberts has the roundup.

FantasySCOTUS watch: I give you the top 16 punters.
Gill v. Whitford: 9 guess affirm, 5 reverse.
Benisek v. Lamone: 10 reverse, 5 affirm, 1 not voting.
Abbott v. Perez: 4 affirm, 8 reverse, 4 not voting.

In each case, the liberal position is listed first.

Abbott v. Perez is a confused case, as Texas cases usually are. Still, it is just one example of broad hostility on the part of the Court to racial gerrymandering claims. This case tells us that the future of such claims is bleak. Here we are in 2018, and no matter how this case is resolved, much of the Texas map will have made it through four Congressional elections – and maybe all five elections before post-2020 redistricting. Truly it is possible to run out the clock on a racial gerrymander.

The partisan gerrymandering cases seem more likely to tilt in the liberal direction, at least for now. Although we don’t know what will happen in Whitford or in Benisek, the issue is at least alive. To the extent that a racial voting group’s interests align with one party more than another, for now this is a remaining route to reform through court action. For a longer look, I recommend Rick Hasen’s “Party All The Time” article on the relationship between race and party.

Pardon my ongoing obsession with the Supreme Court; I’ll get to the House and Senate when summer comes.

→ 1 CommentTags: Redistricting · Supreme Court

The Princeton Election Consortium needs your help!

May 9th, 2018, 10:26pm by Sam Wang


Here at PEC, we need help for the 2018 season. I want to revamp the site, as well as redesign some of the ways we present information. It’s an effort for the summer, with the goal of being fully automatic by fall. Interested? See this ad, and write to us.

One catch: it would be best if you were nearby, to allow in-person meetings!

Comments Off on The Princeton Election Consortium needs your help!Tags: 2018 Election

Tea Leaves II: FantasySCOTUS renders a verdict

May 5th, 2018, 2:09am by Sam Wang


(Welcome to readers of SCOTUSblog! -Sam)

Postscript: Obviously, you can do what I did here for other cases. You are welcome to post your results in comments. Better yet, if you want to write a program to do this automatically, that would be quite welcome!

This week, Heather Gerken, election law scholar and Dean of the Yale Law School, visited to give a lecture here at Princeton on federalism as a powerful tool for both conservatives *and* progressives. During question-and-answer, she was asked what she thought would happen in the current partisan gerrymandering cases before the Supreme Court. After getting leave from me to answer (because of this, she is quite literally my lawyer!), she thought things looked uncertain. One of her sources was betting websites. As her unofficial data scientist, I thought I’d do a deeper dive.

I’ve previously used the crowd wisdom of these betting sites to estimate the outcome of the Arizona v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission redistricting case. There, the crowd did well – especially the most accurate punters. After doing the same thing for the current cases, it is possible to see what the smart crowd thinks will happen next month. [Read more →]

→ 19 CommentsTags: Redistricting · Supreme Court

Tea Leaves on Partisan Gerrymandering

April 25th, 2018, 11:37am by Sam Wang


Update: At Election Law Blog, Rick Pildes of NYU points out slightly different tea leaves. In his reading, Kennedy got stuck writing two October opinions because he had to pick up pieces left by a failed Gorsuch opinion.

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a racial gerrymandering case, Abbott v. Perez. That’s a complicated case. For a rundown, see Amy Howe over at SCOTUSBlog. The vote might come down to Anthony Kennedy, the usual swing vote in gerrymandering cases. He is generally unfavorable to such claims. However, the liberals argued that a win by Governor Abbott could open the door to a flood of lawsuits by lowering the bar for an appeal to the Supreme Court (currently there has to be at least an injunction). Whatever the case, it seems likely that the justices will arrange themselves into two wings, with Kennedy’s vote up for grabs, like this vote (replace Scalia with Gorsuch):

But that’s not my topic today. Instead I want to engage in some speculation on the partisan gerrymandering cases. Yesterday, a small clue came from an opinion issued by the Court yesterday in an unrelated case. Bottom line: I think reformers will win in Maryland, and they will win or have more work to do in Wisconsin and North Carolina. [Read more →]

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One last gerrymandering case…Abbott v. Perez in Texas

April 23rd, 2018, 11:16am by Sam Wang


This week, the Supreme Court hears one last case on gerrymandering for the term. This one’s a racial-gerrymandering case, Abbott v. Perez. The history of the case is long and tortured – see Ian Millhiser’s summary. Also, here’s great coverage from Alexa Ura at the Texas Tribune.

This case is in a separate category than the partisan-gerrymandering cases (Whitford, Benisek, and Rucho), where there is an opportunity to create new guardrails. Instead, Abbott seems more a case study in how a dispute can be slow-walked – in this case since 2011. I agree with Millhiser that the slow-walking is upsetting. But it could arise from caution in the face of complexity (or in the partisan cases, the absence of settled doctrine). So one could justify that aspect of how gerrymandering cases are handled.

Millhiser is quite negative about the Court’s approach to gerrymandering. At the risk of sounding Pollyanna-ish, let me take a more positive view of where the Court may head in the future. Indeed, I see potential for substantial improvement, by expanding gerrymandering from race into the domain of party. [Read more →]

→ 7 CommentsTags: Redistricting

At the Harvard Law Review Blog

April 11th, 2018, 8:19pm by Sam Wang


At the Harvard Law Review Blog, I lay out a framework for organizing the many tests for partisan gerrymandering. The framework may be useful for establishing a logical and manageable standard to define the offense. Read “An Antidote To Gobbledygook“!

P.S. Monday April 17th: The piece is linked from SCOTUSBlog!

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An Antidote for Gobbledygook: Organizing The Judge’s Partisan-Gerrymandering Toolkit

April 7th, 2018, 3:04am by Sam Wang


The Supreme Court appears to be at loggerheads in its search for a single standard for partisan gerrymandering. Here, Sam Wang and Brian Remlinger collect the many statistical standards into a single toolkit. Basically, all the tests fit into two categories: inequality of opportunity and durable outcomes. Read our working draft, which we have uploaded as an SSRN preprint here.

Here’s the law side of our argument, in a nutshell:

We propose that mathematical tests fall into two categories: tests of unequal opportunity and tests of durable outcome. These tests draw upon ideas borrowed from racial discrimination law, while extending that doctrine in directions that are unique to the category of partisanship.

Opportunity is easily defined and corresponds to a core principle of democracy: it should be possible to vote out a candidate or incumbent. While it is true that voters have clustered into enclaves that sometimes make an incumbent or party safe, it is equally the case that redistricters can manipulate lines to amplify the effects of that natural clustering. Just as members of a racial group can have the representational rights impaired through gerrymandering, so it is with partisans.

Test of unequal opportunity are easily conceptualized as an extension of racial discrimination. Where partisans comprise a small fraction of the population, the appropriate procedure is to examine individual districts. Where partisans comprise close to half the voters of a state, a statewide evaluation is necessary.

However, party is a more mutable characteristic than race. Therefore one may ask whether a partisan advantage is durable.  Our second standard, testing for inequality of outcome, addresses this problem by probing whether a particular arrangement is likely to be robust to likely changes within a redistricting cycle. This can be gauged not just by waiting for multiple elections to pass (which would vitiate the remedy) but by gauging the partisan effects of a map by examining likely outcomes under a variety of conditions. This is well within the reach of modern expert witnesses.

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Today’s big partisan gerrymandering case: Maryland (Benisek v. Lamone)

March 28th, 2018, 11:40am by Sam Wang



So, oral arguments in Benisek just ended. Here’s the transcript! A round-up of the case is at SCOTUSblog. . Audio will soon be available here.

Bloomberg reports that multiple justices questioned whether a First Amendment-based approach of looking at single districts (as is done for racial gerrymandering) is the right approach to regulate the Maryland gerrymander. To remind everyone…it is possible to analyze Maryland on a statewide basis to identify a statistical anomaly. See my Election Law Journal analysis here. Rick Hasen posts a pessimistic take here. He thinks there’s no consensus about how to define a partisan gerrymander, and he thinks this is a problem.

However, here at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project we see a way forward. As PGP’s Will Adler points out, in both Whitford and Benisek oral arguments, Justice Kennedy asked the same question: whether it would be permissible for a state law to mandate that partisanship be a “predominant consideration.” This seems to be a starting point. After that, sure, there’s a question of how to set a standard. In my view it would involve establishing the idea that a map is extreme. As we’ve written before, significance testing provides a path forward: t-test, mean-median difference, Monte Carlo, and map-drawing. They’re all related ideas, and they comprise a valuable toolbox for the judge.

PGP’s own Brian Remlinger was in the room for oral argument. He reports:

That was something. The liberals tore into the Republican plaintiff for not having a clear test, but Roberts tore into the Democrats for discriminating against the Republican voters, so his vote may be in play. He seems interested in doing something. Overall, I am more optimistic that it’s not game over when Kennedy retires.

I think whatever the Court does will include clear guidance on how to distinguish an unacceptable gerrymander from normal redistricting. Whitford wasn’t mentioned too much, so I didn’t get a sense of how the specific standard would be structured, except it will likely have some effects prong involving showing that a map substantially changes the electoral results.

Every justice seemed to think there’s no way that the gerrymander could be cured before November, which raises procedural issues for reversing the injunction. The Court might uphold the denial of the injunction, on the grounds that there’s no irreparable harm, but then establish a standard that would govern the Maryland trial as it goes forward.

Specific justices: The liberals won’t do anything to harm the anti-gerrymandering cause. Alito was dismissive and a vote against. Gorsuch didn’t say much.

In summary, Roberts’s vote might be in play! But we still don’t know what a standard would look like.

→ 8 CommentsTags: Redistricting