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Fault Lines: an interview with Julian Zelizer and Kevin Kruse on their new book

January 10th, 2019, 7:44pm by Sam Wang


I got to discuss America’s political divide with my colleague Kevin Kruse, as well as his co-author – and my co-host Julian Zelizer. Julian and Kevin are co-authors of a new book on contemporary American history released this week, “Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974.”

This was a good one – listen!

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Say “hasta la vista, baby” to gerrymandering

January 10th, 2019, 8:45am by Sam Wang


In Los Angeles, the Schwarzenegger Institute for Public Policy is hosting the Terminate Gerrymandering Summit. This is its actual name! A launch for their new project, the Fair Maps Incubator. It’s focused on redistricting commissions. and it will be livestreamed!

There are some great speakers and panels (schedule here). To name a few: Arnold Schwarzenegger of course, Katie Fahey (Voters Not Politicians), Stephen Wolf (Daily Kos Elections), Christian Grose (USC), Nick Stephanopoulos (Campaign Legal Center), Kathay Feng (Common Cause)…watch if you can today at 10 AM-noon Pacific (1-3 PM Eastern).

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Coalition for smarter redistricting in New Jersey

January 7th, 2019, 9:47pm by Sam Wang


I’m pleased to announce that the Princeton Gerrymandering Project is joining a working group to evaluate and make recommendations for New Jersey’s legislative redistricting process. Our press release is here.

Our working group follows on an unpopular proposal that would have changed the composition of the reapportionment commission and inserted a formula for compliance. PGP found that this formula would not stop partisan offenses – and even left a fairly prominent loophole.

The new working group, coordinated by Patrick Murray at Monmouth University, will write a report that will provide guiding principles for the next redistricting round in 2021. We’ll also host a series of public forums in collaboration with the League of Women Voters of New Jersey. One forum will take place here at Princeton!

  • Will Adler, computational research specialist, Princeton Gerrymandering Project, Princeton University.
  • Ronald Chen, Rutgers University law professor and the former New Jersey Public Advocate.
  • Patrick Murray, director, Monmouth University Polling Institute.
  • Yurij Rudensky, redistricting counsel, Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law.
  • Samuel Wang, neuroscience professor and director of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, Princeton University.Ben Williams, legal analyst and project coordinator, Princeton Gerrymandering Project, Princeton University.
  • Ben Williams, Legal Analyst and Project Coordinator, Princeton Gerrymandering Project, Princeton University.

Wish us luck – and come to a public forum. We’ll announce them soon!

→ 4 CommentsTags: Princeton · Redistricting

Possible fixes to the N.J. redistricting amendment

December 16th, 2018, 10:24pm by Sam Wang


The redistricting amendment was withdrawn on Saturday. No vote Monday!

Leadership took a beating. Some of this beating was unfair, administered by reporters who see everything in terms of national partisan warfare. The true battle was between the Legislature and Governor Murphy. But the legislation also had defects. Now there’s breathing room to fix it.

To fix the amendment, we have a few ideas. Some were described in our December 5th analysis. Here’s an updated list: [Read more →]

→ 4 CommentsTags: Redistricting

How a lazy media narrative has missed the boat on the NJ redistricting story

December 15th, 2018, 9:37am by Sam Wang


Much news coverage of the New Jersey redistricting amendment has characterized it as a Democratic power grab. But this is a lazy dependence on the national narrative of partisan warfare. Here in the Garden State, this is an intra-party squabble. Republicans are bystanders – and minorities are missing a chance at getting much-needed protection from the Supreme Court.

As fun as it is for the press to claim “both sides do it,” that’s actually not true in this case. In fact, there is so much confusion that proponents and opponents of the legislation are both citing Princeton Gerrymandering Project analysis – though in some cases, somewhat selectively.

There’s a wrong idea going around. The legislation *doesn’t* cement a Democratic advantage. Both parties can still gain an advantage, by persuading the independent commissioner to accept their plan.

This legislation is mostly not about partisanship. Instead, it is a power grab by the Democratic General Assembly – to take power away from Governor Murphy,  who is also a Democrat. The grab consists of changing the commission away from being appointed by the state parties and governor. Instead, commissioners will be appointed by legislative leaders.

The commission is currently half Democrats, half Republicans, plus an added independent tiebreaker appointed by the state Supreme Court. That’s the good part! The amendment doesn’t change that fact. But it also doesn’t do anything to mandate that competing plans from the two parties be closer together. It’s a lost opportunity.

Much of what has appeared in the news media about the mathematical formulas is wrong. Here’s a recent example by Mark Joseph Stern of Slate. As much as I generally like Stern’s work, there are some factual issues with this particular piece. He’s not alone.

Here is a quick FAQ on what the legislation does and doesn’t do. [Read more →]

→ 3 CommentsTags: Redistricting

Virginia’s racial gerrymander: PGP’s amicus brief on the Special Master’s remedy

December 14th, 2018, 8:50am by Sam Wang


In the Bethune-Hill racial gerrymandering case, special master Bernard Grofman has submitted possible remedial plans to the federal court in his report and addendum.

Unusually, he has given the court a variety of choices. In these choices, the affected area, in southeast Virginia, is divided into four regions. In each region, Professor Grofman has given the court several options. We give you a visualization of several of the plans here.

Today the Princeton Gerrymandering Project submitted an amicus brief evaluating the various plans. We find that the combination which does the most effective job of remediating the racial bias is also the plan that makes the most changes. We say as much in our amicus brief (see PDF).

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Fatal flaws in New Jersey’s redistricting “reform”

December 11th, 2018, 12:37pm by Sam Wang


FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project has compared New Jersey’s redistricting legislation, S.C.R. 43/A.C.R. 205, to the current system that is already in place. We find that the proposed legislation would not improve quantitative measures of fairness. Furthermore, it opens the door to several forms of partisan and racial gerrymandering.

Here are the major points:

  • The formula (pseudo-“competitiveness” and partisan symmetry) still allows gerrymandering.
  • It gives partisans a way to fool the independent commissioner, and does not bring the parties closer together.
  • It does not guard against the single biggest threat to the Voting Rights Act.
  • A do-nothing bad bill forecloses the possibility of a better bill.

Details: [Read more →]

Comments Off on Fatal flaws in New Jersey’s redistricting “reform”Tags: Redistricting

New Jersey redistricting legislation still allows Democratic and Republican gerrymanders

December 5th, 2018, 3:10pm by Sam Wang



As I wrote earlier this week, there’s been a lot of fuss – and some misinformation – concerning a proposed redistricting reform here in New Jersey. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project has now analyzed the legislation, constitutional amendment S.C.R. 43/A.C.R. 205.

Will Adler, Ben Williams, and I find that the legislation still allows either party, Republican or Democrat, to commit a gerrymander. We show exactly how that would be done, and we list districts that would be affected by a partisan redrawing of the state legislative map.

We also describe amendments that would close these loopholes and create genuine reform. This morning, we sent our findings to two local legislators, Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker (D) and State Senator Kip Bateman (R). Our analysis and recommendations are here as a PDF.

At the top of this post is a Republican gerrymander that is allowed under the legislation. Here is a Democratic gerrymander, also in compliance:


In these charts, each dot is one Senate district, color-coded by party (black indicates open seats freed up by throwing pairs of Democrats into the same district). The location of the dot is the natural partisan tendency of the district, as defined by statewide elections. The arrows include the advantage that individual incumbents bring to the table on top of that natural partisanship.

How can this be? It has to do with a weird definition of competitiveness, and limits on partisanship that don’t entirely make sense given New Jersey’s demographics. For details, see our memo.

Comments Off on New Jersey redistricting legislation still allows Democratic and Republican gerrymandersTags: Redistricting

What New Jersey’s Redistricting Amendment Does – And Doesn’t – Do

December 2nd, 2018, 9:42pm by Sam Wang


New Jersey has gotten into the mix with redistricting reform. A constitutional amendment has been introduced to change the rules for how districts will be drawn. Far from being a good-government bill, the proposed legislation is a recipe for volatility – and contains a loophole that would allow either party to commit an extreme gerrymander.

Last week, Senator Tom Kean Jr. (R) wrote an opinion piece decrying the legislation. He got some points right. For example, he’s correct that good-government groups, social justice groups and academics all have concerns about the bill. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s Ben Williams and Will Adler testified in Trenton at a hearing last week. Their entire statement is here.

However, Senator Kean is not quite right that it’s an effective power grab by Democrats. For that purpose, it’s poorly designed. Indeed, it has a loophole that could allow Republicans to commit a gerrymander against Democrats as early as 2021.

We’re currently preparing a deep-dive analysis of the legislation (Senate Concurrent Resolution 43 / Assembly Concurrent Resolution 205). Here are our central points:

  • The legislation doesn’t guarantee a Democratic advantage. But it does give cover to anyone who wants to commit a gerrymander, by providing standards that give the appearance of fairness.
  • Under this legislation, Democrats or Republicans could still draw lines to their advantage. We have examples that prove this. Either side would even have an argument to the independent tiebreaking commissioner that they were simply following the law to a maximum extent.
  • Gerrymanders can be camouflaged by calling close but reliable wins “competitive” – which is misleading. And close, reliable wins across the board are how a party cements an advantage for itself. Because the independent commissioner can pick either side’s map, it turns redistricting into a giant coin toss.
  • It creates incentives for either party to weaken all incumbents, including its own incumbents. They would be rewarded for taking risks in search of a big win. Some competition is good, but this legislation would reward volatility. For example, we have identified a list of districts whose Democratic incumbents would become pawns for their own party to push around, in search of a partisan advantage.

More than anything, this legislation is a missed opportunity. If it passes, it takes the place of genuinely good reform. And that’s a loss for all New Jerseyans.

Watch this space – and gerrymander.princeton.edu – for our later postings on this bill.

→ 2 CommentsTags: 2006 Elections · Redistricting

Princeton OpenDistricts announcement – live from Pennsylvania!

December 2nd, 2018, 8:00am by Sam Wang


Yesterday, FairDistrictsPA had a town hall on redistricting in Harrisburg. Lots of great people, with a focus on Pennsylvania. It was livestreamed – the whole event is available here, and my session will be here and is embedded above (I start at 36:09).

My panel featured FairDistrictsPA legislative director Pat Beaty, the Brennan Center for Justice’s Yurij Rudensky, and me. We talked about prospects for state-level action in Pennsylvania.

I talked about the Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s mission: to use math, law, and data to help with fair districting. Fundamentally, we are translators and toolmakers. We work at the level of rules (lawmaking and courts) and transparency (open data and citizen redistricting).

I was especially pleased and excited to talk about OpenPrecincts, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project‘s approach to providing tools for all citizens to do high-quality, open-access redistricting. It’s not unlike what the good people at DrawTheLinesPA are doing, though our goal is to draw legal-quality maps and hit all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. We aim to get this done in time for 2021 redistricting cycle – and in certain key states, even sooner.

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