Monthly Archives: November 2019

NEW MAPS IN NORTH CAROLINA(?)

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Following the 2020 Census, the country’s congressional districts will be re-drawn state by state. In the meantime, though, there’s a battle in North Carolina, which has one of the most blatant gerrymanders in the country.  A Republican on the 2016 redistricting committee said that the current map — which elected 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats — was drawn because he did “not believe it [would be] possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.”

The state legislature, which is currently dominated by Republicans, passed a new congressional map earlier this month. They did so out of fear that the state court would rule the old maps unconstitutional1That they violate the state constitution, not the federal constitution and institute nonpartisan maps of their own. Republicans figured that if they could pass maps with a less egregious gerrymander, then perhaps they could avoid an even less friendly map forced upon them by the court. Unlike some other states, the governor cannot veto congressional redistricting maps, leaving Democratic Governor Roy Cooper powerless.

On December 2, the state court will hear a motion to reject these new maps on grounds that they violate the North Carolina Free Elections, Equal Protections, Freedom of Speech, and Freedom of Assembly Clauses.

The fate of the newly-passed, Republican-drawn maps is uncertain; it’s unclear if the court will strike them down and if they will be in place for next year’s elections. Below is the current map (drawn by Republicans in 2016 and used in the 2018 midterms) as well as the new map that just passed the Republican state legislature.   

Current Map

Newly Passed Map

Maps from Daily Kos Elections

While the new map’s fate is uncertain, its would-be impact on congressional apportionment is pretty clear. Adoption of the new maps would likely result in two Democratic pickups. The congressional delegation would shift from 10 Republicans and 3 Democrats to 8 Republicans and 5 Democrats.

The 2nd and 6th Districts
The key districts in the redraw are the 2nd and 6th. These seats are both currently held by Republicans: George Holding in the 2nd and Mark Walker in the 6th. The 2nd district, which currently surrounds Raleigh, would absorb the city center, making it safely Democratic. Trump carried the old 2nd district by 10%, but the new 2nd would have gone to Clinton by 25%. Similarly, the 6th District would unite the urban Greensboro and Winston-Salem areas. In the old map these two cities were split between the 13th and 5th districts. With the shift, the 6th District would move from a Trump +15 district to Clinton +21.

Even with these changes, the Democratic Party still thinks the maps have an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The problem lies in the Sandhills region. The region is heavily black and leans Democratic. In the new maps, the region is split between the 8th and 9th districts. Democrats would like a new district to comprise the entirety of the Sandhills region, which would give them another easy pickup.

The Clock is Ticking
Candidate filing for North Carolina congressional primary races was supposed to begin on December 2nd. Democrats have already challenged the new maps and Republicans have been arguing that, with the filing deadline approaching, it’s too late to make changes. On November 20, though, the court delayed the filing period and scheduled a hearing for that day — December 2 — instead. The court has put candidate filing on hold until the hearing date at least. 

The three-judge panel could side with the legislature, ruling the maps don’t violate the state constitution, and filing could resume quickly. Alternatively, the court could decide that the maps are unconstitutional. In this scenario, the state could order the state legislature to try again or could commission a redraw from a nonpartisan expert. Depending on how long this would take, the state could have to reschedule the primary, possibly splitting congressional primaries from others, including the presidential.  

Candidates, advocates, and voters are currently in limbo. Nobody knows what districts will be in place next year. Regardless, it looks like Democrats will pick up at least two additional seats in North Carolina, tightening their grasp on the House. Democrats can now afford to lose 17 seats and hold the majority. Depending on what goes down in North Carolina, that number will effectively be 19 or 20 by election day. 

KEEP AN EYE ON THE THE AT-LARGE HOUSE RACES

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The U.S. Constitution has no instructions regarding the size of the House of Representatives.  It was an act of Congress itself, the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929, that set the size of the House at the 435 members we know today. Congress could change that number at any time.

The U.S. Constitution does require that “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers.” This means that, as the population grows and the number of Representatives stays the same, more and more people are squeezed into each Congressional district. The smallest states (according to population) are afforded just one Representative. In these states, the one congressional district encompasses the entire state. These districts are called “At-Large” districts. These states don’t have to tussle with the complications brought by gerrymandering and redistricting.  

There are currently seven states with At-Large districts. The map below (click here for an interactive version) shows these seven states — Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. Dark red represents Safely Republican, dark blue represents Safely Democratic, and light red represents Likely Republican.2Ratings are from Sabato’s Crystal Ball Of the seven districts, three are Safely Republican, two are Safely Democratic, and two are Likely Republican.


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

It’s not surprising that most of these seats are Republican, given that less densely populated areas are more conservative. It’s the two smallest (and therefore the densest) states — Vermont and Delaware — that are Democratic leaning. The only competitive districts are in Alaska and Montana, although even these are very likely to be won by a Republican barring a hugely Democratic year or a collapse of the Republican congressional candidate.

Don Young from Alaska, should be safely reelected, but did have a close-ish election last year. He only won by a 6.6% margin. But Trump won the district by over 15%, and in a non-blowout presidential year, Young should have no real trouble. 

Republicans have similar prospects in Montana — they are nearly certain to win barring a terrible Republican environment. The day before a special election in 2017, Republican incumbent Greg Gianforte allegedly attacked a reporter (he eventually pleaded guilty, paid a fine, was assigned community service and anger management training, donated 50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists) and still was reelected by about 5% the next day. In 2018 he again won reelection by 5%. Still, though, he only won his past two elections by mid-single digits. Gianforte is now running for governor, but Republicans will probably hold the seat that Trump carried by 21%. Democrats have, however, added the district to its target list, meaning that the party thinks they have some hope of flipping it.

The other seats are safely Democratic or Republican: All were won by at least 24% in 2018. It’s hard to imagine any wave being strong enough to flip these seats.

These representatives are still ones to watch, though! Because they are state-wide federal political figures, they have a unique shot at climbing up the ladder to becoming Senators. These states have an interesting dynamic where there are two seats for the more prestigious Congressional chamber (the Senate) and only one available for the ‘lower’ chamber (the House). Of the seven states with at-large House representation, six (DE, MT, SD, ND, VT, WY) have a current senator who was once their state’s at-large representative. One — Bernie Sanders from Vermont — has a chance at becoming the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee next year.

So even if the at-large elections aren’t always competitive, they are races and candidates to watch. The at-large seats give politicians a unique stepping stone to higher office and becoming national political figures. Keep an eye on these seven states and their Representatives, even if they’re going to win reelection by 20%-50%. Like Bernie Sanders, they may have a shot at becoming a presidential nominee 30 years down the road.  

2020’S CROSSOVER DISTRICTS

Today’s post is a bit shorter than usual, given that I’ve been preparing my move from Rwanda back to the U.S. Still, I wanted to get you some good House election reading, so enjoy. Sign up for ESY below! We won’t bother you except to let you know about fresh, new content. We promise!

The 2018 midterms were a huge success for House Democrats. They netted 40 seats (going from 195 to 235) and took control of the chamber.

But presidential candidates will be on the ticket next year. And because split ticket voting is so rare, Democratic representatives that Trump carries will be in danger. So too will Republicans in districts the democratic nominee wins. The crossover districts from 2016 provide a good starting point for speculating at which incumbents could be in danger in 2020.

Heading into the 2018 midterms, there were only 13 Trump-carried districts with a Democratic representative. After the elections, Democrats had 31. 3Democrats netted 18 Trump districts. They picked up 21, but lost three (MN-01, MN-08, PA-14) These districts will be prime targets for Republicans hoping to overcome, or at least chip away at, Democrats’ majority in the House.

Before the 2018 midterms, there were 25 Clinton districts with a republican representative. Democrats demolished Republicans in this territory, picking up 22 of the 25, leaving only NY-24, PA-01, and TX-23. In 2018, Republicans didn’t win any additional districts in Clinton land.

This table summarizes the Trump/Clinton Crossover Districts heading into 2020.

Below is a map with all of the crossover districts heading into 2020. Dark blue represents Democratic held Trump seats. Dark red represents Republican held Clinton seats. Light red and light blue indicate crossover districts where the incumbent is retiring. Go use the interactive map to see in more detail what will be ground zero for the 2020 House competition. 


Click the map to create your own at 270toWin.com

I created the map at 270toWin, where in other news, I’ll be contributing elections and political analysis for the 2020 cycle. I’ll be back next week with a longer, more detailed post. 

HOW STRAIGHT TICKET VOTING CAN TIP THE SCALES DOWNBALLOT

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The Importance of Ballot Design
Electoral analysis usually focuses on polls, fundraising, voter preference, and other horse race indicators. But what if the determining factor in a race is something that neither the candidates nor the voters have control over: ballot design? Florida, in particular, has had an unfortunate history of ballot flubs. In 2000, the state had an infamous ballot debacle in Palm Beach County. And again, in 2018, the state confused voters with a ballot design flaw that may have tipped the Senate election there.

Straight Ticket Voting
The point is that small differences in ballot design can have a big effect. One such ballot feature — straight ticket voting (STV) — has suffered a public relations crisis, resulting in its removal in most states. Straight ticket voting lets a voter choose every candidate that a party has nominated on the general election ballot with one ballot mark. It’s usually an option at the top of the ballot and allows a voter to skip over any other partisan election that has a candidate from their chosen party.  

Proponents claim that STV makes voting easier, quicker, and results in less roll off voters — voters who vote for the top of the ticket but not downballot races. Opponents argue that it results in candidates winning due solely to their party identification, discourages thoughtful consideration of candidates’, and disadvantages third party and independent candidates.

It’s not clear that STV systematically benefits one party over the other. Proponents and opponents lie on both sides of the partisan divide. But while there is no consistent partisan advantage, some effects of STV are clear in downballot races.

  1. It reduces undercount/roll off votes. Voters who otherwise might have only voted for the top of the ticket — due to the length of the ballot, a lack of candidate knowledge, or apathy — might choose the STV option instead.
  2. It helps candidates with party affiliations. Only downballot candidates who have a party affiliation can earn votes through the STV option. Independent voters lose out.
  3. Name recognition is less important. Voters who choose STV will not be looking at candidate names or histories, making these less influential.
  4. Voting is quicker and lines/wait times can be shorter. Filling in one bubble at the top of the form is much easier and faster than going through an entire, sometimes multi-page ballot. This shortens the time it takes to vote and reduces waiting times at polling locations.
  5. Voters overlook ballot initiatives and nonpartisan office elections. Some voters will choose the STV option and fail to vote for non-partisan ballot initiatives and elections. Some of these voters might have skipped these votes even without the STV option, but others might fail to see them or realize that their STV vote doesn’t count in these elections.

STV in the States
In 2020, only seven or eight states will offer STV. (Pennsylvania’s state legislature passed a bill that eliminates STV, but they’re still waiting for Governor Tom Wolf’s signature.) This is down from 18 in 2006 and 21 in 1994. The table below shows the eight states (including Pennsylvania, which could change) with STV ballot options and the competitive4Defined as a rating by Sabato’s Crystal Ball of Toss-up, Lean D or R, or Likely D or R downballot federal elections.

The next table shows the two states that had STV in 2016 but will not in 2020 and their competitive downballot federal elections.

STV has the biggest impacts on far downballot races like judges and state legislatures. Most voters will vote in their Senate and House races, meaning that STV will only impact these races if they are very, very close.  Given the number of competitive federal races in STV states (3 Senate + 15 House) and the number of tight races in Iowa and Texas (2 Senate + 12 House), who recently eliminated STV, it is likely that some of these will be extremely close races. Out of these 32 federal elections, some will probably have a close enough margin that the state’s decision to have or eliminate STV could have determined the winner.

Again, it’s not easy to always know which party benefits from STV or its elimination. In general, though, the party who runs stronger at the top of the ticket will probably earn more straight ticket votes. This isn’t an infallible rule, though, and shouldn’t be applied to any individual district or state without data or evidence. The big picture to keep in mind is that, in a very close race, a state’s decision to keep or eliminate STV may have tipped the scales.

The Cases of Texas and Iowa
This is particularly relevant in Texas, where there is a competitive senate race and eight House races. According to a study done at Austin Community College, in 2016, an astounding 64% of voters in the state’s 10 largest counties used the STV option. In 2018, in the state’s 48 biggest counties (which account for 86% of the total vote count) 67% of voters used STV. Those who did use STV were split almost perfectly between Republican and Democrats. According to the study, minorities and older votes will be most affected by the elimination of STV. They also predict that Democrats will be hurt in more urban areas while Republicans will be hurt in more rural areas. Again, it’s impossible to know how this will shake out statewide, but it is clear that the elimination of STV will hurt whichever party is dominant within a certain voting jurisdiction: Democrats in urban areas and Republicans in rural ones.

Iowa, like Texas, recently eliminated STV, although the change was already in place in the 2018 midterms. This is however, the first presidential election in which Iowa will not have STV. Like in Texas, downballot Republicans in rural areas will likely be hurt by the change while downballot Democrats in urban areas will also be hurt. In 2014 (the only year in which Iowa collected undervote data), Democrats cast about 18,000 more STV ballots than Republicans. So, perhaps this indicates that the change will adversely affect Democrats, but on net we can’t know for sure.

Iowa Watch

The Big Picture
It’s important to keep in mind that the only races in which STV or its elimination may have tipped the scales are ones that are extremely close. Races with very wide margins were almost certainly not decided by STV option alone. But, given the number of competitive House districts in such states, it is likely that 2020 could feature elections in which ballot design, specifically STV or its elimination, ended up making the difference.