Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Texas Party Identification of Registered Voters, February 2018

The University of Texas/Texas Tribune Poll shows little change in party identification among Texas registered voters one month before the March 6th primary elections. The PID has remained about the same since 2014. However, Republicans continue to win most elections, even though PID is reasonably equal between Democrats and Republicans.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

Whither the Republican Party?



Jonathan Rauch and Benjamin Wittes write in The Atlantic magazine:

So we arrive at a syllogism:
(1) The GOP has become the party of Trumpism.
(2) Trumpism is a threat to democratic values and the rule of law.
(3) The Republican Party is a threat to democratic values and the rule of law.

A syllogism is, according to dictionary.com:
1. Logic. an argument the conclusion of which is supported by two premises, of which one (major premise) contains the term (major term) that is the predicate of the conclusion, and the other (minor premise) contains the term (minor term) that is the subject of the conclusion; common to both premises is a term (middle term) that is excluded from the conclusion. A typical form is “All A is C; all B is A; therefore, all B is C.”.
2. deductive reasoning.
3. an extremely subtle, sophisticated, or deceptive argument.

Which definition applies here?  First, has the GOP become the party of Trump? Has he taken control of the party apparatus? Are the leaders of the Republican Party supporters of Trump and his agenda? Are there some Republicans for whom Trump is not the Republican Party? I believe that the answer to all of these is “yes.” Are there sufficient Republicans who do not support Trump? I believe the answer is not enough to make the major premise false.

Second, is Trumpism a threat to democratic values and the rule of law? I believe that the authoritarian values “tweeted” by Trump or spoken at rallies are the antithesis of democratic values of liberty, equality, and justice. Trump’s actions involving personal loyalty and fealty as well as his belief that he is above the law violate the law of law. I believe the minor premise is true.

Thus, can one conclude that the Republican Party has become a threat to democratic values and the rule of law? I believe that we need two parties, that competition between political parties promotes health in a democracy, but when a party ignores American ideals in pursuit of political power and is willing to destroy the institutions of government and society that incorporate those ideals, then the political party needs, as Rauch and Wittes contend, either to reform itself or to suffer ignominious defeat in elections. I hope for the former but fear that the demise of the Republican Party will occur.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Gerrymandering and Independent Redistricting Commissions

Last night, Peck Young, Director of ACC's Center for Public Policy and Political Studies, Harriett Harrow, member of Austin's Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission, and I participated in a game night at Capital Factory in the downtown Omni Hotel. Peck spoke about the creation of the commission; Harriett provided a personal interest perspective on the commission, and I spoke about the commission's criteria for redistricting. My thanks to the League of Women Voters of the Austin Area and Glasshouse Policy for the event. My prepared remarks follow:



Gerrymandering is political. Politics is the authoritative allocation of values for a society, according to David Easton. The Gerrymandering Project at fivethirtyeight.com demonstrates how district boundaries can be manipulated to accomplish a particular objective: (1) favor Republicans, (2) favor Democrats, (3) match partisanship and seats, (4) promote competition, (5) maximize majority-minority districts, (6) compactness (algorithmic), and (7) compactness following county borders. The results:



Although it’s political, it doesn’t have to be unfair, ineffective, and opaque. That’s where independent citizen redistricting commissions can be very helpful. However, the fairness, effectiveness, and openness of the redistricting process are dependent on a number of variables.

Most importantly, after the selection of the commission members, are the criteria established for redistricting in the Constitution, Charter, or an ordinance. The criteria must be clear, and the priorities of the criteria must be established. The Austin City Charter establishes seven criteria, listed in order of importance: (1) equal population, (2) Voting Rights Act, (3) contiguity, (4) geographic integrity of communities of interest, (5) geographical compactness, (6) use electoral precincts, and (7) geographically identifiable boundaries.

Equal population means that the variation between the most populous district and the least populous district must not exceed ten percent. But what measure of population should be used? Should it be total population or voting age population or citizen voting age population? What is permitted under “one person, one vote” interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment? According to the U.S. Supreme Court in Evenwel et al. v. Abbott, Governor of Texas (2016), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that using the total population, which is most commonly used, is permitted.

The Voting Rights Act (VRA) is even more complex. There is no doubt that using race as the predominant factor is unconstitutional. However, race can be one consideration among several. In addition, minority voting strength cannot be diluted in redistricting. What constitutes a dilution of minority voting strength? The Gingles test, created by the case of Thornburg v. Gingles (1986) requires three components: (1) The minority must be large enough and compact enough geographically to constitute a single district; (2) the minority must be “politically cohesive;” and (3) the majority must vote as a block to deny the election of the minority’s preferred candidate. The provision of the VRA that determined the states or districts that must have electoral changes precleared was stricken in 2013. Consequently, only a court decision of intentional discrimination under the Section 2 of the VRA can be used to place a state or district under preclearance.

Contiguity means that the district must not be split into several disconnected pieces.

Communities of interest is difficult. The Austin Charter defines a community of interest, which is helpful. It also specifies what cannot be considered a community of interest for redistricting purposes.

Compactness is also difficult, especially given the prior criterion.

Electoral precincts must not be split unnecessarily. The Austin map has several split precincts.

Geographically identifiable boundaries include rivers, roads, railroad tracks, etc.

After noting the complexities, I don’t want to discourage anyone from applying for the Austin ICRC in 2020 when the selection process for the new ICRC begins. I enjoy being a member of the commission, have made friends with many Commission members, and take pride in the Commission’s service to the community.


Sources:
         Cook Political Report and FiveThirtyEight
California Local Redistricting Project: http://www.localredistricting.org/ 
         California Common Cause and the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law
Princeton Gerrymandering Project: http://gerrymander.princeton.edu/ 
         Princeton University