Congressional Plan Fairer Than You Think

CDMD2012 Congressional District Map

Redistricting remains one of the more contentious if arcane subjects in American politics. Unlike in many other western democracies with single-member district elections, such as Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, the U.S. still usually allows politicians to draw both congressional and state legislative districts.

Some advocate that states ought to construct plans that are fair to Democrats and Republicans. And Maryland’s congressional plan has been attacked as unfair to Republicans not only by the GOP but by other observers, such as St. Mary’s College Professor Todd Eberly.

But how do you measure partisan fairness? Here are two basic principles that some see as underlining a fair plan that does not favor one party over the other along with an assessment of how well Maryland’s current plan lives up to them:

(1) No Partisan Bias. This principle is the simple idea that a party should win 50% of the seats if it wins 50% of the votes. Note that this is not the same as proportionality–that a party wins the same share of seats as votes.

There are different ways of testing for partisan bias. Examining the vote of statewide candidates in different districts is one simple way to test plans (not necessarily the best but easy to comprehend). The advantage of statewide candidates is that one can assess party performance with the same two candidates across all districts.

In this example, I use the presidential race. As is well known, Obama carried seven of the eight current districts in 2008. The two-party vote in each congressional district is shown in the first two columns:

BiasMD

Obama’s average vote share was 63.1%. But what if there was a uniform swing across all district of 13.1% towards McCain? Under this scenario, Obama and McCain would each have averaged 50.0% of the vote (see columns 3 and 4). Interestingly, each would also have carried four districts–exactly 50% of the total.

So the current plan passes a simple and cursory bias test. When each party receives 50% of the vote, each should win 4 districts.

(2) Symmetry reflects that if one party gains 65% of the seats with 55% of the votes, so should the other party. In single-member plurality elections, a party often gains a seat bonus when it wins more than a majority. This principle encapsulates the idea that such a bonus should be symmetrical and equal for both parties.

How symmetrical in Maryland’s plan? Again, examining the presidential vote is illuminating. In the example, below I envision a uniform swing across districts to estimate how many districts McCain would have won if he had received 63.1%–the share Obama actually won in the election.

SymmetryMD

The table suggests that McCain would have carried six districts–one less than Obama carried with the same share of the vote. So the plan is not perfectly symmetrical. The two black-majority districts (4 and 7) contain so many Democratic voters that even a Republican tsunami would not turn them blue, though the 7th comes close.

Examining the data in the table closely further suggests that Republicans would need only an additional 2.5% of the vote to carry all eight districts. However, Democrats would not achieve the same feat if they received the same vote share.

In truth, it can be very hard to construct plans free of bias and perfectly symmetrical. Moreover, swings are rarely uniform and the geographical concentration of partisans can shift over time. Of course, that also doesn’t mean we can’t often do better.

This at-first-glance examination also indicates that moaning about the partisan unfairness of the plan is not necessarily justified even though the plan was crafted by Democrats and one assumes designed to achieve their ends.

Complaints about the plan probably need to focus more on other issues. Next, I examine compactness–one of the major criticisms of Maryland’s redistricting plan.

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Push Polls in District 20?

MoonSmithShurbergThree of the District 20 Delegate Candidates: David Moon, Will Smith, and Jonathan Shurberg

District 20 has a lively delegate race with two vacancies caused by Del. Heather Mizeur’s gubernatorial run and Del. Tom Hucker’s county council candidacy. Local lawyer and Democratic activist Jonathan Shurberg is a candidate.

Jon has already loaned his campaign $125K and is rumored to be prepared to loan far more if needed to win the seat in his first run for elective office. Even in Montgomery County, he will clearly break towards the very high end of spending if he follows through and loans his campaign similar amounts in the future.

Rumors started earlier this week that Jon was the victim of a push poll when voters started receiving calls asking questions about Shurberg’s past three tax liens and previous disbarment, actually suspension, from the practice of law in Maryland (see also here and here) due to having misappropriated client funds. The poll also asked for responses to positive statements about his opponents.

Some speculated that David Moon or Will Smith–two other candidates in the race–had possibly sponsored the poll to undermine Jon’s campaign. Both know quite a bit about campaigns, especially in District 20. David ran Jamie Raskin’s 2006 campaign, has worked extensively as a campaign consultant, and is the author of the Maryland Juice blog, Will Smith, a former Obama appointee in the Department of Homeland Security, ran the D20 slate’s successful reelection campaign in 2010.

However, I could not imagine savvy, experienced campaign consultants like either David or Will carrying out a push poll because it just wouldn’t make much sense in this case.

First, the multi-seat nature of delegate races offers little incentive to go negative. When campaigning in these sorts of races, it’s best to be on friendly terms with everyone. If you meet a voter who says they like a rival candidate, it makes it easier to respond “she’s great, I hope you’ll vote for me too!” Attacking another candidate mainly risks losing votes from their supporters.

Second, there is no guarantee that it will benefit the ad’s sponsor, particularly in a race with so many candidates. Instead, it may aid another candidate, especially when the target denounces the ad as scurrilous and its sponsor as throwing mud. Finally, polling is costly and the money would be better spent on voter contact.

So who did the poll?

Turns out Jon did the poll to test out the impact of potential attacks and positive messages that other candidates may use.

Not a good use of campaign funds. Money is a very helpful campaign resource but only if it is spent wisely. Polling results are often dubious in down ballot races with so many candidates. Name recognition of the candidates is low. Voters respond as much to cues from endorsers as much as message.

One can test messages but it hardly requires a poll to know that voters will be suspicious of an attorney threatened with disbarment. Moreover, it’s working to counter a message that will likely never be used. Better to have spent the money on voter contact instead of exposing voters to negative information about his past.

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#ABrowning #Ganslering and #Mizeuring ?

I admit it’s hard to outdo #McConnelling as the star looks like he is straight out of central casting for Yertle the Turtle. But the way to really do this meme to death is to take it local. If anyone is up for the challenge, you can find the first ads for the Doug Gansler and Anthony Brown campaigns on this site. If Heather Mizeur has a good video, someone please send it this way, so she can play too. Videos of Republican candidates are, of course, also welcome. I’ll consider showing the results here (note: must adhere to the rules of clean campaigning entirely as interpreted by me).

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Marijuana Friday Vote

The bill to decriminalize marijuana use passed the Maryland Senate today by a vote of 36-8. The bill was sponsored by Sens. Zirkin and Kittleman.

Voting YEA: Miller (D), Astle (D), Brinkley (R), Brochin (D), Conway (D), Currie (D), DeGrange (D), Feldman (D), Frosh (D), Glassman (R), Jacobs (R), Jennings (R), Jones-Rodwell (D), Kasemeyer (D), Kelley (D), King (D), Kittleman (R), Klausmeier (D), Madaleno (D), Manno (D), McFadden (D), Middleton (D), Montgomery (D), Muse (D), Peters (D), Pinsky (D), Pugh (D), Ramirez (D), Raskin (D), Reilly (R), Rosapepe (D), Shank (R), Stone (D), Young (D), and Zirkin (D).

Voting NAY: Colburn (R), Dyson (D), Getty (R), Gladden (D), Hershey (R), Mathias (D), Robey (D), and Simonaire (R)

Not Voting: Benson (D), Edwards (R), and Forehand (D).

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration. The major challenge in the House is getting the bill past Judiciary Chairman Joe Vallario (D), who is not keen.

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Polls Support 7S Predictions

Red Maryland recently published the results of a poll of upcoming Republican primaries. The results are in line with my recent predictions for the primaries in two Eastern Shore districts. Incumbent Sen. Steve Hershey leads former Del. Richard Sossi in District 36.  Del. Addie Eckhardt has a good chance to unseat incumbent Sen. Richard Colburn in neighboring District 37.

RMDPoll

The key caveat–and why I am not making any ratings changes based on these polls–is that the number of respondents in each district is low. In the Hershey-Sossi race, there are just 87 respondents and in the Colburn-Eckardt race, there are only 58. Another problem is that figuring out who will vote in these low turnout events is not easy.

Indeed, based on this many respondents, the difference in support for Colburn and Eckardt is not statistically significant. Put another way, there is a more than 1 in 20 chance that the difference in support among actual voters is zero or that Colburn actually leads Eckardt.

On the other hand, the sample size and the differences in the levels of support for the two candidates are large enough in the Hershey-Sossi race to indicate that Sossi probably really does trail Hershey. The small number of respondents renders the actual size of Hershey’s lead unclear–the range around the estimated level of support for either is huge. But one can say that Hershey is ahead by some amount greater than zero with reasonable certainty.

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Can SNCF Derail the Purple and Red Lines?

Maryland wants to create a public-private partnership (P3) to build and operate the Purple Line. Keolis North America, 70% owned by La Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (SNCF) is one of the finalists selected by the State.

Keolis’s proposal has run into trouble because of SNCF’s role in transporting Jews from France to Nazi death camps. Lea Lieberman who lost her father in the Holocaust gave moving testimony yesterday to the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee yesterday:

When the Nazis occupied Paris, my parents fled to Vichy France. Subsequently, the Gestapo arrested my father and left my mother to tend to a three year old child alone. . . .

Shortly after his arrest in Vichy France, he was taken to Drancy (the notorious holding camp in the outskirts of Paris) and subsequently shipped to Sobibor concentration camp via the French National Railroad, where he was murdered. . . .

Three days ago, a representative for SNCF, the French National Railroad, shirked any moral or legal responsibility by stating and I am paraphrasing, we were an occupied country, the trains were operated under Nazi command, there was nothing we could do except to obey our Nazi occupiers.

Ironically, this is similar to what the German soldiers stated in the Nuremburg trials after the War. Following orders is not a moral excuse to murder. I find that prototypical statement of helplessness to be even in and of itself. SNCF was complicit with the Nazi regime in the murder of innocent Jews, including my father. Indeed, it has been reported that the company has acknowledged guilt in France and paid out for than $6 billion in reparations, but only to French citizens and certain deportees.

Holocaust Survivor Leo Bretholz vociferously disputed SNCF’s rationale that it had no choice but to obey he occupiers in a commentary in the Baltimore Sun:

SNCF carried out its transports with precision, cruelty and deception. On each convoy, we were packed into 20 cattle cars, 50 people each. For the entire multi-day trip, we were given only one piece of triangular cheese, one stale piece of bread and no water. There was hardly room to stand or sit, and in the middle of the train was a single bucket to relieve ourselves. . . .

I even have a copy of an invoice SNCF sent the French government, seeking payment for the services it provided. They pursued payment on this after the liberation of Paris, after the Nazis were gone. They even charged interest for late payments. This was not coercion, this was business.

SNCF was not coerced into using cattle cars. It was not coerced into sending bills after the war. It was not coerced into serving no water on the trains. Had SNCF resisted, the number of those killed from France would have been greatly reduced. Had SNCF not imposed horrific conditions on its trains, many additional lives could have been saved.

Instead of taking responsibility for its actions during the past 70-plus years, the company has spent millions of dollars on a lobbying and public relations campaign to rewrite history and avoid accountability for its pivotal role in one of history’s greatest atrocities.

Leo Bretholz died earlier this month before he could testify on the bill.

Regardless of one’s views on SNCF’s guilt, one need not wrestle with SNCF’s excuse of having to comply with the Nazi German occupiers for the simple reason that SNCF has already admitted guilt and paid reparations in France.

If that’s the case in France, it ought to be the case in Maryland. There is something deeply grotesque about a willingness to pay lobbyists to avoid accountability here when it has already admitted liability in its home country.

In response to SNCF’s refusal to pay reparations to American survivors of the Holocaust, Sen. Joan Carter Conway (D-43, Baltimore City) and Del. Kirill Reznick (D-39, Montgomery) have filed legislation to require SNCF to pay reparations if it wants to bid for the project.

The bill has been complicated by claims that any interference with the bidding process could derail federal funding. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) sent a letter to the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) stating that the bills “raise legal concerns regarding the ability of MTA to comply with federal full and open competition requirements” and thus “jeopardize federal funding” for the Purple and the Red Line.

MTA and the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) have unsurprisingly lobbied hard against the bills. However, the letter from FTA was unusually artful and carefully couched to avoid any firm determination of the impact of the bills on federal funding.

Presumably, the State of Maryland could request a more definitive answer from FTA. Is the Obama Administration really not going to fund transportation projects because the State wants to use its leverage from this $6 billion contract–one of the largest it has ever awarded–to aid Holocaust victims?

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) has testified in favor of the bill. And some legislators have stated that they feel more strongly about the principle than the $900 million in funding recommended by FTA. As the Washington Post reported:

“We want the Purple Line, but is this the price we pay — to do business with these guys?” Sen. Roger Manno (D-Montgomery) said Thursday after a Budget and Taxation Committee hearing. “Maybe if that’s the case, maybe we can’t build it.”

Others feel differently. Del. Kirill Reznick is willing to modify his legislation to avoid the loss of federal funds.

It’s in SNCF’s power to resolve this issue and bid for the project. Doing so would bring honor to SNCF and to France.

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Eberly Endorses Bohanan

St. Mary’s Professor and Blogger at the Freestater Todd Eberly issues his first endorsement–ever–for Del. John Bohanan:

Del. Bohanan was narrowly reelected in 2010 and Republicans now outnumber Democrats in St. Mary’s county, but I believe that voters would be sorry if Bohanan were defeated. The simple truth is that Bohanan is the only member of the St. Mary’s delegation who has any real influence in Annapolis. He is the chair of the powerful Spending and Affordability committee and sits on the Appropriations committee. His seniority and committee assignments allow him to “deliver the goods” to St. Mary’s county. Were he to be defeated, he would be replaced by a freshman Republican. I don’t particularly care if I’m represented by a Republican or a Democrat, I just want a representative with integrity and the power to be a forceful representative of my community. Were a Republican, such as candidate Deb Rey, to replace Bohanan she would go to Annapolis as a member of a minority party that is outnumbered by a 2-to-1 margin in the Assembly. A party with virtually no influence in the General Assembly. She would have no seniority, no prime committee assignments, and no chance of ever chairing a committee – in other words she would have no leverage and little to no ability to ensure that St. Mary’s county had a voice that was heard in Annapolis. St. Mary’s county is one of the fastest growing counties in the state and we cannot afford to be voiceless. . . .

Voters will have a choice to make in 2014, they can vote to deprive St. Mary’s of any meaningful voice in the General Assembly, or, they can reelect John Bohanan and ensure that the needs of our county are heard loud and clear. To me, that’s an easy choice to make.

I would add that Bohanan’s vote on marriage equality was very gutsy at the time but now seems prescient. A little political courage is a good thing in a delegate.

It goes without saying that one should listen to both professors and bloggers.

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Top Senate Primaries Ratings Summary

Here is a summary of my ratings of the hottest Senate primaries in Maryland with links to more detailed information on each race. The ratings give my sense of the race when I wrote the profile. Of course, events and new information can always lead me to revise my opinion, so please keep me posted!

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Maryland Politics Watch

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