Category Archives: Elections

Pennsylvania Redistricting

Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued an order (with attached maps) redrawing the Congressional Districts for Pennsylvania  This order follows on last month’s decision finding that the 2011 map violate the Pennsylvania Constitution as a partisan gerrymander.  The United States Supreme Court is currently considering two cases — one argued last fall and one scheduled to be argued next month — on whether the U.S. Constitution also bars partisan gerrymanders.

I will leave it to our local experts to follow up on exactly how the new lines should impact November’s election.  The key points to make for now are:  1) this map will govern this year’s elections as filing with the Supreme Court’s including a time table for implementation of the order and candidate filing that will allow the primary to take place as scheduled; 2) the old maps were gerrymandered in such a way that the Republicans have carried 13 of the 18 districts (and the same 13) in each of the three elections so far under the old map (even though the Democrats won state-wide by 5% in 2012 and 9% in 2014 and barely lost in 2016);  and 3) in the three elections under the old map, 37 of the 39 Republican wins were by double digits (the other two involved margins of 9% and 4%).   The early numbers that I have seen from national prognosticators is that Democrats should pick up at least two seats in a 50-50 cycle and, in a cycle in which Democrats get 55% or more nationally, the Democrats would pick up an additional 2 to 3 seats (a 9-9 split or 10-8 in favor of the Democrats).  That compares to 2012 in which the Democrats got 53% nationally but still only won 5 seats in Pennsylvania.

One thing that is significantly different about the new map is that there are less weird shapes, and most of the weirder shapes in the new map comes from not splitting counties or municipalities unless such splits are absolutely necessary to maintain equality.  There is also some changes in the numbering.  As a result, some incumbents (including whomever wins the upcoming special election in Western Pennsylvania) will have to decide what district they will run in this year.  Some incumbent may be looking at a situation in which either: 1) their base is split between multiple districts; 2) they live in one district while the heart of their old district is in another district; 3) their new district contains a substantial portion of the old district of another incumbent.  As such, sitting members may have to decide between retiring, challenging another incumbent from their party, or running in a district in which they will have a difficult time running.  We may not know until filing closes on March 20 (one week after the special election) how the incumbents will reshuffle from the old seats to the new seats and whether we will have any incumbent vs. incumbent primaries or general elections.

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2020 Democratic Convention — Unity and Reform Commission — Part 1

While, in one sense, it is very early to talk about who will be President of the United States on January 21, 2021, there are many people who think that process has a lot to do with results.  And the drafting of the rules for 2020 have already started.

On the Republican side, there is no public effort to re-write the rules.  Unlike the Democratic Party, the Republican party has the basic rules (which are less detailed than the Democratic Party rules) for allocating delegates to the national convention within the actual Rules of the Republican Party and require a supermajority of the Republican National Committee to change those Rules.

The Democrats, however, keep the rules for delegate selection separate from the party by-laws.  So every cycle, the rules and by-laws committee drafts those rules and submits them to the full Democratic National Committee for approval.  The starting point for these rules is the rules from the previous cycle.  However, because no rules are perfect, most contested campaigns lead to complaints about the rules.  These complaints in turn have, in most of these cycles, caused the party to appoint a commission to study whatever rules were seen as being a problem in the last cycle and make recommendations. Continue Reading...

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A Long December

The year comes to a close with its usual mix of good news and bad news.

On the 2020 presidential election, the Unity Reform Commission has completed its work.  Josh Putnam over at Frontloading Headquarters has posting summaries of the Commission’s decisions.   From the first two summaries, the recommendations seem to be moving toward more open primaries (a reversal of the party’s traditional support for closed primaries) and to make caucuses more like primaries with a preference toward using the primary if there is a state-run primary.  These recommendations will go to the Rules & By-laws Committee (which folks may remember from 2008).  The Rules & By-laws Committee will take these recommendations into account in drafting the 2020 Call and Delegate Selection Plan.  When the draft is concluded, the RBC’s draft goes to the full Democratic National Committee for approval.  If the Unity Reform Commission believes that the RBC is not fully implementing their recommendations in the draft, they can ask for the full DNC to intervene.  Presumably, the party will also begin its site selection process early in 2018.

As the site selection and the rule drafting process continues, there will probably be a lot of discussion here.  For now, it is important to be cautious about changes driven by the problems of the last cycle.  There is always a temptation to “fight the last war.”  But the problems in one cycle do not necessarily recur in the next cycle, and it is important not to do things that will probably make more problems than they fix. Continue Reading...

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Fall Elections

In most of the world, the practice is to limit the number of races being contested on any given election day.  Thus, regional elections are held on a separate day from national elections.  In the U.S., however, most states opt to hold state elections on the same day as national elections.  Thus, in most states, the election for governor either falls on the same day as the mid-term election or on the same day as the presidential election.  In a small number of states, however, the election for governor occurs in an odd-year.

Two states — Virginia and New Jersey — hold the election in the year after the presidential election.  (Three states — Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi — hold the elections in the year before the presidential election.)  Both New Jersey and Virginia have a tendency — not absolute, but a tendency — to elect a governor from the party not in the White House.  In New Jersey, the last time that the party in the White House won the governor’s race was 1985.  In Virginia, while the party in the White House won in 2013, the last previous time that the party in the White House won was 1973.  There are a lot of reasons for these results — including. similar to the problem that the party in the White House faces in mid-term elections, the simple fact that governing is much harder than running for office, so supporters of the party in power tend to be disappointed with the actual fruits of their victory while those out of power tend to be angry and motivated.

As things currently stand, things are looking very good for the Democratic candidates in New Jersey.  Aside from New Jersey’s normal Democratic lean and the tendency for the party not in the White House to win, the Republicans nominated the current Lieutenant Governor, making it hard to separate the current Republican ticket from the corruption of the current administration of term-limited governor Chris Christie.  The Democratic candidate, Ambassador Phil Murphy, leads by double digits in every poll this fall.  While some of the polls show enough undecided voters to leave a theoretical opening for the Republican candidate, the race in New Jersey is not particularly close. Continue Reading...

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The Future of Redistricting

At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, October 3, the Supreme Court Justices will take the bench and the Chief Justice will call for arguments in Gill vs. Whitford — a case on direct appeal from a three-judge panel in which the majority of the panel found that the legislative districts in Wisconsin were the results of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.  Then, on Friday, the justices will discuss the case in conference, and — depending on the vote — either Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy will assign this case to one of the justices to write the opinion.  Then — probably in February or March — we will get a series of opinions (with possibly no opinion having the support of five justices) that will define the rules for the next cycle of redistricting starting in 2021.

This case has its roots in the framing of the Constitution.  The original structure of the British parliament awarded a certain number of seats to each incorporated borough (town) and to each shire (county).  When combined with the fact that only freeholders (property owners) had the right to vote, by the middle of the Eighteenth Century, there were boroughs that were very small with only a handful of voters (so-called “rotten boroughs”).   The non-representative nature of the British Parliament was one of the reasons why colonists did not accept the argument that they were represented by the British Parliament.  In drafting the U.S. Constitution, at least for the House of Representatives, the framers decided that representation in Congress would depend upon population based on a decennial census.

By requiring that representation in the House would be based on representation, the Constitution created a de facto requirement that states draw new congressional districts (at least when a state’s representation changed).  Some, but not all, states also based representation in state legislatures on population — again requiring periodic redistricting.  In simply requiring redistricting, the U.S. Constitution was ahead of its time.  Now, most countries that use a first-past-the-post system also have periodic redistricting.  The vast majority of them also use a non-partisan commission with specific criteria to draw fair and competitive district lines.  The framers, however, did not have the extra two centuries of seeing what works and what doesn’t work in the redistricting process.  And it is some of what happened next in the U.S. that has led the other countries to have neutral agencies handle redistricting. Continue Reading...

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The Republican Civil War — Alabama Edition

The next seven days is one of those weeks that happen from time to time when there are a lot of events competing for the attention of political wonks — the German elections, the “long conference” at the Supreme Court, perhaps a vote on the latest Republican effort to repeal Obamacare, perhaps even more news on the Russian involvement in the 2016 elections and the Trump campaign’s connections to those illegal acts.  The most significant event, however, might be the Republican runoff in the Alabama Senate special election.

Over the years, a recurring topic on this blog has been the internal divisions in the Republican party (and to a lesser degree the divisions in the Democratic party).  The run-off in Alabama pits a conservative “Establishment” candidate (interim Senator Luther Strange) against the Tea Party/Trumpist candidate (State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore).    It is not possible to describe all of the wacky things that Justice Moore has done over the year that violated his oath of office (some of which got him removed from office the first time).  A Senator Moore would actually make Ted Cruz and Rand Paul look normal.

While Trump — perhaps seeing a need to at least pretend to work with the Republicans in D.C. — is supporting Senator Strange, but Breitbart and other parts of the Trump machine are supporting Justice Moore.  Current polls are showing Justice Moore with a comfortable (but not necessarily safe given how difficult it is to predict turnout) lead. Continue Reading...

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German Elections 2017

In a little over two weeks (September 24), Germany will hold parliamentary elections.  As with most parliamentary system, the leader of Germany is determined by which party (or coalition of parties) wins the majority of seats in parliament.  As such, the results on September 24 will determine if Angela Merkel continues as Chancellor of Germany for another four years.

In electing members of its parliament (the Bundestag),Germany uses a variation on the mixed member system.  The basics of this system is that voters cast two ballots.  In one, they vote for the person who will represent their constituency in parliament.  On the second, they vote for the party.  Each lander (think state) has a certain number of constituencies.  On the high end is North Rhine-Westphalia (Bonn, Cologne, Dusseldorf) with sixty-four constituencies.  On the low end is Bremen with two constituencies.  In total, there are two hundred ninety-nine constituencies.

In theory, each lander has a number of “party list” seats equal to the number of constituencies in the lander (which would translate to a parliament of 598 seats), but there is a catch.  In calculating, the number of party list seats that each party wins in each lander, the formula uses the whole number of seats in the lander (constituency plus party list seats and allocates them using proportional representation (i.e. if a party won 10% of the vote, they are entitled to 10% of the seats) based on the vote for each party in that lander.  After calculating the number of seats that each party should receive from the lander, the formula then subtracts the number of constituency seats that each party has won.  If that leaves any party with a negative number (i.e. the party won more constituency seats than the number of seats that they would have won under proportional representation), the party gets to keep the extra seats (commonly called overhang seats), the other parties receive “compensation” seats to make the results proportional, and the lander ends up with additional seats in parliament.  ) Continue Reading...

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Voter Fraud and the Missouri Senate Race

Earlier this month, the law on voting where you reside appears to have caught an unlikely person in an election law violation — Missouri’s Attorney General — and presumptive Republican Senate candidate — Josh Hawley.  To understand what happened, a little local background is in order.

The main campus of the University of Missouri is in Columbia — thirty miles away from the state capitol in Jefferson City.  Before becoming Attorney General, Hawley was a law professor at the University of Missouri.  Aside from his full time job, like some law professors, Hawley offered his assistance on cases that he thought deserved his assistance.  One of those cases involved aiding the religious owners of Hobby Lobby in their effort to deny birth control coverage to their female employees.  This case gave Hawley connections to ultra-conservative donors in Washington, and also was a selling point as he went around Missouri speaking to local Republicans in rural counties.   These two advantages allowed him to pull an upset last year in the Republican primary over the “establishment” conservative candidate in the Republican primary, and the Trump landslide helped him win the general election.

After the election is where the fun begins.  First, among the changes that flowed from the 2016 election, the new Republican governor appointed the state representative who represented part of Columbia and the surrounding area to an administration positions.  Before becoming Attorney General,  Hawley and his family lived in this district.   The Governor set the special election to fill this seat for this August (one of the available election dates under state law). Continue Reading...

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Election Update

May and June were significant months for elections, both in the United States and Europe.  While the news media tends to overhype some elections and ignore others, there are some conclusions that can be drawn from those elections.

Starting with the United States, the big news has been a series of special elections — focusing mostly on three Congressional seats held by the Republicans.  Neither party can be particularly happy with the results at the Congressional level, but certain things need to be noted.

First, except when caused by death or sudden resignation due to scandal, most vacancies occur in what the parties consider to be “safe” seats.  With the exception of the upcoming special election in Utah, the special elections for the House are all the results of an executive of their own party “promoting” the member of Congress to an executive office.  In California, you have to go back to 2012 to see the last time that a Republican even ran in the 34th district.  The four Republican seats were solid wins for the Republican incumbents in 2016 with the closest margin being 16% in Montana.  All five of these districts were double-digit wins for their party’s candidate in 2012.  The only district that was arguably winnable by the “out” party was Georgia 6 and that is only if you looked solely at the 2016 presidential election.  By the partisan vote index, Georgia 6 is still R+8, meaning that the Democrats would need to get around 58% nationally to win that seat. Continue Reading...

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A June to Remember/Fear?

There are times when, through the normal cycle, and discretionary decisions, events start to come in rapid procession.  June is shaping up to be one of those month between elections (both in the U.S. and abroad), the end of the Supreme Court term, and the matters currently on the plate of Congress.  We have already had the first major event of June — the decision by the Trump Administration to make America weaker by playing to his misinformed base on climate change and withdrawing from the Paris Accords.  It’s almost impossible to count the reasons why this decision is wrong,  here are a few:  1) the agreement was non-binding; 2) being a signator gave us a seat at the table in future discussions; 3) withdrawing makes China and the European Union more powerful; 4) state laws requiring an increasing percent of energy to come from renewal sources are still in effect and will contribute to the U.S. meeting its pledge anyway; 5) the federal courts have held that greenhouse gases are a pollutant requiring federal action under the Clean Air Act (even though the precise terms of the regulations to reduce greenhouse gases are not yet final) which means that we may have to meet or exceed the pledge anyway.

Moving to the Supreme Court, June is looking like immigration month.  May ended with a decision in the first of four immigration cases heard this term.  The case involved what types of sexual offenses against a child trigger deportation hearings for authorized immigrants (e.g., permanent residents).  The Supreme Court narrowly interpreted the statute, meaning that — for some sexual offenses (those that can be committed against a 16 or 17-year old — the first offense will not trigger deportation.  Two of the other three also directly or indirectly concern deportation.  In addition, with the lower courts having barred enforcement of the travel ban, the Trump Administration is asking the Supreme Court to stay those injunctions.  (The real issue is the enforcement of the restrictions on visas and entry.  It is likely that the Supreme Court will grant relief to some overbroad language in those bars that could be read as suggesting that the Trump Administration can’t begin work on revisions to the vetting process.)  There are 22 other cases to be decided this month, so immigration will not be the only big news this month.  And, even aside from the decisions in cases already argued, the Supreme Court will be deciding what cases to take next term and there are some potentially major issues that could be on the agenda for 2017-18.

Moving to U.S. elections, there are still three special elections — all of which will occur this month.  Two — in Georgia and South Carolina — involve vacancies created by the Trump cabinet appointment.  The other — California — arose from a vacancy created by filling the vacancy in the California Attorney General position created when the former AG won the U.S. Senate election last fall.  Because California uses a “jungle primary” (i.e.  one in which all candidates from all parties run in one primary with the top two advancing to the general election), we already know that the Democrats will keep this seat and the only question on Tuesday is which Democrat will be elected.  For the most part, both parties in choosing members of Congress to fill vacancies have followed the rule of only choosing people from “safe” seats.  As such, while the Democrats have so far — in the first round in California and in Montana and Kansas — run around 10% ahead of 2018, this success has not changed the winner of any seat. Continue Reading...

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