Gerrymandering

Political Dislocation: A Voter-Level Measure of Partisan Representation and Gerrymandering
With Jonathan Rodden.
R&R, Political Analysis
Political Dislocation Maps
Abstract
A fundamental motivation for geographic representation, especially by single-member districts, is the belief that there is value in voters who live in the same area being represented by a single politician. But for many voters, the reality falls far short of this ideal. In this paper, we present a local, voter-level measure of the degree to which an individual voter has fallen victim to this type of political dislocation. In particular, we examine the degree to which the partisan composition of a voter’s actual electoral district differs from the partisan composition of their geographic neighborhood. Where these measures differ dramatically — where, for example, a voter whose k nearest neighbors (where k is the number of people in the voter’s actual legislative district) are mostly Democrats, but despite this their district is mostly Republican — we term that voter politically dislocated. If we accept that geographic representation by single-member districts is desirable because we feel that politicians should represent geographic communities, and partisanship is an important part of the notion of geographic community, then political dislocation is a metric of intrinsic normative importance. Moreover, we show that political dislocation turns out to be a very good local measure of partisan gerrymandering.


Who is my Neighbor? The Spatial Efficiency of Partisanship
With Jonathan Rodden.
Under Review
Abstract
Relative to its overall statewide support, the Republican Party has been over-represented in Congressional delegations and state legislatures over the last decade in a number of U.S. states. A challenge is to determine the extent to which this can be explained by intentional gerrymandering as opposed to an underlying inefficient distribution of Democrats in cities. We explain the “spatial inefficiency” of support for Democrats, and demonstrate that it varies substantially both across states and also across legislative chambers within states. We introduce a simple method for measuring this inefficiency by assessing the partisanship of the nearest neighbors of each voter in each U.S. state. Our measure of spatial efficiency helps explain cross-state patterns in legislative representation, and allows us to verify that political geography contributes substantially to inequalities in political representation. At the same time, however, we also show that even after controlling for spatial efficiency, partisan control of the redistricting process has had a substantial impact on the parties’ seat shares.


Accounting for Travel Times in Estimating Political Dislocation
With Zhenghong Lieu and Jonathan Rodden.
Preliminary draft available upon request
Abstract
Political Dislocation measures the degree to which the partisanship of a voter’s actual district is aligned with that of their immediate geographic neighbors. As shown in Eubank and Rodden (2019), this measure evaluates whether districts grouping constituents in a manner that reflect voters’ geographic communities appropriately, and also serves to detect district boundary manipulation and gerrymandering for political gain. In this paper, we develop a version of Political Dislocation that uses travel times — rather than geographic distance — to more accurately estimate the characteristics of voters’ local neighborhoods. We show that this measure can not only do a better job of detecting certain types of unnatural districting — such as districts that jump impassable geographic barriers, like large bodies of water — but also leads to different conclusions about the representativeness of districts composed of certain types of voters, such as those in suburbs.

Election Administration

The Politics of Locating Polling Places: Race and Party in North Carolina Election Administration, 2008-2016
With Joshua Clinton, Adriane Fresh, and Michael Shepherd.
R&R, Election Law Journal
Abstract
Do local election administrators change precincts and polling place locations to target voters based on their partisanship or race? We systematically evaluate whether decisions consistent with targeting occur using a the universe of eligible voters, polling place locations and precinct boundaries across three presidential elections in the closely contested state of North Carolina. Overall, we find no evidence that local administrators allocate precincts and polling places in a manner consistent with partisan manipulation for electoral gain on average. Some counties initially appear to differentially target opposition party voters with these changes, but closer examination reveals that the county-level variation is likely due to random variation, not deliberate manipulation. There is also little evidence that the removal of minority voter protections in Shelby County v. Holder impacted polling place allocation. Based on the observed behavior, if partisan-motivated decisions occur they are seemingly more idiosyncratic than pervasive.


Polling Place Changes and Political Participation: Evidence from North Carolina Presidential Elections, 2008-2016
With Joshua Clinton, Adriane Fresh, and Michael Shepherd.
R&R, Political Science Research and Methods
Abstract
How do changes in Election Day polling place locations affect voter turnout? We study the behavior of more than 2 million eligible voters across three closely-contested presidential elections (2008-2016) in the swing state of North Carolina. Leveraging within-voter variation in polling place location change over time, we demonstrate that polling place changes reduce Election Day voting on average statewide. However, this effect is almost completely offset by substitution into early voting, suggesting that voters, on average, respond to a change in their polling place by choosing to vote early. While there is heterogeneity in these effects by the distance of the polling place change and the race of the affected voter, the fully offsetting substitution into early voting still obtains. We theorize this is because voters whose polling places change location receive notification mailers, offsetting search costs and priming them to think about the election before election day, driving early voting.