The morning John Kennedy was set to testify final December, he awakened at 1:30 am, in an unfamiliar resort room in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, adrenaline coursing by way of his veins. He’d by no means gone to courtroom earlier than for something critical, a lot much less taken the stand.
A while after dawn, he headed to the courthouse, wearing a grey Brooks Brothers go well with, and spent the following a number of hours reviewing his notes and frantically pacing the halls. “I believe I made a groove within the flooring,” Kennedy says.
By three:30 pm, it was lastly time. Kennedy’s solutions began off slowly, as he labored to regular his nerves. Then, about an hour into his testimony, Exhibit 81 flashed on a display screen contained in the courtroom. It was a map of a part of Pennsylvania’s seventh congressional district, but it surely may as effectively have been a chalk define of a physique.
“It was like against the law scene,” explains Daniel Jacobson, an lawyer for Arnold & Porter, which represented the League of Ladies Voters in its bid to overturn Pennsylvania’s 2011 electoral map, drawn by the state’s majority Republican Normal Meeting. The sides of the district skitter in all method of unnatural instructions, drawing comparisons to a sketch of Goofy kicking Donald Duck.
As an skilled witness for the League of Ladies Voters and a political scientist at West Chester College, Kennedy’s job was to indicate how the state’s map had advanced over time, and to show that the Normal Meeting had drawn it particularly to make sure that Republicans would at all times win probably the most seats in Congress.
“Mr. Kennedy, what is that this?” requested John Freedman, Jacobson’s colleague, referring to the tiny, single level that connects one sprawling facet of the district to the opposite. Or, in the event you like, the place Goofy’s toe meets Donald’s rear.
“A steakhouse,” Kennedy answered, based on the courtroom transcript. “Creed’s Seafood Steaks in King of Prussia.”
The one factor holding the district collectively, in different phrases, was a single ritzy seafood joint.
“When you had been within the courtroom, it was simply devastating,” Jacobson says.
Districts like Pennsylvania’s seventh don’t get drawn that means accidentally. They’re designed by dint of the centuries-old observe of gerrymandering, through which the get together in energy carves up the electoral map to their favor. The playbook is straightforward: Focus as a lot of your opponents’ votes right into a handful of districts as you possibly can, a tactic often known as “packing.” Then unfold the rest of these votes thinly throughout an entire lot of districts, often known as “cracking.” If it really works as meant, the opposition will win a number of districts by a landslide, however by no means have sufficient votes in the remainder to win nearly all of seats. The age of computer-generated information splicing has made this technique simpler than ever.
Pennsylvania’s map had been so aggressively gerrymandered for partisan functions that it silenced the voices of Democratic voters within the state.
Till not too long ago, courts have solely moved to cease gerrymandering based mostly on race. However now, the legislation is taking a more in-depth have a look at partisan gerrymandering, too. On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court docket issued a model new congressional map to exchange the one Kennedy testified about. The brand new map follows a landmark determination final month, through which the three Pennsylvania Supreme Court docket justices overruled a lower-court determination and located that Pennsylvania’s 2011 map did actually violate the state structure’s assure of “free and equal elections.” The courtroom ordered the Pennsylvania Normal Meeting to submit a brand new map, with approval of Pennsylvania’s Democratic governor Tom Wolf. Following unsuccessful appeals by the Normal Meeting, the courtroom drafted and authorized its personal map, which is able to now be in impact for the midterm elections in November, opening up a brand new area of alternative for Democrats within the state.
On Tuesday morning, President Trump urged Republicans within the state to “problem the brand new ‘pushed’ Congressional Map, all the best way to the Supreme Court docket, if crucial. Your Authentic was appropriate!”
Based on Jacobson, given the Supreme Court docket of the USA already declined to remain the Pennsylvania Supreme Court docket’s determination, it is unlikely they’re going to take up the case. It is already agreed to listen to four other gerrymandering cases this term, which may well re-write the principles on this twisted system nationwide.
The change that is already come to Pennsylvania might not have been potential with out the analysis Kennedy and three different skilled witnesses dropped at gentle. They took the stand with a variety of analyses, some based mostly in complicated quantitative idea, others, like Kennedy’s, based mostly in pure cartography. However all of them reached the identical conclusion: Pennsylvania’s map had been so aggressively gerrymandered for partisan functions that it silenced the voices of Democratic voters within the state. Here is how every got here to that conclusion—and managed to persuade the courtroom.
The Solely Dangerous Restaurant in City
Carnegie Mellon mathematician Wes Pegden had already written a tutorial paper proving that the Pennsylvania map was drawn with partisan intent. His problem within the courtroom was to persuade a room stuffed with non-mathematicians. So he got here armed with an analogy.
Think about, Pegden informed the courtroom, you’ve touched down in a brand new metropolis and requested your taxi driver to drop you at any restaurant, one thing that will provide you with a way of the native culinary scene. You give the cabbie a fats tip, go contained in the restaurant, and have a horrible meal. Did the driving force deliver you to a nasty restaurant on function? Or is it a real reflection of the entire eating places within the metropolis?
To reply that query, you can at all times pattern each single restaurant, however that will take too lengthy. A extra environment friendly, however nonetheless efficient choice: check each restaurant instantly surrounding the unhealthy one. In the event that they’re all unhealthy, the driving force actually did choose a consultant eating institution. In the event that they’re all actually good? The motive force screwed you over.
That is basically how Pegden examined the Pennsylvania map. He developed a pc program that begins with the present Pennsylvania map, then, as an alternative of drawing a wholly new map from scratch, it robotically makes tiny adjustments to the present one to create 1 trillion barely completely different maps. Within the analogy, these trillion maps are the close by eating places. The system solely attracts districts courtroom may settle for, which means they’re contiguous, moderately formed, and have comparable inhabitants sizes, amongst different issues.
‘It’s actually one of the crucial excessive partisan gerrymanders in fashionable American historical past.’
Christopher Warshaw, George Washington College
Then, Pegden analyzed the partisan slant of every new map in comparison with the unique, utilizing a widely known metric referred to as the median versus imply check. On this case, Pegden in contrast the Republican vote share in every of Pennsylvania’s 18 districts. For every map, he calculated the distinction between the median vote share throughout all of the districts and the imply vote share throughout the entire districts. The larger the distinction, the extra of a bonus the Republicans had in that map.
After conducting his trillion simulations, Pegden discovered that the 2011 Pennsylvania map exhibited extra partisan bias than 99.999999 % of maps he examined. In different phrases, making even the tiniest adjustments in virtually any route to the present map chiseled away on the Republican benefit.
“You may virtually hear the mapmakers saying, ‘No don’t do this. I needed that proper there identical to that,’” Pegden says. “It will get on the primary query of what residents, judges, and courts need to know: Did these individuals go right into a room and design these maps to go well with their functions?”
Till now, researchers have struggled to seek out really random maps to check to gerrymandered maps; the variety of potential maps is so astronomically excessive, it’s unattainable to strive all of them. However Pegden’s theorem proves you don’t should strive each restaurant on the town to know you bought a uncooked deal. You simply must take a stroll across the block.
The Shiny Pink Dot
In contrast to Kennedy and Pegden, Jowei Chen was no witness-stand novice. The political scientist on the College of Michigan, Ann Arbor has offered skilled testimony in a litany of redistricting instances, together with in North Carolina, the place judges relied closely on Chen’s testimony in their decision to overturn the present map.
Like Pegden, Chen makes use of laptop packages to simulate different maps. However as an alternative of beginning with the unique map and making small adjustments, Chen’s program develops solely new maps, based mostly on a collection of geographic constraints. The maps must be compact in form, protect county and municipal boundaries, and have equal populations. They’re drawn, in different phrases, in some magical world the place partisanship doesn’t exist. The one purpose, says Chen, is that these maps be “geographically regular.”
Chen generated 500 such maps for Pennsylvania, and analyzed every of them based mostly on what number of Republican seats they might yield. He additionally checked out what number of counties and municipalities had been cut up throughout districts, a observe the Pennsylvania structure forbids “except completely crucial.” Preserving counties and municipalities collectively, the pondering goes, retains communities collectively. He in contrast these figures to the disputed map, and introduced the outcomes to the courtroom.
The next chart reveals what number of seats the simulated maps and the disputed map generated for Republicans.
A lot of the maps gave Republicans 9 seats. Simply two % gave them 10 seats. None even got here near the disputed map, which provides Republicans a whopping 13 seats.
The chart displaying the variety of cut up municipalities and counties paints a equally compelling image.
Chen used two different metrics to measure the disputed map’s compactness relative to the simulations. The primary, referred to as the Reock rating, analyzes the ratio of the district’s space to the world of the smallest circle that may be drawn to utterly include it. A district that’s an ideal circle, in different phrases, would have a Reock rating of 1. The extra distorted the district’s form will get, the decrease the rating.
Chen additionally put the map as much as the so-called Popper-Polsby check, which is the ratio of the district’s space to the world of a circle whose circumference is similar size because the district’s perimeter. Once more, the decrease quantity, the much less compact the district.
Right here’s how the disputed map fared on each assessments towards the simulations:
Chen carried out one other simulation with a further 500 maps, this time, requiring that none of them pit two incumbents towards one another. The purpose was to see if the Normal Meeting drew the unique map this fashion not based mostly on partisanship, however based mostly on defending incumbents. However the outcomes had been largely the identical. On each metric, the disputed map was an outlier.
“These charts are what actually resonated with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court docket justices,” says Jacobson. “You see 500 black dots. Then you definitely see the precise plan. It’s means out in nowhere land.”
The outcomes, Chen says, complemented Pegden’s proof completely. “It’s not a query of whose metrics and strategies do you want higher,” he says. “The purpose is: Right here’s a variety of strategies, and they’re main us to the identical reply. Possibly that tells us one thing.”
One other query earlier than the courtroom was whether or not the partisan map really impacted illustration in Congress. In spite of everything, simply because most Pennsylvania representatives are Republicans does not imply they’re going to at all times vote with Republicans. However Christopher Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington College, confirmed mathematically that the Republican benefit additionally meant that the state’s Democrats had little probability of getting their voices heard in DC.
To evaluate the map’s partisan nature, Warshaw used a metric referred to as the efficiency gap, which researchers on the College of Chicago Legislation Faculty and the Public Coverage Institute of California devised in 2015. It measures the variety of votes that every get together “wastes” in a given election to gauge how packed and cracked its districts are. Each vote a celebration will get in a district that it loses counts as wasted. In districts the get together takes, any vote over the whole wanted to win is taken into account waste as effectively.
“You need to get as many seats in a legislature with as few votes as potential,” Warshaw explains. “You need to get zero votes within the districts you lose.”
To find out Pennsylvania’s effectivity hole, Warshaw calculated the distinction between every get together’s wasted votes and divided it by the variety of whole votes forged within the election. He discovered that the 2011 map not solely gave Republicans an even bigger benefit in Pennsylvania than that they had earlier than redistricting; it gave them a bonus like few the nation has ever seen. “It’s actually one of the crucial excessive partisan gerrymanders in fashionable American historical past,” Warshaw says.
Warshaw analyzed the common effectivity hole in states with greater than six representatives between 1972 and 2016, and located that the overwhelming majority have traditionally had an effectivity hole hovering round zero.
He additionally discovered, nonetheless, that since 2010, the final yr earlier than districts had been redrawn, maps have change into more and more skewed towards Republicans, because the get together dominates state legislatures and governorships throughout the nation.
Even so, the slide towards Republican benefit has been much more drastic in Pennsylvania. In 2012, Republican candidates received solely 49 % of the congressional vote in Pennsylvania, however gained 72 % of the seats.
Lastly, Warshaw deployed a generally used mannequin referred to as the DW-Nominate rating to indicate how partisanship has modified in Congress over time. This rating ranks members of Congress on a scale from -1, being probably the most liberal, to +1, being probably the most conservative. Because the chart reveals, each events have been creeping towards their respective poles steadily over time.
Warshaw doesn’t attempt to show that gerrymandering created that partisanship in Congress. His level is merely that in Pennsylvania, the place extra Democratic votes are wasted, it turns into virtually unattainable for Democrats to see points they assist flip into federal coverage. This degrades belief in authorities and in elections.
“Consultant democracy must be largely attentive to what voters need, and if it’s not, it calls into query democratic bona fides,” says Warshaw. In societies the place elections shut one complete subset out of energy, he says, “all types of unhealthy issues can occur.”
“In the end, individuals assume why are we even having elections?” Warshaw says. “There’s nothing inevitable about democracy.”
The Evolution of Maps
Although by far the least technical skilled within the case, John Kennedy was maybe probably the most compelling. In preparation for his nerve-wracking two hours on the stand, Kennedy, an skilled in Pennsylvania elections, dug by way of a long time of outdated maps relationship again to the 1960s to evaluate how the form of districts and their partisan outcomes have advanced over time.
He methodically walked by way of how Pennsylvania’s first congressional district, comprising a lot of Philadelphia, has been full of Democrats, whereas Democrats in Harrisburg have been cracked between the fourth and eleventh congressional districts, creating Republican majorities in each locations.
But it surely was the seventh congressional district—and the one seafood restaurant holding it collectively like a bit of Scotch tape—that clinched it. He confirmed the courtroom how the district had morphed from a squarish form to immediately’s sprawling, cartoonish scene. “How do you justify the seventh congressional district?” Kennedy says. “It’s absurd.”
The place Chen and Pegden laid out the mathematical proof of partisanship, and Warshaw demonstrated how that partisanship interprets to coverage, Kennedy confirmed within the starkest phrases simply how clearly gerrymandered these maps regarded even to the untrained eye.
As gerrymandering instances proliferate throughout the nation, there’s been some speak in analysis circles of the necessity for one true metric to measure it. Overturning Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered map, although, required detailed evaluation from all angles. “Metrics are simply proof,” says Jacobson. “It’s at all times useful to have extra proof not much less.”
Within the Pennsylvania case, Choose P. Kevin Brobson of the Commonwealth Court docket agreed that Republicans had clearly and deliberately given themselves a bonus, however stopped in need of saying that they had violated the state’s structure. In January, the Supreme Court docket disagreed, putting down the outdated Pennsylvania map.
In a matter of months, Pennsylvanians will head to the polls as soon as extra to elect 18 representatives to Congress, based mostly on a wholly new electoral map that leans far much less in a single get together’s favor. For Kennedy, a tutorial who spends most of his time learning historical past, it’s been a uncommon alternative to make historical past, as an alternative.