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Manchin on Voting Rights

Summary:
The news is that Joe Manchin has described a voting rights compromise which he supports. Also Republicans immediately said it was unacceptable to them. This reminds everyone that there will be no bipartisan compromise on an issue where the two parties have diametrically opposite interests. If there were any Republicans who did not equate democrats with Democrats, and pigs could fly, it would be different, but there aren’t. I am reasonably confident that nothing will come of this. To pass a bill it would be necessary to eliminate the filibuster and Manchin (and Sinema) won’t do that. However, I am actually interested in an incredibly vague part of Manchin’s proposed bill “Ban partisan gerrymandering and ‘use computer models,’ the latter of which

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The news is that Joe Manchin has described a voting rights compromise which he supports. Also Republicans immediately said it was unacceptable to them. This reminds everyone that there will be no bipartisan compromise on an issue where the two parties have diametrically opposite interests. If there were any Republicans who did not equate democrats with Democrats, and pigs could fly, it would be different, but there aren’t.

I am reasonably confident that nothing will come of this. To pass a bill it would be necessary to eliminate the filibuster and Manchin (and Sinema) won’t do that. However, I am actually interested in an incredibly vague part of Manchin’s proposed bill “Ban partisan gerrymandering and ‘use computer models,’ the latter of which isn’t further specified;”

It does seem that “computer models” doesn’t narrow things down much. However, I think it is quite simple really. It is possible to use precinct level data to calculate the ratio of Republicans elected to Republican votes statewide implied by districts. It is easy to compare proposed districting with the rule that if the ratio is closer to one with one set of districts then it must be preferred. The only non obvious detail I propose is that the results of the most recent 2 elections be used, because the turnout in midterm elections is very different from that in presidential year elections.

I would propose that only if two proposed sets of districts have the exact same estimated partisan bias according to this formula may any other properties of the districts be considered. I am reasonably confident that the bias can be reduced to the fact that we can cut congress people in half (even if the idea is sometimes appealing). In any case, the party with a minority in the state legislature has a very strong incentive to look very hard for proposals to reduce the bias.

I often read that Democrats are necessarily automatically at a disadvantage, because, even aside from partisan gerrymandering, Democratic voters are concentrated in cities and so many Democratic votes must be wasted. I do not believe this at all. Rather I think not explicitly partisan rules about compactness and respecting municipal and county boundries if possible favor the Republicans. There is no reason such rules deserve consideration at all comparabile to the importance that legislative majorities correspond as nearly as possible to the popular vote. I think that (except of course for the US Senate) they can correspond almost exactly.

I would like a law requiring that they do.

Again, I don’t expect to get it, or anything, but the problem is very simple, and the solution is obvious.

Robert Waldmann
Robert J. Waldmann is a Professor of Economics at Univeristy of Rome “Tor Vergata” and received his PhD in Economics from Harvard University. Robert runs his personal blog and is an active contributor to Angrybear.

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