Monthly Archives: March 2015

“Secret, unlimited donations could boost a Jeb Bush run”

WaPo:

Jeb Bush has given his tacit endorsement to a new group that can collect unlimited amounts of money in secret, part of a bold effort by his advisers to create a robust external political operation before he declares his expected White House bid.

The nonprofit group, Right to Rise Policy Solutions, was quietly established in Arkansas in February by a friend and former Bush staffer. The group shares the name of two political committees for which Bush has been aggressively raising money — blurring the line that is supposed to separate a campaign from independent groups.

 

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“2 top local officials call for state attorney general to investigate Bloomingburg voting”

News from NY:

Top officials of the Town of Mamakating and Village of Bloomingburg have called on state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate what the officials call systemic examples of voter fraud in Bloomingburg over the past two years.

In calling for an independent investigation in a joint statement, Mamakating Supervisor Bill Herrmann and Bloomingburg Mayor Frank Gerardi harshly criticized Sullivan County District Attorney James Farrell for neglecting to conduct his own investigation.

“We must ask,” Herrmann said in a news release, “at what point is the willful indifference of the Sullivan County District Attorney equal to complicity in what has become endless and humiliating corruption of the democratic process?”

 

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Nick Stephanopoulos on the Alabama Redistricting Case

Here is a guest blog post from Nick Stephanopoulos:

The rapidly congealing conventional wisdom is that last week’s Alabama redistricting case was no big deal. And the conventional wisdom is mostly right. The case confirmed the prevailing understanding of racial gerrymandering claims: that they apply to individual districts rather than plans in their entirety; and that equal population is a background rule for redistricting, not a motive that can compete with race for predominance. The case’s interpretation of Section 5—that it does not require freezing districts’ minority population shares—also seems interesting but not too meaningful in a post-Shelby County world.

But while the case was no blockbuster, there may be more to it than meets the eye. Here are a few reasons why it may have some lasting significance. First, it establishes that minority plaintiffs can prevail in racial gerrymandering suits. This point was not entirely clear since every previous plaintiff in suits of this sort addressed by the full Court was a white voter. But now there can be no doubt that minorities also can claim that race was the predominant reason for a district’s construction.

Second, in the near term, the case probably spells doom for several other states’ district plans. Alabama was not alone in keeping districts’ minority population shares almost perfectly constant and then arguing that Section 5 made it do so. Among others, North Carolina and Virginia implemented nearly identical strategies, meaning that their plans now are on thin legal ice too. A decision that knocks out multiple maps in one swoop is not quite small potatoes.

Third, in the long run, the case would be very important if Congress manages to pass a new coverage formula. If Congress does so, then the case would provide the Court’s only interpretation of Section 5’s new language. And this interpretation is notable in that it rejects (without overt dissent) the most pro-Republican view of the amended Section 5. Future Republican line-drawers thus would not be able to claim that Section 5 compelled them to keep districts’ minority population shares in perpetual stasis. Instead, the provision would be construed more functionally, focusing on minorities’ actual ability to elect their preferred candidates rather than any rigid benchmarks.

Fourth, the case suggests that Justice Kennedy—the only Justice to switch sides from Shelby County—might not have a constitutional problem with preclearance itself. If he did have a problem with it, it would be quite odd for him to join an opinion that analyzed Section 5 as if it were constitutionally trouble-free. And if Section 5 is lawful, then there is more reason for Congress to prioritize the passage of a new coverage formula. Then a new formula could actually salvage the whole preclearance system (and not just lead to its invalidation on other grounds).

Fifth, and even more speculatively, the case might mean that a majority of the Court is concerned about the recent rise in partisan gerrymandering. The real story behind Alabama’s map, of course, is the pursuit of partisan advantage. The reason why the line-drawers sought so assiduously to keep the minority percentages constant is because they wanted to waste as many Democratic votes as possible, not because they were preoccupied with race. True, the Court studiously avoided any mention of this partisan dynamic. But the Court could not have been oblivious to it, and the case may signal the Justices’ willingness to bend other doctrines to block unfair plans.

Lastly, the case matters because it undermines potential Section 2 defenses against racial gerrymandering claims. Section 2 uses almost the same language as Section 5 when it refers to the election of “representatives of [minorities’] choice.” If Section 5’s version of this language does not require freezing minority population shares, then, most likely, neither does Section 2’s. So in the future, states should not be able to justify Alabama-style plans on the basis of Section 2 compliance either. Neither pillar of the Voting Rights Act appears to require treating minority population shares as if they were set in amber.

To reiterate, I agree with the emerging consensus that the Alabama case is no redistricting earthquake. But its tremors still may be felt for longer than most observers have supposed.

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Study Finds Less Election Fraud in PR Systems

Fabrice Lehoucq and Kiril Kolev, Varying the Un-Variable: Structure, Electoral Formulae, and Election Quality (PRQ).  Here is the abstract:

This paper assesses the hypothesis that election quality is worse under plurality voting systems than under proportional representation (PR). We use a two-pronged research design that permits us to harness the advantages of most similar and most different approaches to limit problems of endogeneity that afflict hypothesis testing in comparative politics. We use a subnational database of more than 1,300 accusations of electoral fraud from Costa Rica (1901–1948) that uniquely varies formulae among (provincial) electoral districts. Our statistical models reveal that plurality leads to more ballot rigging than proportional systems. We also demonstrate that plurality voting systems are associated with inferior election quality in the Quality of Elections Database (QED), which covers 170 countries between 1975 and 2004. Our findings suggest that electoral formulae, a basic feature of institutional design, have as much impact as social structure on whether elections are free and fair.

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“After the Override: An Empirical Analysis of Shadow Precedent”

Brian Broughman and Deborah Widiss have posted this draft on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

Abstract:

The ability of Congress to override judicial interpretations of statutory language is central to legislative supremacy. Both political science and legal scholarship assume, often implicitly, that enactment of a legislative override will effectively replace the pre-existing precedent, akin to a judicial overruling of a prior decision. Yet, because the superseding language comes from Congress rather than the courts, it is often unclear precisely how an override interacts with the pre-existing precedent. Our study is the first to empirically address this issue. We built an original dataset of annual citations to three different groups of Supreme Court decisions: (i) cases overridden by Congress (ii) cases subsequently overruled by the Court, and (iii) a matched control group of Supreme Court decisions that were neither overridden nor overruled. Using fixed effect regression analysis, we find that, on average, citation levels to cases that have been at least partially superseded — what we call “shadow precedents” — decrease only minimally after an override, while they decrease dramatically after a judicial overruling. Our results suggest that when faced with competing signals from Congress and the courts above them, trial courts look for interpretive guidance from other judicial actors, and that courts often continue to rely extensively on overridden precedents.

 

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