American Politics & Public Policy Workshop: Jowei Chen, “Black Electoral Geography and Congressional Districting: The Effect of the Voting Rights Act on Partisan Gerrymandering”

Event time: 
Wednesday, November 12, 2014 - 5:00pm through 6:15pm
Event description: 

“Black Electoral Geography and Congressional Districting: The Effect of the Voting Rights Act on Partisan Gerrymandering”

Guest Speaker: Jowei Chen, Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

Abstract: How does the creation of majority-black districts under the Voting Rights Act affect the partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts? To analyze this interactive effect of racial and partisan gerrymandering, I conduct thousands of computer districting simulations, drawing intentionally Republican-favoring congressional plans that also satisfy varying thresholds of racial gerrymandering. I argue that, depending on the political geography of black voters, the VRA can either enhance or limit Republicans’ ability to gerrymander districts for their partisan gain.

When blacks reside near extremely conservative white voters (e.g., Western Alabama), the VRA substantially constrains Republican gerrymandering by creating a safe, black Democratic seat in areas that could otherwise have been strategically drawn into moderately Republican districts. In these cases, the VRA thus prevents a Republican legislature from maximizing its control over seats. By contrast, when blacks reside near politically liberal or moderate whites (e.g., Atlanta, Georgia), the creation of a majority-black district often enables extreme Republican gerrymandering; specifically, the VRA allows partisan redistricters to choose from a new set of redistricting configurations that are normally geographically impermissible in the absence of the VRA. In such cases, the VRA has the “perverse effect” of helping to elect more Republican legislators.

Jowei Chen is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan. His research interests include legislative districting, electoral geography, distributive politics, and executive agencies. Broadly, his work employs both GIS-based spatial analysis and formal modeling to analyze how legislative representation and constituent service are shaped by electoral geography. His research has appeared in the American Journal of Political Science, the Quarterly Journal of Political Science, and the American Political Science Review. He graduated from college at Yale University and received a M.S. in Statistics and a Ph.D. in Political Science at Stanford University.

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