Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Taking a break from "Assessing democracy..." to assess democracy in North Carolina

I'm going to take a quick break from the "Assessing democracy..." series to comment on a political science-y story floating around about North Carolina.  You may have noticed it.  North Carolina isn't a democracy!!!.

The claim comes from Andrew Reynolds and his participation in the Electoral Integrity Project, which assessed "democracy" across the states.  North Carolina faired poorly.

Full disclosure:  The EIP asked me to participate in an assessment of Ohio, but I declined on the grounds that I am not sufficiently attentive to state-level election administration here.  I do think that such projects would benefit from the participation of anti-goo-goos* like me, but oh well.

The EIP states that ranked highly were basically goo-goo-friendly states, meaning those with the least restrictive voter laws, the most restrictive campaign finance laws, and so forth.  My point today, though, is about Reynolds, and his comments on North Carolina.  His indictment of North Carolina is based on three claims:

1) District boundaries exaggerate the Republican legislative advantage

2) The bathroom bill, voter ID laws (presumably-- race and voting), and something about women

3) Upon losing the governorship, the Republicans stripped the executive branch of power

Point 1 is goo-goo bullshit.  Well, no.  It's mathematically true.  It's just a goo-goo bullshit complaint because he'd whine like a... singer-songwriter... if I told him the solution.

Here's the deal with redistricting.  Do you want to get rid of one party's mathematical advantage over the other?  Here's how you do it.  Draw one set of districts that are as close to 100% Democratic as possible.  Draw another set of districts that are as close to 100% Republican as possible.  The end result will be a legislature with a partisan balance that is an exact reflection of the population.

And why do goo-goos not want to hear that?  No competitive elections.  Fine by me.  I don't like competitive elections.

But wait, you say, doesn't that lock in a one-party majority forever?  Not if the parties are in actual balance and there is an odd number of seats.  Want a citation?  Read my article, "The Statistical Properties of Competitive Districts: What the Central Limit Theorem Can Teach Us About Election Reform."

Next, Point 2.  What the hell does the bathroom bill have to do with democracy?  Criticize it all you want, but whatever democracy is (poorly-defined as it is), it is about process, not policy.  The bathroom bill is policy.  To call North Carolina "not a democracy" on the basis of lawmaking misses the point about the process-policy distinction, and to combine the bathroom bill with voter ID laws is really to fail to see the distinction.

Voter ID laws, sure, but notice that North Carolina's poll numbers weren't the ones that were the most off, even though their laws were among the most restrictive.

Then, what was that about women?  I read it as a reference to the passage of restrictive abortion laws, but again, that is a process-policy issue, not to be combined with voter ID laws as though they are the same thing.

Everything so far is bullshit.

Point 3, though...

Now, Reynolds makes the real point.  This one, yup.  After McCrory lost, North Carolina Republicans stripped the Governor's office of power so that the incoming Democrat wouldn't be able to do much.  That's... yeah.

So, I wrote a pretty anti-goo-goo book called Hiring and Firing Public Officials: Rethinking the Purpose of Elections.  Elections aren't markets, so we don't want them to be competitive.  They are hiring and firing decisions.  We want a credible threat to fire bad employees to make them do their fucking jobs so that we don't have to fire them.  Pat McCrory got his ass fired.  In order to have the mechanism work properly, the punishment has to work.

North Carolina Republicans just took the sting out of the punishment at the party-level.  The mechanism doesn't work there.

I'm as anti-goo-goo a political scientist as you are likely to find, and yeah, North Carolina is not what I'd call a "democracy," whatever that means.  Reynolds confuses process and policy in his argument, but, North Carolina is fucked.

Tomorrow, back to the regular "Assessing democracy..." series.


* goo-goo: derogatory term for "good government" advocate.

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