California’s District Maps Are Generally Fair, Increase Competitiveness

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Future Independent Commissions Could Use More Data To Improve Plans

SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Voting districts drawn by California’s independent Citizen Redistricting Commission (CRC) are fair to each major party and have made elections more competitive, according to a new report released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC).

Overall, the report finds that the CRC plans led to greater competitiveness compared to plans drawn by the state legislature in 2001—which were among the least competitive in the nation. Findings also suggest that Democrats have had a slight edge under the CRC plan, but without the size or durability typical of a gerrymander. While the CRC plans are an improvement, the report suggests ways to avoid potential problems in the future with the use of additional metrics and automated tools to improve mapping.


“California’s Citizen Redistricting Commission largely satisfied expectations that it would produce plans that are fair to each party and more competitive,” said report author and PPIC research fellow Eric McGhee. “The plans have moved California in the opposite direction from many states that have produced less competitive plans in the latest round of redistricting.”


The PPIC report, Assessing California’s Redistricting Commission: Effects on Partisan Fairness and Competitiveness, evaluates election outcomes under the CRC plans using two new measures of partisan gerrymandering, as well as established metrics of competitiveness. It also compares election outcomes to those under the state’s previous plans and places them in a national context. One metric, called the efficiency gap, helps identify a redistricting plan that gives a party more seats even when it has not won more votes. McGhee is the creator of the efficiency gap, and he is the co-creator (with Nicholas Stephanopoulos) of a legal standard that relies on it. Another metric, declination, analyzes the distribution of votes to determine whether district maps are designed to benefit either party.


The report comes at a time when many states are considering adopting a system similar to California’s, particularly in light of two US Supreme Court cases that could establish a new legal standard for partisan gerrymandering. The efficiency gap has played a key role in one of these cases and might be considered as part of any new standard.


Report findings include:

•The CRC plan for legislative districts is more competitive than the 2001 legislative plan, but is less competitive than most other states’ legislative plans.


•The plan for congressional districts is more competitive than about 72 percent of the plans in other states. The Democrats have more of an advantage under the CRC plan, but it is a small one.


•Evidence of partisan advantage is inconsistent over time. Competitiveness is more consistent: every year has been more competitive under the CRC maps than all but one year under the legislature’s maps.


Moving forward, the report recommends that the CRC take partisan data—such as party registration and voting behavior—into account to assess the impact of its plans and avoid any chance of favoring one party over another. It also recommends that the CRC take advantage of new automated redistricting tools that could quickly generate a large number of plans for consideration.


re’s bipartisan legislation ready to get it done. It’s time to translate injustice into action,” Murguía added.

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50 Years After The Kerner  Commission, Black  Americans

Are Not Economically Equal

50 years after the Kerner Commission delivered a report to President Johnson examining the causes of civil unrest in African American communities, a new EPI briefing paper compares the state of black workers and their families in 1968 with the economic circumstances African Americans face today.


EPI economic analyst Janelle Jones, Vice President John Schmitt, and economist Valerie Wilson find that while African Americans today are much better educated than they were in 1968—and in many ways better off in absolute terms than they were in 1968—they are still economically disadvantaged relative to whites.


“Black Americans have clearly put a tremendous amount of personal effort into improving their social and economic standing, but that effort only goes so far when you’re working within structures that were never intended to give equal outcomes,” said Wilson, Director of EPI’s Program on Race, Ethnicity, and the Economy.


Black workers still make only 82.5 cents on every dollar earned by white workers, African Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be in poverty than whites, and the median white family has almost ten times as much wealth as the median black family. In 2017 the black unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, up from 6.7 percent in 1968, and still roughly twice the white unemployment rate. In 2015, the black homeownership rate was just over 40 percent, virtually unchanged since 1968 and trailing a full 30 points behind the white homeownership rate, which saw modest gains over the same period.


“Especially relative to the increases in educational attainment, America has failed African Americans over the last five decades,” said Schmitt. Schmitt notes that the share of African Americans in prison or jail almost tripled between 1968 and 2016, surpassing a parallel increase in the incarceration of whites.


Even after substantial progress in educational attainment of African Americans, there are still significant gaps between African Americans and whites with respect to college completion. More than 90 percent of younger African Americans (ages 25 to 29) have graduated from high school, compared with just over half in 1968—which means they’ve nearly closed the gap with white high school graduation rates. They are also more than twice as likely to have a college degree as in 1968 but are still half as likely as young whites to have a college degree.

“It’s clear that structural racism that is the root cause of this economic inequality,” said Jones. “Solutions must be bold and to scale, which means we need structural change that eliminates the barriers that have stymied economic progress for generations of African American workers.”


The paper will be distributed at an Economic Policy Institute, Johns Hopkins University, and Haas Institute at Berkeley conference to commemorate and discuss the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission report on civil unrest.

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