‘The most important election nobody’s ever heard of’

“Control of the Wisconsin state Supreme Court is on the ballot this spring, and the contest could decide the fate of abortion rights, redistricting and more in the critical swing state.
Should a more liberal-leaning jurist win the job in the April election, it would flip the balance of the state’s highest court for at least two years.”

What I Got Wrong In 2022

“While it is true that the president’s party almost always has a poor midterm, there have been exceptions. And the 2022 midterms turned out to be one of these “asterisk elections,” thanks in no small part to the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to overturn the constitutional right to abortion. This year I should have been more prepared for the possibility that the ruling could throw a wrench into the election, especially after a draft of the decision was leaked in May. And even after the decision, it took me a while to become convinced that voter anger over Dobbs would prove durable enough to last until Election Day. It wasn’t until the fall that I revised my expectations from a “red wave” to a “red ripple.”

My biggest mistake here was not realizing just how common an “asterisk election” actually is. I often quoted one key stat: that the president’s party had gained House seats in only two of the previous 19 midterm elections. But there were four other midterms where the president’s party lost fewer than 10 House seats — so what happened in 2022 isn’t that rare. I also neglected to remember that the president’s party had lost Senate seats in only 13 of the last 19 midterms. In other words, midterms like 2022 happen about a third of the time — way too frequently to count them out.”

Did Redistricting Cost Democrats The House?

“The 2022 election for the House of Representatives was so close1 that if any number of things had gone differently, Democrats might have kept their majority. And one of the biggest things that affected the battle for the House was redistricting — the decennial redrawing of congressional districts’ lines to account for the results of the 2020 census.
But was the impact of redistricting significant enough to swing the House to the GOP? As I wrote in June, the 2021-22 redistricting cycle didn’t radically change the partisanship of the national House map, so I mostly agree with those who say redistricting didn’t cost Democrats the House. But at the same time, those who say Republicans won only because they gerrymandered are also technically correct. How can both things be true? Allow me to explain.

One way to test the claim that “redistricting cost Democrats the House” is to assess whether Democrats would have held onto the chamber if redistricting had never happened. We at FiveThirtyEight have already calculated how many percentage points each district swung left or right thanks to redistricting. For example, a district that went from a partisan lean2 of R+2 to D+3 got 5 points bluer. Then I compared this swing to the current 2022 House margin in that district.3 Suppose a party lost by less than the district swung away from that party in redistricting. In that case, it’s likely that redistricting cost that party the seat.

Of course, this is a hypothetical — and imperfect — exercise. Some districts changed substantially and wouldn’t have swung uniformly like that had they not been redrawn.4 In addition, if they had not changed, different districts might have attracted different candidates and different levels of spending from national groups, each of which could have affected the result. But this method can still give us a rough idea of what might have happened in a redistricting-less world.

Using this method, we can see that Republicans flipped a net six seats because of redistricting.”

“But Democrats also caught a few bad breaks in states with ostensibly nonpartisan redistricting processes. For example, the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission made the 2nd and 6th districts5 about 10 points more Republican-leaning. In Michigan, the state’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission redrew the 10th District6 to be light red. And court-appointed experts nudged the New York 17th and Virginia 2nd rightward enough that they flipped too. Meanwhile, Democrats on the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Commission voluntarily sacrificed the 7th District to protect vulnerable Democrats in other districts.

On the other hand, Democrats flipped a few seats thanks to redistricting. They drew some very Democrat-friendly maps in Illinois and New Mexico, enabling them to pick up the Illinois 13th and New Mexico 2nd. A court reconfigured North Carolina’s 13th District from a solidly red seat into a swing district that Democrats narrowly carried. And Republicans made the Ohio 1st District and Texas 34th District bluer, with the unfortunate (for them) side effect of handing those seats to Democrats.

But we also need to consider seats that didn’t flip but would have if redistricting had not occurred. And this is where Democrats benefited the most, gaining six seats on net — and canceling out Republicans’ gains from the flips that did occur.”

“Democrats also gained a net three seats from reapportionment, the process of subtracting congressional districts from states with sluggish population growth and giving them to states whose populations have exploded. Six of the seven districts that were eliminated by reapportionment were held by Republicans — slow-growth areas tended to be in rural and/or postindustrial areas, where Republicans usually dominate. But Republicans won only three of the seven districts that were created in reapportionment, for a net Democratic gain of three seats.”

“By my reckoning, Democrats actually gained three seats from redistricting overall. In other words, without redistricting, Republicans’ majority would be closer to 225-210.

“But wait,” I hear you saying. “There was no world in which redistricting wouldn’t have occurred in 2021-22. So isn’t it better to calculate how the 2022 election would have gone down if redistricting had gone differently, not if it hadn’t happened at all?” You have a point — but the problem is, there is no objective alternative map. The congressional map could have changed in a thousand ways depending on individual, state-level decisions.”

“[If redistricting went differently in a number of ways in favor of the Democrats,] Democrats probably would have won five more seats than they actually did.”

“five additional seats for Democrats would have been enough for them to hold onto a slim 218-217 majority. So yes, if every Republican gerrymander had been undone in court before the 2022 election, Democrats may have kept control of the House.

But that’s assuming no additional Democratic gerrymanders were thrown out in court.”

In Alaska, Ranked Choice Voting Worked

“ranked choice voting actually encourages voters to look beyond partisan markers and choose (or block) candidates based on their merits.
Under Alaska’s new election system, all candidates compete in a single primary contest—rather than in party-specific contests—with the top four vote-getters advancing to the general election. That meant that the general election ballot for Alaska’s congressional seat contained four names on Election Day, with Republican Nick Begich and Libertarian Chris Bye qualifying alongside Palin and Peltola.

In the general election, ranked choice voting is used to determine the winner. That means that every voter ranks their choices from one through four. As the votes are counted, there is an “instant runoff” in which votes cast for losing candidates are reallocated to reflect the ranks assigned by individual voters.

To see how this works in practice, let’s look at Chris Bye, who finished last in the first round of vote counting. He received 4,560 first-place votes. After being eliminated, those ballots were re-distributed to the other candidates. Begich was the second choice of 1,988 Bye voters, so he received those ballots for the second round. Palin was the second choice of 1,064 Bye voters, and Peltola was the second choice for 1,038 of them.

At that point, no candidate had more than 50 percent of the total, so an additional elimination was necessary. Despite getting a plurality of Bye’s votes, Begich was still in third place, so he was eliminated and his votes were reallocated to Palin and Peltola. Voters who had picked Begich as their first choice had their ballots distributed to their second-place choice (unless the second-place choice was Bye), while Bye voters who’d picked Begich second had their votes redistributed to whomever they’d picked as their third choice.

As you might expect since both were Republicans, a majority of Begich’s ballots ended up in Palin’s pile. But not all of them, and the Begich-to-Peltola pipeline was enough to push the Democratic incumbent over the 50 percent threshold.”

“she lost because not enough Alaskan voters picked her to represent them in Congress. It’s really as simple as that. Ranked choice voting rewards candidates who are viewed as being acceptable even if not ideal by the majority of voters. Palin, for the second time in a handful of months, failed that test.”

Pennsylvania Republicans reconsider their war on mail voting

“Across the country, the GOP’s disappointing midterm results have kicked off hand-wringing about the party’s attitude toward early voting and mail ballots. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley — both potential 2024 GOP presidential candidates — have said recently that Republicans can’t simply ignore the voting mechanisms Democrats have taken advantage of.
But the about-face is particularly striking in Pennsylvania, where Republicans have adopted an especially uncompromising approach to mail-in voting.

Though nearly every Republican state legislator backed a 2019 law legalizing no-excuse mail voting, GOP officials changed their tune in the 2020 presidential election, when then-President Donald Trump repeatedly and forcefully bashed vote-by-mail.

Their criticism of the method continued from there. Pennsylvania Republicans attacked Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the state’s top election official for the way they implemented the 2019 mail voting law. They lambasted court rulings on the procedure, including those that enabled the use of drop boxes and allowed mail ballots to be received up to three days after the 2020 election as long as they were postmarked by Election Day.

The 2022 Pennsylvania GOP’s gubernatorial nominee, Doug Mastriano, pledged during his campaign to eliminate no-excuse mail-in voting and led the movement to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the state. Republican state lawmakers filed a lawsuit that attempted to toss out the very vote-by-mail law they helped pass. Republican Jake Corman, the retiring state Senate President Pro Tempore, said mail voting should be ended.

But the blue wave that hit Pennsylvania in 2022 — in which Republicans lost key races for governor, Senate, House and the state legislature — is forcing the GOP to reassess.

“Republicans focus on Election Day turnout and Democrats started a month ahead of time,” said former Rep. Lou Barletta, who ran unsuccessfully for governor in the GOP primary this year. “If we want to win, if Republicans want to win, they got to get better at” mail voting.”

Tough-on-Crime Cash Bail Initiatives Win in Ohio and Alabama

“Ohio’s new constitutional amendment will allow judges to set a dollar amount commensurate with a person’s criminal record, the seriousness of their alleged crime, and their odds of appearing at court following pretrial release. The Ohio Senate ushered the initiative forward in direct response to a ruling from the state’s highest court, which said in early January that bail could only be used to ensure a defendant’s presence at trial—the constitutionally prescribed reason for its use.

In Alabama, voters were tasked with deciding if the state should be able to deny bail for certain offenses if the government can convince a judge that the defendant poses a threat to the community or cannot be trusted to return to court. Those offenses include murder; first-degree kidnapping, rape, and sodomy; sexual torture; first-degree domestic violence, human trafficking, burglary, arson, and robbery; terrorism; and child abuse.”

“the debate has become increasingly politicized. Many reformers say that a dangerousness standard is racist, while law-and-order politicians are likely to present any bail reform as a driver of violent crime.
The answer is more nuanced than either major political party would want their base to believe.”