Publications

Working Paper
Altman M, Amos B, McDonald MP, Smith D.

Revealing Preferences: Why Gerrymanders are Hard to Prove, and What to Do about It

. Social Science Research Network [Internet]. Working Paper. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Gerrymandering requires illicit intent. We classify six proposed methods to infer the intent of a redistricting authority using a formal framework for causal inferences that encompasses the redistricting process from the release of census data to the adoption of a final plan. We argue all proposed techniques to detect gerrymandering can be classified within this formal framework. Courts have, at one time or another, weighed evidence using one or more of these methods to assess racial or partisan gerrymandering claims. We describe the assumptions underlying each method, raising some heretofore unarticulated critiques revealed by laying bare their assumptions. We then review how these methods were employed in the 2014 Florida district court ruling that the state legislature violated a state constitutional prohibition on partisan gerrymandering, and propose standards that advocacy groups and courts can impose upon redistricting authorities to ensure they are held accountable if they adopt a partisan gerrymander.
Altman M, Amos B, McDonald MP, Smith DA.

Revealing Preferences: Why Gerrymanders are Hard to Prove, and What to Do about It

 

. [Internet]. Working Paper. Download Paper from SSRNAbstract
Gerrymandering requires illicit intent. We classify six proposed methods to infer the intent of a redistricting authority using a formal framework for causal inferences that encompasses the redistricting process from the release of census data to the adoption of a final plan. We argue all proposed techniques to detect gerrymandering can be classified within this formal framework. Courts have, at one time or another, weighed evidence using one or more of these methods to assess racial or partisan gerrymandering claims. We describe the assumptions underlying each method, raising some heretofore unarticulated critiques revealed by laying bare their assumptions. We then review how these methods were employed in the 2014 Florida district court ruling that the state legislature violated a state constitutional prohibition on partisan gerrymandering, and propose standards that advocacy groups and courts can impose upon redistricting authorities to ensure they are held accountable if they adopt a partisan gerrymander.
Altman M, Magar E, McDonald MP, Trelles A. The Effects of Automated Redistricting and Partisan Strategic Interaction on Representation: The Case of Mexico. Social Science Research Network [Internet]. Working Paper. Publisher's VersionAbstract
In the U.S. redistricting is deeply politicized and often synonymous with gerrymandering -- the manipulation of boundaries to promote the goals of parties, incumbents, and racial groups. In contrast, Mexico’s federal redistricting has been implemented nationwide since 1996 through automated algorithms devised by the electoral management body (EMB) in consultation with political parties. In this setting, parties interact strategically and generate counterproposals to the algorithmically generated plans in a closed-door process that is not revealed outside the bureaucracy. Applying geospatial statistics and large-scale optimization to a novel dataset that has never been available outside of the EMB, we analyze the effects of automated redistricting and partisan strategic interaction on representation. Our dataset comprises the entire set of plans generated by the automated algorithm, as well as all the counterproposals made by each political party during the 2013 redistricting process. Additionally, we inspect the 2006 map with new data and two proposals to replace it towards 2015 in search for partisan effects and political distortions. Our analysis offers a unique insight into the internal workings of a purportedly autonomous EMB and the partisan effects of automated redistricting on representation.
2017
Altman M, McDonald MP. Redistricting by Formula: An Ohio Reform Experiment. American Politics Research [Internet]. 2017;Forthcoming. Submitted manuscriptAbstract
We analyze sixty-six Ohio congressional plans produced during the post-2010 census redistricting by the legislature and the public. The public drew many plans submitted for judging in a competition hosted by reform advocates, who awarded a prize to the plan that scored best on a formula composed of four permissive components: compactness, respect for local political boundaries, partisan fairness, and competition. We evaluate how the legislature’s adopted plan compares to these plans on the advocates’ criteria and our alternative set of criteria, which reveals the degree by which the legislature placed partisanship over these other criteria. Our evaluation reveals minimal trade-offs among the components of the overall competition’s scoring criteria, but we caution that the scoring formula may be sensitive to implementation choices among its components. Compared to the legislature’s plan, the reform community can get more of the four criteria they value; importantly, without sacrificing the state’s only African-American opportunity congressional district.
altmanandmcdonald-ohioaprformat_apastyle.pdf
2016
Trelles A, Altman M, Magar E, McDonald MP.

Open Data, Political Representation and Redistricting in Mexico [Datos Abiertos, Representación Política Y Redistritación En México]

. Politica y Gobierno [Internet]. 2016;22(3). Publisher's VersionAbstract
The claims and protests caused by the deterioration of the political elite during the last decade show, among other things, the urgency to strengthen the linkage between citizens and their representatives. From our perspective, the use of information technology, as well as the generation and use of open data, offers an opportunity to improve the levels of governance and democratic consolidation in Mexico. In this area, the delimitation of the electoral boundaries is key to improve political representation. Given the technicalities surrounding boundary delimitation processes –geographical, statistical, informatics, among the most recognizable– it is easy to fall into the temptation of relegating redistricting to specialists and lose sight of its importance for democracy. In this paper we discuss how new technologies can be useful to incorporate the design, analysis, and study of electoral cartography to the international standards of open government. Additionally, we describe how an open source web-based platform, available to any citizen, has great potential for increasing the levels of participation, transparency, communication, and accountability surrounding redistricting process in the country.
825-1512-1-pb_es.pdf 825-1508-1-pb_en.pdf
2015
Trelles A, Altman M, Magar E, McDonald MP. Open Data, political representation and redistricting in Mexico. datos.gob.mx - Mexico's Official Open Government Site [Internet]. 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The various complaints and protests of various kinds in the last decade in The generation and use of information for this task is a priority area for governance and strengthening our young democracy. In this area, the delimitation of the electoral map is a key to achieving better political representation. 
datos_abiertos_representacion_politica_y_redistritacion_en_mexico.pdf
Altman M, McDonald MP.

Redistricting and Polarization

. In Thurber J, Yoshinaka A American Gridlock: The Sources, Character, and Impact of Political Polarization Cambridge University Press; 2015.Abstract
We review how the ideological polarization of members of the House of Representatives (elite polarization) is affected by: o sorting of parties’ incumbents into more ideologically compatible districts o replacement of incumbents by more ideologically extreme successors o the drawing of more ideologically extreme districts ● We show there are fewer competitive congressional districts – having a near balance of Democrats and Republicans – following redistricting ● We show more competitive districts can be drawn without sacrificing other values, such as compactness or minority representation ● We discuss the prospects for redistricting reform
altmanandmcdonaldredistrictingpolarization_revised_1.pdf
Altman M, McDonald MP.

Written Evidence in Response to "What next on the redrawing of Parliamentary boundaries?"

. [Internet]. 2015. All Written Testimony - Parliament Select CommitteeAbstract
Invited written testimony queries on how to improve public input into the Boundary Commission for England. This testimony summarizes both our research into public participation in electoral delimitations, and our professional experience in conducting boundary delimitation.
17316.pdf
Altman M, McDonald M. Paradoxes Of Political Reform: Congressional Redistricting In Florida. In Jigsaw Puzzle Politics in the Sunshine State University Press of Florida; 2015. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The reforms to the redistricting process in Florida, catalyzed by advances in information technology, enabled a dramatic increase in public participation in the redistricting process. This reform process in Florida can be considered a partial success: The adopted plan implements one the the most efficient observable trade-offs among the reformer’s criteria, primarily along the lines of racial representation by creating an additional Black-majority district in the form of the current 5th Congressional District. This does not mean, however, that reform was entirely successful. The adopted plan is efficient, but is atypical of the plans submitted by the legislature and public. Based on the pattern of public submissions, and on contextual information, we suspect the adopted plan was drawn for partisan motivations. The public preference and good-government criteria might be better served by the selection of the other efficient plans – that were much more competitive, and less biased, at the cost of a reduction of the majority-minority seat.
2014
Altman M, McDonald MP.

Invited Written Testimony to the National Commission on Voting Rights

 

.; 2014. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Invited testimony on public participation in electoral mapping.
voting_rights_and_public_mapping_-_google_docs.pdf
Altman M, McDonald MP.

How Independent Commissions Could Use the Internet and Open Software to Maximize Transparency and Public Engagement in Redistricting

.; 2014.Abstract
Our work leads us to conclude that no one can have complete information and no single group can, on its own, create fair electoral maps. Legislative gerrymandering is not the answer, but as Americans turn toward independent commissions, why not deploy all technologies available to facilitate the widest possible participation in districting choices critical to American democracy?
ssn_key_findings_altman_and_mcdonald_on_redistricting_reform_at_internet_scale.pdf
Altman M, McDonald MP. Public Participation GIS : The Case of Redistricting. Proceedings of the 47th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences [Internet]. 2014. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Recent technological advances have enabled greater public participation and transparency in the United States redistricting process. We review these advances, with particular attention to activities involving open-source redistricting software.
Public Participation GIS
2013
Altman M, McDonald MP.

A Half-Century of Virginia Redistricting Battles: Shifting from Rural Malapportionment to Voting Rights to Public Participation

. Richmond Law Review [Internet]. 2013;43(1):771-831. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Over the past fifty years, the battle lines in Virginia redistricting have shifted from within-party fighting among Democrats primarily over malapportionment favoring rural interests over urban interests to battles over voting rights. In this article, we provide a detailed history of redistricting in Virginia, and a quantitative analysis of current adopted and proposed redistricting plans. Surprisingly, although the outcome remained partisan, the current round of redistricting included an unprecedented level of public engagement, catalyzed by information technology. The Virginia commission and the participation of students in the current round of Virginia’s redistricting demonstrates that redistricting does not have to be left up to the ‘professionals.’ Further, our analysis suggests that state-level reform in the form of an independent commission that strictly follows a set of administrative criteria would likely modestly benefit Republicans.
altman-473.pdf
2012
Altman M. Micah Altman on How Participatory Technology Is Changing Redistricting (Commentary). TechPresident [Internet]. 2012. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Participative technology has succeeded beyond our expectations. The number of legally viable, publicly submitted plans has grown by a factor of a hundred since the last decade. These plans demonstrate a qualitative difference in public participation and have produced many examples of better ways of redistricting.
Altman M, McDonald MP.

Redistricting Principles for the Twenty-First Century

. Case-Western Law Review [Internet]. 2012;62:1–26. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Baker v. Carr’s elevation of new population equality criteria for redistricting over old geographic-based criteria reflected an evolution in how the courts and society understood the principles of representation. Twenty-first century principles of redistricting should reflect modern understandings of representation and good government—and also reflect the new opportunities and constraints made possible through advancing technology and data collection. 
62casewreslrev4.10.altmanmcdonald.pdf
2011
Altman M, McDonald MP. The Dawn of Do-It-Yourself Redistricting?. Campaigns & Elections [Internet]. 2011:38–42. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Collaborative mapping has the potential to fundamentally change redistricting. A state’s redistricting authority—be it the legislature or a commission—can solicit public input to draw lines that are in communities’ stated interests. And, if a member of the public creates a redistricting plan that exceeds a state redistricting authority’s plan in meeting the legal requirements, the media and the courts may take a jaundiced view of the state’s original plan.
Altman M, McDonald M, Jennings A, Shephard K, Zwarg D. DistrictBuilder. [Internet]. 2011. Publisher's Version
Altman M, McDonald MP. BARD: Better automated redistricting. Journal Of Statistical Software [Internet]. 2011;42:1–28. Publisher's VersionAbstract
BARD provides a set of open source tools to automatically create and analyze redistricting plans. These tools support both scientific analysis of existing redistricting plans, and citizen participation in creating new plans. Version .83 was first released to CRAN in 2007,
2010
Altman M, Mann TE, McDonald MP, Ornstein NJ. Principles for Transparency and Public Participation in Redistricting. [Internet]. 2010. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Scholars from the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute are collaborating to promote transparency in redistricting. In January 2010, an advisory board of experts and representatives of good government groups was convened in order to articulate principles for transparent redistricting and to identify barriers to the public and communities who wish to create redistricting plans. This document summarizes the principles for transparency in redistricting that were identified during that meeting.