Base Rate Neglect and the Diagnosis of Partisan Gerrymanders (with Sanford Gordon)
Election Law Journal (2024)
We discuss conceptual issues arising from base rate neglect in the ‘‘Efficiency Gap’’ (Stephanopoulos and McGhee, 2015), a popular measure of unfairness in partisan gerrymandering. A measure of vote dilution asymmetry that adjusts for the base rate mitigates these; however, because it prioritizes a potentially unachievable degree of proportionality, its naive application may be impractical or infeasible. A comparison of measures using enacted and simulated plans clarifies the frequency with which the base rate issue may yield erroneous inferences if unaddressed. We show that a generalized version of dilution asymmetry that differentially weights harms associated with partisan gerrymandering permits and may even necessitate departures from pure proportionality.We also show via simulation that maps that approximate proportionality, and thus minimize dilution asymmetry, are feasible more often than previously thought.

Bridging the Grade Gap: Reducing Assessment Bias in a Multi-Grader Class (with Sean Kates, Tine Paulsen and Joshua Tucker)
Political Analysis (2023)
Replication Archive | R package | Ungated Version

Many large survey courses rely on multiple professors or teaching assistants to judge student responses to open-ended questions. Even following best practices, multiple graders can result in students with similar levels of conceptual understanding to receive widely varying assessments. We detail how this can occur, and argue that it is an example of differential item functioning (or interpersonal incomparability), where graders interpret the same possible grading range differently. Using both actual assessment data from a large survey course in Comparative Politics and simulation methods, we show that the bias can be corrected for by a small number of ``bridging'' observations across graders. We conclude by offering best practices for fair assessment in large survey courses.

Incentive Effects of Recall Elections: Evidence from California Superior Court Judges (with Sanford Gordon)
Journal of Politics (2022)
Supplementary Appendix | Replication Archive | Media: The Recall, Reframed | Ungated Version

39 U.S. states authorize recall elections, but the incentives they create are understudied. We examine how changes in the perceived threat of recall alter behavior of one set of officials: judges. In 2016, outrage over the sentence imposed on a Stanford athlete following his sexual assault conviction sparked a drive to recall the presiding judge. Using case disposition data from six California counties and matched arrest records for a subset of defendants, we examine whether critical events in the recall campaign were accompanied by corresponding changes in other judges' sentences. We find a large, discontinuous increase in severity associated with the campaign's announcement, but not the recall itself -- suggesting the announcement shifted judges' beliefs about their political environment. The increase may have indirectly burdened minority defendants disproportionately. Our findings are the first to document incentive effects of recall, and suggest that targeted political campaigns may have far-reaching, unintended consequences.

Judicial Accountability and Racial Disparity in Criminal Appeals (with Anna Harvey)
Journal of Legal Studies (2021)
Supplementary Appendix | Replication Archive (Zip file) | Ungated Version
Existing work indicates that retention through election induces larger effects on judicial votes in criminal cases than retention through appointment. Yet existing work has addressed neither case selection effects across retention institutions nor heterogeneous treatment effects by defendant and judge race. Leveraging the unique retention institutions governing New York State's intermediate appellate judges, we report the first within-justice estimates of the effects of reelection and reappointment incentives on judicial votes in criminal appeals. We find that impending judicial reappointment induces a 49 - 52% within-justice decrease in pro-defendant votes in appeals involving Black defendants heard by all-white panels but does not affect votes in other cases. We find no additional effect of impending reelection on appellate justice votes in criminal appeals. Our findings suggest the need for greater attention devoted both to potential selection effects and to heterogeneous effects by defendant and judge race in studies of judicial retention institutions.

Sustaining Democracy with Force: Evidence from Black Enfranchisement during Reconstruction (with Mario Chacon and Jeff Jensen)
Journal of Historical Political Economy (2021)
Winner of 2022 Lee J. Alston Prize | Broadstreet Blog | Ungated Version

The failure of Reconstruction is widely seen as a key factor in the social and economic status of African Americans today. Despite the extension of the franchise to the formerly enslaved, Southern elites used violence and other extralegal means to regain power and ultimately remove these newly granted rights. In this paper, we study the importance of enforcement of political rights on the ability of the formerly enslaved to achieve political power during Reconstruction. We use data on the location of federal troops to predict the election of black politicians in the Congressionally-mandated state constitutional conventions and subsequent state legislatures. Using various estimation strategies, we find that the federal enforcement enhanced black representation and that the presence of the Army interacted positively with other federal efforts such as the Freedmen’s Bureau. In light of the recent Supreme Court decisions to weaken the enforcement mechanisms of the Voting Rights Act and subsequent legislative efforts to suppress minority turnout, our evidence has implications on minority representation to this today.

Democratic Reversals and the Size of Government (with Jeff Jensen)
European Journal of Political Economy (2019)
Ungated Version

While the fiscal and redistributive consequences of democracy is one of the central debates in political economy, most empirical studies analyze this question solely in the context of transitions to democracy. In this paper, we explore the consequences to taxation of democratic reversal using the systematic disenfranchisement of African Americans in the US South between 1880 and 1910. Following the federally-imposed extension of the franchise to the former slaves during Reconstruction (1865–1877), Southern states erected a series of legal restrictions, such as literacy tests and poll taxes, aimed primarily at preventing Southern African Americans from registering to vote. Using an original dataset of local and state taxes and a difference-in-differences estimation strategy, we demonstrate that the adoption of literacy tests for voting eligibility in each state was followed by a significant decline in tax revenues that is highly correlated to the share of each county's population who was African American. We also find that black disenfranchisement led to a shift of the tax burden onto urban counties and a greater reliance on indirect taxation. Our results survive a battery of robustness checks, alternative specifications and additional tests of the redistributionist thesis. The findings are not only consistent with standard models of redistribution following democratization, but also indicate that the elasticity of taxes with respect to enfranchisement is substantial and larger than the one suggested by the cross-national literature.

Under Review

Does Prosecutor Partisanship Exacerbate the Racial Charging Gap? Evidence from District Attorneys in Three States

In the United States, nearly all state prosecutors are elected. The policy discretion afforded to these officials has raised concerns that they may exercise their coercive authority in ways that exacerbate racial disparities. To what extent do local prosecutors' political preferences and electoral incentives affect the charges they bring against defendants from different racial groups? Using linked criminal records from three large states, I find that marginally elected Republican prosecutors seek significantly tougher charges than Democrats but only in cases involving Black defendants. Additional tests demonstrate that observable defendant characteristics (including sex, prior criminal history, crime type, and arrest offense) and sample selection bias (stemming from police expectations of prosecutor punitiveness) cannot explain this result. Further tests indicate that prosecutor partisanship does not merely affect charging outcomes but also shapes disparities in incarceration lengths. The final part of this article examines the extent to which electoral selection or electoral incentives drive these overall effects. One incentive-based explanation predicts differences in reelection concerns across parties. However, the racial gap is largely eliminated in election years as Republican prosecutors get tough all around. An alternative explanation predicts differences in local electoral coalitions across parties due to residential segregation. Consistent with this mechanism, Black defendants tend to reside in precincts where Republican candidates perform poorly.

Working Papers

Does Judicial Partisanship Impact Criminal Sentencing?

Local trial judges are elected via partisan elections in eleven U.S. states. To what extent do those judges' political preferences and electoral incentives affect criminal sentencing? Leveraging randomness in case assignment procedures and a novel dataset of criminal arrest records in Texas, I find that Republican judges issue more convictions and longer sentences than their Democratic counterparts in the same county. Partisan sentencing disparities are particularly pronounced in cases involving minor drug and property crimes, those settled by judicial diversion, and among defendants residing in minority neighborhoods.

What is the Harm from (Partisan) Gerrymandering? (with Sanford Gordon and Douglas Spencer )

The Supreme Court’s 2019 opinion in Rucho v. Common Cause would appear to forestall the possibility of federal relief for egregious partisan gerrymanders on the basis of equal protection arguments. At the same time, the search for judicial remedies is alive and well in the states, whose courts might rely on any number of constitutional or statutory provisions to adjudicate among competing districting plans. In this article, we argue that the inability of federal litigants to successfully articulate a theory of harm against partisan gerrymandering rooted in the equal protection clause, and the resultant uncertainty at the state level, is traceable in large part to a fundamental disjuncture between the language used to diagnose and evaluate partisan gerrymanders and a compelling theory of how individual voters (rather than, say, parties) are actually harmed by one plan vs. another. Specifically, this language is rooted in a tradition that elevates the collective representation of the people by the legislature as a whole, with no attention on the relationship between constituents and their legislators.

We fill an important gap in the redistricting literature by developing a conceptual foundation for understanding the harm of partisan gerrymandering to individual voters. We demonstrate that the most popular approaches for documenting the harm of partisan gerrymandering are all rooted in a collective account of representation, that they are fundamentally irreconcilable with challenges based on unequal protection claims, and that they ultimately collapse to variations of a proportionality standard repeatedly rejected by courts. An alternative model of representation centered on the relationship between a voter and her representative focuses on the extent to which the representative is competent, shares her values, and works hard on her behalf. Our formal analysis of this dyadic representation addresses the exact harms the Supreme Court has articulated yet struggled to observe, and our model naturally yields a measure of representational disparity between voters of different classes (including, but not limited to, those based on partisanship).

To illustrate the payoff of our contribution, we evaluate over seven hundred thousand maps of congressional districts across forty-four states, and compare our approach to common alternatives. Our analysis yields several important lessons, the most important of which is that the evaluation of any redistricting plan will be sensitive to underlying assumptions about features of the political environment, including partisan polarization and the attractiveness to incumbents of retaining office. Accordingly, the strongest legal challenges to partisan gerrymanders will be those that are most robust to changes in, or violations of, these assumptions.