Blustery day in Madison; windy and wet, light snow falling, but not sticking. An unwelcome reminder that the constrictedness of our current way of life is going to be harder to handle when the ground’s frozen solid and you have to Hoth up to go outside. Still: this wave of cases has clearly crested in Dane County, which even at the severest moments has been spared the worst of what’s hit Wisconsin these past few months.
And bluster in the State Capitol, as legislators, whether they actually believe this or just feel constrained by political realities to say so, are arguing that my vote and the votes of my fellow Wisconsinites shouldn’t count, and that those legislators should be empowered to choose our Presidential electors in our stead. I prefer the sad wet snow.
Oh yeah, we had an election. Joe Biden won. I could have written about it but actually a lot of other people were also writing about it. I did do an interview for the Atlantic the day before Election Day, on how to think about “probabilities” as they apply to non-repeated events like elections.
COVID didn’t dampen turnout; in fact, it was the highest-turnout election since 1908. (Taftmentum!) A lot of people are interpreting this as a signal of the high level of interest in the election, and the high level of enthusiasm of Trump fans for Trump, and of Biden fans for flushing Trump. The enthusiasm is real! But also: millions of people voted by mail, many, like me, for the first time. And voting by mail is really easy and convenient! I wonder whether some people will keep doing it even when there’s no pandemic. (I don’t think I will; I usually vote early in-person at the library that’s a few blocks from my house, but if that option weren’t so convenient, I really might.)
Already discussed: the fracas over the April 7 spring election, which should have been postponed, or held by mail if it was held at all. To my great surprise, Jill Karofsky, the liberal running to unseat Scott Walker appointee Daniel Kelly from the Supreme Court, did so, with a bang, winning by about 11 points. Incumbents usually don’t lose Supreme Court races here and I thought Democrats’ political attention was taken up by the Presidential primary, by now all but over. Since Trump’s election, conservative candidates have won only one out of seven statewide elections here, and that one (Brian Hagedorn for Supreme Court) was by half a percent.
Why did Karofsky win by so much? One natural theory is that the election being the same day as the Democratic primary helped bring Democrats to the polls. Boosting this: Bernie Sanders made the apparently strange decision to campaign in Wisconsin, stay in the race until election day, and then immediately drop out before the results were reported. It all makes sense if you understand his motive to be getting his voters to the polls to vote for Karofsky as well as him.
But did it work? This chart from Charles Franklin, who knows Wisconsin politics like nobody else, says otherwise:
If it was the Democratic primary driving Democratic voters to the polls, there’d be a bigger turnout boost in more Democratic counties. There wasn’t. So either the primary didn’t really boost turnout at all, or Republicans were equally motivated to go to the polls and vote for Trump against — well, the state GOP didn’t allow Trump’s Republican primary challengers on the ballot, so against nobody.
Was turnout actually higher because of the pandemic? Maybe people are more likely to vote when they’ve actually got a ballot to mail than they are to find time on Election Day.
Our first Seder without family since 2006, when I broke my arm so badly a week before Pesach that I couldn’t travel: Dr. Mrs. Q, baby CJ and I did it alone. This year we had grandparents in by Zoom both nights. But I had to cook Seder dinner, which I’ve never done. We all have things we don’t do in the kitchen for no reason except it’s not our habit. For me it’s giant pieces of meat. Just not what I cook. Don’t know how to roast a chicken or a turkey, don’t ever make leg of lamb (butterfly? spatchcock?) and I have never, before this week, made a brisket. But it’s easy, it turns out!
I was extremely successful, to my surprise, in hiding the afikoman. Both nights I thought it was in too easy a place and both nights my kids required multiple hints and were very satisfied with the search. Either I’m more cunning than I thought or my kids are not born hunters.
We did a gefilte taste test this year; traditional vs. tilapia. Tilapia is better!
With two days left to go we have eaten just about all the eggs.
We have been playing 4-person Ultimate in the backyard, AB and I vs CJ and Dr. Mrs. Q. They always win. The team of AB and me is called “Violent Frisbee” and AB has made us a flag:
G. Elliot Morris posted this embedding of the current Democratic presidential candidates in R^2 on Twitter:
where the edge weights (and thus the embeddings) derive from YouGov data, which for each pair of candidates (i,j) tell you which proportion of voters who report they’re considering candidate i also tell you they’re considering candidate j.
Of course, this matrix is non-symmetric, which makes me wonder exactly how he derived distances from it. I also think his picture looks a little weird; Sanders and Bloomberg are quite ideologically distinct, and their coconsiderers few in number, but they end up neighbors in his embedding.
Here was my thought about how one might try to produce an embedding using the matrix above. Model voter ideology as a standard Gaussian f in R^2 (I know, I know…) and suppose each candidate is a point y in R^2. You can model propensity to consider y as a standard Gaussian centered at y, so that the number of voters who are considering candidate y is proportional to the integral
and the voters who are considering candidate z to
So the proportions in Morris’s table can be estimated by the ratio of the second integral to the first, which, if I computed it right (be very unsure about the constants) is
(The reason this is doable in closed form is that the product of Gaussian probability density functions is just exp(-Q) for some other quadratic form, and we know how to integrate those.) In other words, the candidate y most likely to be considered by voters considering z is one who’s just like z but half as extreme. I think this is probably an artifact of the Gaussian I’m using, which doesn’t, for instance, really capture a scenario where there are multiple distinct clusters of voters; it posits a kind of center where ideological density is highest. Anyway, you can still try to find 8 points in R^2 making the function above approximate Morris’s numbers as closely as possible. I didn’t do this in a smart optimization way, I just initialized with random numbers and let it walk around randomly to improve the error until it stopped improving. I ended up here:
which agrees with Morris that Gabbard is way out there, that among the non-Gabbard candidates, Steyer and Klobuchar are hanging out there as vertices of the convex hull, and that Warren is reasonably central. But I think this picture more appropriately separates Bloomberg from Sanders.
How would you turn the coconsideration numbers into an R^2 embedding?
Madison had a primary election last night for mayor and for several seats on the City Council and School Board. Turnout was high, as it seems to always be in Dane County lately. The Dane County Clerk has all the results in handy csv form, so you can just download things and start having some fun! There were four major candidates for mayor, so each ward in the city can be mapped to a point in R^4 by the vote share it gave to each of those; except of course this is really R^3 because the vote shares sum to 1. It’s easier to see R^2 than R^3 so you can use PCA to project yourself down to a nice map of wards:
This works pretty well! The main axis of variation (horizontal here) is Soglin vote, which is higher on the left and lower on the right; this vector is negatively weighted on Rhodes-Conway and Shukla but doesn’t pay much attention to Cheeks. The vertical axis mostly ignores Shukla and represents Cheeks taking votes from Rhodes-Conway at the top, and losing votes to Rhodes-Conway at the bottom. You can see a nice cluster of Isthmus and Near West wards in the lower right; Rhodes-Conway did really well there. 57 and 48 are off by themselves in the upper right corner; those are student wards, distinguished in the vote count by Grumpy Old Incumbent Paul Soglin getting next to no votes. And I mean “next to no” in the literal sense; he got one vote in each of those wards!
You can also do some off-the-shelf k-means clustering of those vectors in R^4 and you get meaningful results there. Essentially arbitrarily I broke the wards into 5 clusters and got:
Now what would be interesting is to go back and compare this with the ward-by-ward results of the gubernatorial primary last August! But I have other stuff to do today. Here’s some code so I remember it; this stuff is all simple and I have made no attempt to make the analysis robust.
Update: I did the comparison with the August primary; interestingly, I didn’t see very many strong relationships. Soglin-for-mayor wards were typically also Soglin-for-governor wards. Wards that were strong for Kelda Helen Roys were also strong for Raj Shukla and weak for Soglin, but there wasn’t a strong relationship between Roys vote and Rhodes-Conway vote. On the other hand, Rhodes-Conway’s good wards also tended to be good ones for… Mike McCabe??
Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly Robin Vos, still smarting from Scott Walker’s loss in his re-election bid, said “Evers win was due to Dane County and the City of Milwaukee.” It’s typical GOP politics here to split off Madison and Milwaukee like this, as if liberalism in Wisconsin is a pair of dark blue inkstains on an otherwise conservative shirt.
Not so. There are liberals all over your shirt, Mr. Vos.
You can find tons of interesting data about Wisconsin elections in Excel spreadsheets at the Wisconsin Elections Commission page. This already gives you the ability to do some quick and dirty analysis of where Evers’ victory was won. In Wisconsin, every municipality is either a City, a Village, or a Town, in roughly decreasing order of urbanization. So it’s easy to separate out Wisconsin into three parts, the Cities, the Villages, and the Towns. This is what you get:
CITIES: Walker 542148 (40%), Evers 808145 (60%)
VILLAGES: Walker 257858 (55%), Evers 208596 (45%)
TOWNS: Walker 495074 (62%), Evers 307566 (38%).
That’s a pretty clear story. Evers won in the cities, Walker won by a bit in the villages and by a lot in the most rural segment of the state, the towns.
But wait — Madison and Milwaukee are cities! Is that all we’re seeing in this data, a distinction between Madison and Milwaukee on the one hand and real Wisconsin, Republican Wisconsin, Robin Vos’s Wisconsin, on the other? Nope. Take out the cities of Milwaukee and Madison from the city total and Evers still gets 521265 votes to Walker’s 477447, drawing 52% of the vote to Walker’s 48%. There are decent-sized cities all over the state, and Evers won almost all of them. Evers won Green Bay, he won Sheboygan, he won Appleton, he won Wausau. Evers won Chippewa Falls and Viroqua and Oshkosh and Neenah and Fort Atkinson and Rhinelander and Beloit. He won all over the place, wherever Wisconsinites congregate in any fair number.
Craig Gilbert has a much deeper dive into this data in the Journal-Sentinel. The shift away from Scott Walker wasn’t just in the biggest cities; it was pretty uniform over localities with population 10,000 or more. Update:An even deeper dive by John Johnson at Marquette, which brings in data from presidential elections too.
There’s a general feeling that the urban-rural split is new, a manifestation of Trumpian anti-city feeling. Let’s look back at the 2010 election between Scott Walker and Tom Barrett, an election Walker won by 7 points. 2010, when Donald Trump was just Jeff Probst in a tie. But the urban-rural split is still there:
Here’s the thing, though. You can see that Walker actually didn’t do any worse in the towns in 2018 than he did in 2010. But his support dropped off a lot in the villages and the cities. And if you take Madison and Milwaukee out of the 2010 totals, Walker won the remainder of Wisconsin’s cities 53-47, which is actually a bit ahead of his overall 2010 statewide margin.
I don’t think Donald Trump has made Wisconsin politics very different. I think it’s still a state that calls its own tune, and a state where either a Democrat or a Republican can win big — if they have something to say that makes sense all across the state, as Walker and Ron Johnson used to, as Evers and Tammy Baldwin do now.
The fate of the current Wisconsin Assembly district map, precision-engineered to maintain a Republican majority in the face of anything short of a major Democratic wave election, is in the hands of the Supreme Court, which could announce a decision in Gill v. Whitford any day.
One theory of gerrymandering is that the practice isn’t much of a problem, because the power of a gerrymandered map “decays” with time — a map that suits a party in 2010 may, due to shifting demographics, be reasonably fair a few years later.
How’s the Wisconsin gerrymander doing in 2018? We just had a statewide election in which Rebecca Dallet, the more liberal candidate, beat her conservative rival by 12 points, an unusually large margin for a Wisconsin statewide race.
The invaluable J. Miles Coleman broke the race down by Assembly district:
In the State Assembly, Dallet won 57 of 99 seats, closer to her 56% share of the state vote. She carried 21 Republican-held seats, some quite easily. The closest seat, #HD42, has a special election June 12. In the fall, the entire chamber is up. #wipolitics#scowispic.twitter.com/zbXUxD3zzQ
Dallet won in 58% of seats while getting 56% of the vote. That sounds fair, but in fact a candidate who wins by 12 points is typically going to win in more seats than that. (That’s why the courts are right to say proportional representation isn’t a reasonable expectation!)
Here’s the breakdown by Assembly district, shown a little bigger:
Dallet won by 2 points or less in 8 of the Assembly districts. So, as a rough estimate, if she’d gotten 2% of the vote less, and won 54-46 instead of 56-44, you might guess she’d have won 49 out of 99 seats. That’s consistent with the analysis of Herschlag, Ravier, and Mattingly conducted last year, which estimates that under current maps Democrats would need an 8-12 point statewide lead in order to win half the Assembly seats. (Figure 5 in the linked paper.)
I don’t think the gerrymander is decaying very much. I think it’s robust enough to make GOP legislative control very likely through 2020, at which point it can be updated to last another ten years, and so on and so on. This isn’t the same kind of softcore gerrymandering the Supreme Court allowed to stand in 1986, and I hope the 2018 Supreme Court decides to do something about it.
There was some worry among liberal political types that voters who went for Burns, the vocally left candidate, would sit out the general rather than show up for the more conventionally liberal Dallet. Did that happen? Here’s something cool: Wisconsin offers full statewide ward-level election results, which helps us figure that out!
First of all, here’s a ward-by-ward picture of the primary:
Each circle is a ward and its position in the triangle shows the proportion of votes going to Screnock (top vertex), Burns (left vertex), and Dallet (right vertex.) The size of the circle is the total number of votes in that ward. You can see that there’s no visible clustering, and that Dallet did much better than Burns.
So what happened in the general?
Well, first of all, Dallet won, and won big: 56-44. But that doesn’t mean Burns voters showed up. We can’t really know! But the ward-by-ward data at least helps us make some guesses.
Quick and dirty: you can do a linear regression on Dallet’s share of the general in terms of Burns’s and Dallet’s share of the primary vote. I stripped out wards with fewer than 100 general-election votes, which still left 1827 wards. You get
The Burns coefficient is a little bit lower but I don’t see strong evidence that a lot of Burns voters skipped the general election.
Here’s a test I like a little bit more. There are 79 wards where Burns and Dallet together got between 54 and 56% of the vote in the primary. Among these wards, Burns’s voteshare ranged from 6.5% (Milwaukee ward 211) to 35% (Town of Moscow wards 1-2, a bit on the nose, don’t you think?) If Burns voters were skipping the general election, you might expect Dallet to do worse in April in those wards where Burns did better in February. Here’s the scatter. If there’s a downward trend here, it’s not very strong.
My conclusion: liberals gonna liberal.
Update: I got the last scatter wrong when I originally posted this; if you remember the post being a little different, you’re right!
Hey so remember last month, when the Walker administration didn’t want to fill two empty legislative seats, so they decided to treat the state law forbidding this as if it said something else?
Here, I’ll recap. The law, statute 8.50 (4) (d), says:
Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election.
The state has decided to pretend the law says, instead:
Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat, before the 2nd Tuesday in May shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election.
In other words, the state’s claim is that a special election is required only if the vacancy occurs between January 1 and the 2nd Tuesday of May in an election year. Whereas what the actual law says is that an election is to be called if there’s a vacancy any time before that 2nd Tuesday in May, i.e. as long as there’s enough time to call an election and have the new officeholder participate meaningfully in legislating.
Six voters in the affected districts have sued the governor. There’s a hearing in the Dane County Circuit Court this week, on March 22.
I’ve read the response. It upset me. It really upset me! Not because I even care that much about whether we hold these elections! But because the people whose job it is to uphold our state’s laws don’t care what those laws are.
The state’s leading argument is “mootness,” which goes like this: “we’ve now delayed this long enough that voters would not longer get any meaningful benefit from the state fulfilling the law’s requirements, so the claim that we have to fulfill the law’s requirements doesn’t stand.”
That might work!
Then it gets really interesting. Here’s a passage from the response:
Under Wis. Stat. §8.50(4)(d), the Governor has a positive and plain duty to call a special election only when a vacancy occurs in the year of a general election from January 1 until the 2nd Tuesday in May. Because the vacancies here did not occur in that year, Governor Walker has no positive and plain duties to call special elections.
See what they did? They switched it! They switched the order of the clauses in the statute to make it say what it does not, in fact, say! Not satisfied with that, they added the language about January 1, which isn’t present in the law!
Won’t the judge ask them about this? Won’t the judge want to know what possessed the state to “paraphrase” a law by moving words around and adding language, instead of quoting the language of the statute itself?
The response then goes on to explain why their interpretation of the law “makes sense.” What they in fact do is explain why it makes sense that a special election isn’t required for vacancies taking place after May of the election year (the point on which their claim agrees with the law). They are silent on why it makes sense that a special election isn’t required before January 1 of the election year. Because that doesn’t make sense.
Maybe the screwiest part of all of this is that the statute in question uses language that appears again and again in Wisconsin code. Look, here’s how 59.10(3)(e) authorizes special elections for vacancies on county boards:
The board may, if a vacancy occurs before June 1 in the year preceding expiration of the term of office, order a special election to fill the vacancy.
According to the state’s account, this means that special elections are authorized only if the vacancy occursin the year preceding the election year.
If that’s the case, nobody told Sauk County, where a special election was ordered in August 2016 to fill a vacant seat on the county board. It’s hard to doubt there are many such examples — all unauthorized by state law, according to the Walker administration’s current claim.
How do you know when to call a special election for an empty legislative seat in Wisconsin? It’s right there in the statutes, 8.50 (4) (d):
Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat shall be filled as promptly as possible by special election. However, any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring after the close of the last regular floorperiod of the legislature held during his or her term shall be filled only if a special session or extraordinary floorperiod of the legislature is called or a veto review period is scheduled during the remainder of the term. The special election to fill the vacancy shall be ordered, if possible, so the new member may participate in the special session or floorperiod.
Pretty clear, right? If a Senate or Assembly seat comes open before May of election year, the governor has to call a special election, unless the last legislative session has already taken place and no extra legislative business is scheduled before November. You hold an election unless the duration of the vacancy would be so short as to make the election essentially meaningless.
There are two seats in the Capitol open as we speak, the Senate seat formerly held by Frank Lasee and the Assembly seat once occupied Keith Ripp; both of them left to take jobs in the Walker administration in January. But the governor has asserted that no special election will be held, and residents of those districts will go unrepresented in the legislature for almost a full year.
What’s Walker’s excuse for ignoring the law? Are you sitting down? The state’s claim is that the phrase “in the year” does not refer to “May,” but rather “any vacancy.” So a vacancy arising in March 2018 is required by law to be filled “as promptly as possible” by state law, despite the severely limited amount of lawmaking the new representative would be have a chance to undertake; but if an assembly rep drops dead on the second day of the legislative term, the governor can leave the seat empty for two whole years if he wants.
The Walker administration would like us to read the law as if the phrases came in the opposite order:
Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat, before the 2nd Tuesday in May
But English is non-commutative; that sentence says one thing, and 8.50 (4)(d) says a different thing.
Even an extra comma would make Walker’s interpretation reasonable:
Any vacancy in the office of state senator or representative to the assembly occurring before the 2nd Tuesday in May, in the year in which a regular election is held to fill that seat
Commas change meaning. As the old T-shirt says: let’s eat grandma!
I suppose we should count ourselves lucky. Given the syntactic latitude Walker has granted himself, where a prepositional phrase can wander freely throughout a sentence modifying whatever catches its fancy, he might have claimed a special selection is required only if a legislative vacancy occurs in May of an election year! That would make just as much sense as the interpretation Walker’s claiming now. Which is to say: none.
What’s the remedy here? I’m not sure there is one. Someone in one of the affected districts could sue the state, but I don’t think there’s any prospect a lawsuit would conclude in time to make any difference. I can’t see a court ordering an emergency halt to a legislative session on the grounds that two seats were illegally unfilled.
So there’s not much to stop the governor from breaking state law in this way. Except natural human embarrassment. A government that has lost the capacity to be embarrassed can be very difficult to constrain.
Update, Feb 26: Looks like I was wrong to say nobody was going to do anything about this! A group of voters in the affected districts, represented by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, sued Governor Walker today. Good for them.
Update: I’ve learned from lawyer friends that the principle that a phrase like “in the year” is understood to modify the thing it’s close to, not some other clause floating elsewhere across the sentence, has a name: it is “the rule of the last antecedent.”