Home>Campaigns>Claiming partisan fairness models are proprietary, Princeton Gerrymandering Project won’t show their work

Princeton University Professor Samuel Wang, the head of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. (Photo: Princeton University).

Claiming partisan fairness models are proprietary, Princeton Gerrymandering Project won’t show their work

Independent tiebreaker John Wallace relied on secret algorithm to vote on N.J. congressional redistricting

By David Wildstein, January 27 2022 10:16 pm

An algorithm used by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project to determine the partisan fairness of New Jersey congressional districts won’t be made public because the group says their redistricting analysis formula is proprietary.

John E. Wallace, Jr, the court-selected independent tiebreaker, says he utilized the data provided by the Princeton group to make his final determination to pick the Democratic map.

Wallace used the Princeton University team as his staff to help guide him through the process.

Democrats and Republicans who participated in in four days of meetings at a Cherry Hill hotel last month confirmed that the Princeton Gerrymandering Project would not show their work, claiming that the formulas they were using were proprietary to them.

“We asked them to show us the algorithm they used to make their calculations,” the individual told the New Jersey Globe.  “They told us no, that it was propriety.”

Instead, neither party was able to fully understand the metrics that ultimately helped Wallace make his decision.

It’s not clear whether the Wallace knew the criteria his staff used to calculate partisan fairness.

“My team found that the Democratic plan is closer to the average of the ensemble than the Republican plan, and therefore is more ‘party-blind,’” he said.

Wallace acknowledged his staff did not notify the two parties that he would use the Princeton group’s partisan fairness test as part of his decision-making process.

When Wallace initially cast his vote for the Democratic map on December 22, he said he said that his vote was based on based on balancing the selection of a Republican map a decade ago.

“I decided to vote for the Democratic map, simply because in the last redistricting map it was drawn by the Republicans, Wallace stated.  “Thus, I conclude that fairness dictates that the Democrats have the opportunity to have their map used for this next redistricting cycle.”

Helen Brewer, a legal analyst at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. (Photo: Princeton University).

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner later ordered Wallace to “amplify” his reasons, causing him to invoke the analysis of the Sam Wang-led Princeton Gerrymandering Project.

“Upon reflection, I realize I mistakenly failed to consider my team’s evaluation of partisan fairness of the maps.  I should have been more concerned with the fairness to the citizens of New Jersey, Wallace said in his amplification.  “Simply put, I should have stated that the Democrats’ map better satisfied the standard for partisan fairness.  I do this time to further support my vote in favor of the Democrats’ map.”

Wallace said he relied on “tests of partisan symmetry.”

But as the former Supreme Court Justice bemoaned the failure of the two parties didn’t share their maps – both sides dispute that it was their fault – some Democrats admitted that they received some extra help from two Princeton Gerrymandering Project staffers who were working for Wallace, Hannah Wheelan and Helen Brewer.

“I got the sense that they really wanted us to win,” said a Democrat who was part of the Cherry Hill meetings.  “The only reason I’m not mad is because we won.”

Staffers from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project quietly gave Democrats some valuable feedback that would ultimately play into their final map submission: that Republicans were doing a good job limiting the splitting of towns and municipalities and that Democrats needed to do better.

By doing that, the Princeton staffer appears to have broken a promise confidentiality that Wallace had offered both parties.

Republicans said they received no similar intelligence, although both sides received feedback from Wallace and his team during individual sessions in Cherry Hill.

Wang had referred requests for information to the Princeton University media relations office.

“We’re not going to have any comment on this,” said university spokesman Michael Hotchkiss.

Brewer did not respond to a message left on her cell phone on January 23.

It’s still not clear how Wang and the Princeton Gerrymandering Project found their way into Wallace’s inner circle, or on the staff of the court-appointed legislative redistricting tiebreaker, Philip J. Carchman.  Wang had aggressively campaigned for the tiebreaker job but was unsuccessful.

Top funders to the Princeton Gerrymandering Project are major donors to Democratic candidates and committees, including contributors to four New Jersey Democratic House members who represent competitive districts and were huge stakeholders in the redistricting process.

Hannah Wheelen, data and technology lead at the Princeton Gerrymandering Project. (Photo: Princeton University).

Wheelen had an “Elect More Women” sticker on her laptop, something that doesn’t suggest her partisanship, but could be interpreted as a signal that she didn’t want to see Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair), one of two women in the New Jersey delegation, in danger.

Through their spokesman, Princeton University has declined to release a full list of their donors.

At his weekly press briefing on Monday, Gov. Phil Murphy, who is an ex-officio member of the Princeton University Board of Trustees, was asked if he thinks the Princeton Gerrymandering Project should release its donors.

But Murphy said that he had never heard of the group.

A report by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School flagged the Wallace map as a partisan gerrymander, and FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich labeled the new congressional map as having a “strong pro-Democratic bias.”

“The process was acrimonious and did not produce a fair map,” said Rakich of New Jersey’s redistricting commission, which has six Democrats, six Republicans, and a tiebreaker that was recommended to the Supreme Court by the Democrats.

There are some instances where Wang and his team appeared inconsistent.

Wang, who lives in Princeton, argued strongly that West Windsor and Plainsboro couldn’t be split into separate congressional districts because they share a public school system.  But Wang didn’t seek parity of that criteria across the state.  Essex Fells, for example, was moved to the 10th district even though the other three municipalities in the West Essex Regional School District are in the 11th.

In private meetings with Wallace, Democrats confirmed that they pitched Newark and Caldwell as communities of interest because Essex County College has a suburban West Essex campus and argued that they should be represented by the same congressman.  The final map moved Caldwell from the 11th to the 10th, which also includes parts of Newark, Jersey City and Elizabeth.

But Wallace and the Princeton Gerrymandering Project apparently didn’t fact check, since the suburban campus of Essex County College is in West Caldwell, not Caldwell.  West Caldwell is in the 11th and shares a school district with Caldwell.

A Republican who was in the room with Wallace and the Princeton Gerrymandering Project said that in their final presentation, the GOP asked what changes they would like to see to make them more comfortable in supporting it.

Wang said he would like to see the 3rd district be more competitive than the one they had suggested.  It was Wang, the Republican claims, who pushed for the district to go into part of Hamilton Township, contradicting his own opposition to increased municipal splits.

Reminded that adding Hamilton to the 3rd would put two incumbents, Republican Christopher Smith, a Hamilton resident, and Democrat Andy Kim, into the same district, Wang appeared to back off.

“Oh, yea,” Wang is quoted as saying.  “If we moved Chris Smith out of his district, people would shit a brick.”

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