Research Advisory Services

Services

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Our firm’s specialty is drawing or redrawing election districts for cities and counties. We are very good at this.


Our Record

Since 1991, we have drawn new election district maps for 32 city council, county supervisor, and community college jurisdictions in Arizona and California.  All of our maps, except one, have been pre-cleared on first submission by the U. S. Department of Justice for compliance with the federal Voting Rights Act. The exception – the 2017 City of Peoria, Arizona, Council District map – was prepared after the U. S. Supreme Court invalidated the pre-clearance requirement.

None of our maps have ever been challenged in court, and over 90 percent of our maps were adopted unanimously by their elected officials.

Our No-Longer- Secret Strength

Starting in 2010, we gave our client jurisdictions the option of giving their residents free access to an on-line resident redistricting application. Federal and state courts have declared that cities and counties must demonstrate a commitment to public participation in the process of drawing districts; that simply giving lip-service to public involvement is not enough.

What better way of demonstrating that commitment than encouraging residents to submit maps, and then adopting a resident-drawn map!

So far, three cities, four counties, and three education districts have made the application available to their residents. And in total, five jurisdictions, including the City of Phoenix, adopted plans submitted by residents.

The On-Line Resident Redistricting Application

In 2010, Research Advisory Services’ president Tony Sissons asked Phil Ponce, of Engineering Mapping Solutions, Inc., to help in the creation of an on-line mapping application that the general public could use to draw and submit election district maps. Tony and Phil examined several on-line mapping systems – mostly Internet versions of existing redistricting software, and a couple of university applications – and found them to be difficult for residents to learn, and even more difficult to adapt to local government geography.

Instead, combining Tony’s thirty years’ experience with the legal principles and procedural practices of redistricting, and Phil’s extensive resume of designing mapping solutions for public and private organizations, the two firms built an application that found the ‘sweet spot’ of ease of learning and use, with just the necessary features and measurements for creating adoptable maps. No bloated software here! And, in fact, no software at all on the resident’s computer – it’s totally on the Internet.

After reviewing more than 300 maps from residents, we are confident that the application works for everyone – residents and jurisdictions alike!

And by the way…

Residents Don’t Gerrymander!


Services

Consulting to Election Officials

Election directors, at any level of government, have many more issues to address than just the accuracy of voting machines. RAS offers several specialized geographic and mapping services for elections departments: (1) geo-coding of registration addresses to illustrate the geographic distribution of registrants to help in the positioning of precinct boundaries; (2) responding to requests from the U.S. Bureau of the Census for electronic versions of city and county precinct maps; (3) consultation on the geographic considerations of complying with the federal Voting Rights Act, and (4) consultation on management of precinct geographies following districting or redistricting processes.

Demographic Analysis

In the broadest context, a demographic analysis examines socio-economic characteristics and the relationships between characteristics.  The results of such analyses are used to assist governmental agencies, non-profit associations, business owners, grant-writers, lobbyists, political parties, and others to guide their decision-making.

A plethora of demographic data now exists on the Internet, from the U.S. Census Bureau’s vast store of historical and current data on population, housing, commerce, and international statistics, to your city or town’s most recent election results.

Examining a single characteristic of a population provides useful information about that group, however, when the statistical associations between combinations of characteristics are examined, not-readily-apparent relationships are revealed, providing the researcher and client with even deeper knowledge.

Evaluation of Public Programs

Public programs are periodically subject to objective evaluations by consultants, who are contracted to perform cost/benefit analyses, examination of outcomes and other performance measures, and assessment of service delivery options.  A variety of research methods and tools can be used in these types of evaluations, including demographic and GIS analysis, scientific survey research, key informants and focus group research, funding and resource allocation modeling, and review of current practices.

A comprehensive understanding of public policy development and public administration is fundamental for any consultant who practices in the field of public program evaluation. Ideally, consultants with expertise in evaluation methodology should be involved very early in the development of a program to help define the measures to be used in subsequent evaluations.

Expert Opinion and Testimony

RAS Principal Tony Sissons is well versed in court procedures and the expectations of legal teams.  Mr. Sissons has experience in giving depositions and testifying in state and federal courts.

Funding Allocation Modeling

Public agencies responsible for distribution of state and federal funds often use computer modeling techniques to determine how funds are to be allocated to clients within their service areas.

A variety of factors may be included in any funding model, such as: service population as a straight percentage of the area’s population; service population share of the area’s poverty (at some agreed-upon Federal Poverty Level), service population share of the area’s unemployment, and the number of clients served as a percentage of all clients served in the area.

Several types of formula are also available for implementation, including: base plus or hold harmless plus, historical, formula-alone and formula with variables. An equitable formula result is more likely to come from a combination of factors, perhaps weighted to reflect the viewpoints of funding administrators and board members on fairness and other policy objectives.  Changes to existing allocation formula models can be constructed to limit the extent of loss (or gain) that may occur for any service population within a given area. Oftentimes, a base formula is used to ensure that smaller eligible entities have sufficient funding to stay in operation.

Geocoding of Address Lists

Assigning geographic coordinates to addresses allows the locations of addresses to be spatially analyzed in relation to other geographic features.  Examples:

  • How many customers live north of Main Street and west of 5th Avenue?

  • Which of our members live in Legislative District 3?

  • How many additional households are affected by the expansion of the eligibility zone?

We have geocoded student addresses to help school districts examine alternate attendance area proposals; geocoded registered voter addresses to help elections officials examine new voting precinct layouts; and geocoded organization address databases with legislative and congressional district numbers to help them target their lobbying efforts.

Geographic Information System (GIS) Analysis

A GIS is really nothing more than a spreadsheet or database, with which we are all familiar, combined with an electronic map, where each record in the database is electronically linked with a geographical feature on the map, such as a land parcel, a street, or a voting precinct.  The map and the concepts of location can be used to aid in the selection and calculation of data.

Most of our work in GIS analysis entails gathering, examining and reporting on the relationships between various types of data.  The kinds of data that we are asked to examine include election results, school enrollments, socio-economic characteristics and marketing data, all of which have a strong location component.  The practical applications of GIS analysis are limited only by the analyst’s imagination.

Some of our recent GIS projects have included:  collecting and analyzing poverty data to calibrate a funding allocation model, examining the statistical relationship between neighborhood wealth and student achievement, redistricting of city council and county supervisor election districts and developing a business site-selection model using regression analysis of retail market area demographics.

Political Districting & Redistricting

The concepts of “districting” and “redistricting” refer to a complex technical, legal and public-involvement process for creating equalized divisions of population specifically for voting purposes, at all levels of representative government.  This includes all cities, towns, and counties, legislatures, the U.S. Congress, community colleges and local school boards, which elect their representatives from particular geographic areas within their jurisdiction.

The process is not simply a matter of designating equal numbers of population within each district. One of the most significant challenges, as well as one of the most important objectives in a districting or redistricting process, is meeting the requirements of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires that changes to election systems must not diminish the voting strength of minority populations.

The process involves many disciplines – law, politics, geography, demography, cartography, public relations, community-of-interest research, political science, public process management, and computer management of geographic and electoral information.  

Preparing for 2010 Redistricting

By starting now you can spread your redistricting expenses across multiple budget years, reducing the fiscal impact on any single year.  Being ready on "Day One" of the 2020 Census population data release means you will have documentation of these pre-process activities as tangible evidence of early commitment to doing things properly. In turn this will improve your ability to anticipate and preempt expensive challenges at a time when the Department of Justice is increasing its scrutiny of the redistricting process.

RAS is ready to help you prepare for the upcoming redistricting process.  RAS maintains current and historical election data along with the software and electoral analysis experience to guide you the maze of statistical, demographic and geographic challenges that confront your 2020 re-districting efforts.

Pre-Redistricting Package

(Listed services may be purchased as a package or separately)

  1. Gather, map and analyze socio-economic data about your jurisdiction, by Census Tract.

  2. Create GIS-compatible database of election canvass data, Primary and General, 2012 to 2018.  This includes:

    • Registration

    • Number of Ballots Cast

    • How your electorate voted in all contests within your jurisdiction:

      • U. S. President

      • U. S. Senate and House of Representatives

      • Arizona Senate and House of Representatives

      • Arizona statewide offices

      • County Supervisor

      • County-wide offices

      • School boards

      • Other special purpose district elections (fire, improvement, irrigation)

    • Propositions

  3. Identify the race and ethnicity of all candidates.

  4. Prepare GIS maps of precincts and districts used in election cycles 2012 through 2018.

  5. Identify and map communities of interest.

  6. Research and identify potential participants

    • News organizations

    • Civic organizations

  7. Make a preliminary determination of the extent of racially polarized voting within your jurisdiction. 

  8. Conduct a review of potential U. S. Department of Justice pre-clearance ‘hazards’.

  9. Establish a plan for the redistricting process.

  10. Provide a detailed consultant’s report on preparation tasks activities.

Public Policy Research

Who determines public policy?  Certainly, all branches of government participate directly in public policy decision-making. However, the general public, through their elected representatives and special-interest groups, can participate indirectly.  The myriad forces brought to bear on a wide spectrum of public policy issues ensures that one side will not prevail to the complete exclusion of others.  Just, how many sides are there to a public policy issue?  

Ideally, a participant armed with reliable data and solid research will have an improved chance of being persuasive in the public policy debate.  Therefore, anyone who wants a fair chance of being heard and taken seriously in such debates must do their homework. Public policy research is just like any other type of research, it is simply focused on the relationship between government and the governed.

Research generally involves such primary research techniques as public opinion surveys and database inquiry, and secondary research methods including literature review.  The complexity of such research necessitates a high degree of understanding of research practices and the ability to articulate findings to support one’s side of the debate.

Thematic Mapping

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”  So it is with a thematic data map. The results of a data analysis that would take more than a thousand words to explain can be illustrated on a map which uses gradations of color to show the geographic distribution of the data. The thematic map of household size, shown below, immediately tells us where the smaller and larger households can be found, in a way that the table does not reveal:

A well designed thematic map can be a valuable tool.  We have prepared thematic maps for a wide range of clients and purposes, including:  illustrating poverty data for community legal assistance agencies; showing varying levels of support for candidates and ballot propositions; and identifying the market draw of emergency room patients, by Zip Code, for a hospital.

Voting Rights Data Analysis

Voting Rights data analysis is often recommended as an early step in any districting or redistricting process, to ensure that the plan will meet the requirements of Section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.  This section of the Act prohibits “minority vote dilution” – any change to election procedures or practices that impair the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice on equal footing with non-minority voters.

The occurrence of minority vote dilution can be assessed for a given jurisdiction by performing a “racially polarized voting” analysis.  Since public voting records do not indicate who voted for each candidate, or the racial category of any registered voter, the racial breakdown of any candidate’s support is not directly known.

However, most courts have accepted inferential analyses of precinct-level electoral data.  The two commonly accepted techniques are “homogenous precincts” analysis and “bivariate ecological regression” analysis.  Ideally, each analysis should include several election cycles to see if polarized voting is structural – always there at a certain level – and not just the result of an occasional lost election.

The fact that racially-polarized voting exists in some areas should neither surprise nor alarm anyone.  Minority race, language or origin residents tend to coalesce around issues and support candidates of interest to them -- choices that sometimes differ from those of non-minority voters.  The data analysis looks at how often the election success of candidates of choice of minority voters is overwhelmed by non-minority bloc voting.