Proposed Demographer Firm Found to Have Fabricated Data in North Carolina Two Weeks Ago

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Meeting Set For Tuesday on Transitioning to District Elections

After weeks of speculation following the release of a letter from Matt Rexroad on behalf of at least two clients, the city council will finally get a chance to publicly weigh in on the decision of whether to transition from an at-large to a district-based council election system.

However, in addition to making the decision to transition to a new election system which would include a tentative schedule for the process, the city manager has also recommended that the council approve a contract with a demographer to assist with legal requirements to develop proposed boundaries for district elections.

It is here that the city has run into a problem with the proposed demography company.

According to the staff report, staff in conjunction with the city attorney “have researched and reached out to several potential demographers and recommend contracting with National Demographics Corporation (NDC) for demographic services.”

They note, “NDC has extensive experience with cities transitioning to district-based elections under the CVRA, and staff has confirmed their availability to attend the formal public hearings. They can provide the services that Davis needs within the City Manager’s authority to execute a contract.”

The demographer is needed in order “to comply with the requirements outlined in state law and to appropriately draw district boundaries,”  They can address questions and provide statistics to assist in drawing proposed maps.

But the Vanguard quickly found a problem with NDC.

In a story from WRAL in North Carolina from two weeks ago, a judge threw out much of the testimony of an expert who was brought in by Republican lawmakers.  That testimony was from Douglas Johnson, the founder and president of National Demographics Corp.

Mr. Johnson testified that his analysis showed a 36 percent difference between the Common Cause maps and the ones adopted by lawmakers.  But those numbers were challenged by the Common Cause attorney who argued that Mr. Johnson failed to include close to a dozen House districts in his analysis.

In a critical exchange, Daniel Jacobson, the Common Cause attorney, asked him, “Those numbers are completely wrong, right?”

“They apparently mismeasured the degree of the change. They don’t change the fact that there is significant change between the maps,” Mr. Johnson replied. “Whether it’s 36 percent or, if I was off by half, it’s still 18 percent. It’s still one in five residents who were moved between the two maps.”

“Sitting here today, you cannot tell the court that your numbers are correct, right?”

“I can tell the court that the basic idea is still true, that there is a significant population moved,” Johnson said.

“I just want to be very clear. Sitting here today, you concede those numbers were wrong.”

“Those exact numbers appear to be wrong. I would need to double-check that.”

“Sitting here today, you have no idea what the correct numbers are.”

“I know they’re somewhere between 36 [percent] and probably half that.”

“When you say half that, you’re just speculating, right?”

“No,” Mr. Johnson said. “The 36 percent is the average change in each of the districts. So if there are, as you say, 10 or 12 districts added to that, those numbers are going to swing that relative to shifting the average for all of the districts. It would make it smaller, but at most, you would cut it in half, and you’d still be at one in five people moved from the Hofeller plan and the enacted plan.”

But the judges were not convinced.  Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway said that “his opinions must be the product of reliable methods and principles … and the principles used by Dr. Johnson were not reliable.”

According to a story in The News and Observer from July 25, the three-judge panel agreed to strike portions of Mr. Johnson’s testimony.

The newspaper reports that Mr. Johnson “admitted to several errors under cross-examination.”

When challenged, however, his contention was, “It would have been a change in degrees, but not a change in conclusion.”

Ultimately, however, the judge agreed with Mr. Jacobson’s charges and struck all of the key testimony comparing the maps.

Where that will ultimately leave Davis is anyone’s guess.  The city was unaware of the issue when they made a recommendation and it did not come up in reference checks with other cities.

One councilmember noted that it appears that NDC is the main major company that cities hire for doing this kind of demography.

An official indicated that at this point the city is not committed to any firm and may now look further to see what their range of options are.

But the downside is that “not many firms do this for cities, let alone (are) available in short order.”

On the other hand, in the case of North Carolina, someone was able to call them on methodology and that ability to do so may not exist in Davis.

Meanwhile, on the main point, staff is recommending the transition, noting, “While the City’s current and past councils have included members of minority groups, the threshold required for showing a violation of the CVRA is low. Should the City Council decide not to pursue a transition to district-based elections, the costs to defend the City in court are high, likely reaching into the millions of dollars in legal fees, and the likelihood of the City prevailing is low.”

If they decide to proceed, the city has 30 days to hold at least two public hearings, 45 days to pass a Resolution of Intent to Transition to District Elections and after that resolution is passed, 90 days to hold a series of five public hearings.

In the schedule mapped out by council, most of the outreaches would be on Tuesday nights during council meeting times, with a couple of outside events.  The first public hearing would be August 27 and the second September 3.

The council would also need to decide how to create the districts, how they will select the mayor, the sequence of the elections and the timing of the elections.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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21 thoughts on “Proposed Demographer Firm Found to Have Fabricated Data in North Carolina Two Weeks Ago”

  1. Matt Williams

    I was struck by the fact that nowhere in this article is the obvious question asked, “Who is doing the demographic work for DJUSD in their transition to districts?”

    It would seem to be worthwhile to share the costs of the demographic work with DJUSD,  Has anyone considered such a collaboration?

    1. David Greenwald

      DJUSD uses a firm called Cooperative Strategies. They do school districts only. Also, DJUSD has a different set of demographics, different geographic area, and a very different timeline.

      1. Matt Williams

        That is interesting David.  I thought DJUSD used Davis Demographics.  That is what has been reported in news articles in the past.

        How are the demographics different?  Isn’t the census information used by DJUSD and the City the same?  I realize that the DJUSD population has some additions beyond the City Limits, but I would expect that everything and everyone within the City Limits would be identical.

  2. Tia Will

    I am going to preface my comments with my admission of complete lack of knowledge of how the city vets possible consultants. However, this to me is reminiscent of the initial selection of an inappropriate consultant in the Picnic Day 5 case prior to the selection of Michael Giannoco as auditor. In this case, the selection may be limited, but limited to only one firm known to have made either significant error or significant misrepresentation? Is it possible that the city vetting process also needs review?

    1. David Greenwald Post author

      That was the first thing that came to mind, not quite as bad as McGinniss, but close when you consider the implications of North Carolina

    2. Alan Miller

       . . . this to me is reminiscent of the initial selection of an inappropriate consultant in the Picnic Day 5 case prior to the selection of . . .

      My first thought was the Vanguard would try to make a similar comparison to glorify the Vanguard sleuth detective work, when in fact it’s one guy in a large firm, albeit an important one guy, one who may not be involved in Davis at all – rather than a single person as in the former case that is the entirety of the hire.

  3. Craig Ross

    What a mess.  The city is trying to figure out a complex issue and then they end up stuck with the demographers who were defending the North Carolina racist mess.

    1. Matt Williams

      Agreed Eric.

      FWIW, the headline of this article should replace the word “fabricated” with “omitted” It doesn’t appear that they created data from thin air, but rather caused data to disappear. However, that is really a difference in name only.

  4. Craig Ross

    I thought this would be a bigger deal.  I guess people like Ron O haven’t figured out the big advantage of district elections for their side.

    1. Ron Oertel

      Craig:  I don’t know if it is, or not.  What are your thoughts, regarding that?

      (In general, I’m more concerned about sprawl, than infill. And if anything, I see district elections as magnifying concerns regarding infill proposals.)

      Of course, objections from one council member at a time may still not impact majority decisions.

      1. David Greenwald Post author

        What you are going to see under district elections is more diversity – not just ethnic/ racial, but also of viewpoints which is probably a good thing.

        1. Bill Marshall

          What you’re going to see under district elections, is you’ll get to vote for one (1) CC member once every four years… no ‘sugar-coating’, no spin… reality… we’ll have to see if there is more ‘diversity’…  might be less… time will tell…

          District elections are a two-edged sword.  Particularly how districts are drawn… which gets to the essence of this thread… how a given demographer collects data, interprets it, and makes recommendations… and how the CC deals with those recommendations…

          I’m seeing a complex equation with at least 4 (four) variables…

          Who suggested the demographers for City and/or DJUSD?  what were their motives?   Another variable…

          Disagree with Matt as to City and DJUSD, as ‘borders’ on apples to oranges… but fully agree that the data set for the overlap (think Venn diagram) should be the same… if not, both are subject to challenge and/or litigation…

          But two ships have sailed, apparently… for good or not so much.  Those in favor of district elections should “reap the wind”, and own up to the consequences, good or bad… and, if good, I will be among the first to own up to being wrong… but that seems to be a “safe bet”…

          It’s a done deal… I accept that… but folk need to take responsibility for their positions…  I will… strongly doubt if others will…

           

        2. Don Shor

          What you are going to see under district elections is more diversity – not just ethnic/ racial, but also of viewpoints which is probably a good thing.

          What you are going to see under district elections is more parochial viewpoints, less comity, more paralysis, and less likelihood of council members acting for the greater benefit of the city as a whole, rather than for their own particular neighborhood.
          I see no upside. It is a non-solution to a non-existent problem, forced on the city in a manner that is likely to lead to insufficient deliberation and insufficient public input because an attorney who couldn’t care less about the outcome is threatening the city unless they move as fast as he wants them to.
          I do not look forward to the outcome. I think we will be poorly served by this.

        3. Eric Gelber

          What you are going to see under district elections is more parochial viewpoints, less comity, more paralysis, and less likelihood of council members acting for the greater benefit of the city as a whole, rather than for their own particular neighborhood.

          Yes. Democracy is messy. Most issues won’t entail disparate parochial interests; so, that won’t be an issue. But what’s wrong with allowing those local interests to be represented when they exist? The current system creates a false appearance of uniformity and consensus; it does so by drowning out the expression of disparate, minority (geographical, political) viewpoints. District-based representation has its pitfalls and is not the answer, but it’s a step in the direction of more representative democracy.

        4. Craig Ross

          “It is a non-solution to a non-existent problem”

          I am convinced that white people in Davis do not know how people of color are treated on a daily basis.  No one wants to hear it.  Is district elections a solution to that?  Probably not, but having a few more people of color on there would be good.

        5. Alan Miller

          You mean by diversity of viewpoints we’ll have a Republican?  Antifa?  Flat Earther?  Nazi?  No-Growther?  Overfed Long-haired leaping gnome?

  5. Alan Miller

    It’s a done deal… I accept that… but folk need to take responsibility for their positions…  I will… strongly doubt if others will…

    My position is fight the b*stards.  Drain the City budget if need be.  Lose and adjust the City budget downward.  If you keep letting the b*stards win, the b*stards will keep coming back for more. We’ll have our potholes and we’ll have our dignity.

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