My research is at the nexus of law, the social sciences and public policy, with a particular substantive interest in the law of democracy, and Japanese politics and law.

Most projects I have worked on have been collaborative, and they have resulted in the publication of over thirty journal articles and book chapters to date.  More info can be found on my CV and my Google Scholar page.

Below I highlight a few of my larger current research projects. Feel free to contact me about any of the papers or projects below.

Current Projects


James Syme (RAND) and I are in the process of writing a book chapter on gerrymandering in comparative perspective and developing systematic data, and developing new methods and tools to help improve how we incorporate communities of interest in the redistricting process.

Extraterritorial Voting Rights and Restrictions

This large multi-year project has resulted in, to date, (1) the development of a detailed dataset of extraterritorial voting rights and restrictions across 180 countries over the past 70 years, (2) the drafting of an article showing the need to incorporate variation in implementation and restrictions on extraterritorial voting rights, not just their adoption, in analyses of the dynamics of migrant home country engagement, (3) the completion of a book chapter on the extension of voting rights in violent democracies, and (4) the drafting of a new conference paper exploring the importance of understanding the method by which migrants are enfranchised.

Japanese Election Law and Politics

Mikitaka Masuyama and Benjamin Nyblade, “The Japanese Diet.” Book chapter draft completed for inclusion in the Oxford Handbook of Japanese Politics.

The Japanese Diet has a rich history, dating back to 1890, making it the oldest non-Western national parliament. This chapter provides an overview of the workings of the Diet, with a focus on the central role played by parliamentary groups in structuring parliamentary behavior. The role of negotiation, and the breakdown of negotiation, between parliamentary groups in the Diet is illustrated in the first part of the chapter through an exploration of specific incidents and parliamentary practices that seem curious to outside observers. The second section reviews how parliament operates across a typical year, beginning with the annual process of budgeting, and emphasizing the important role the calendar plays in the establishment of the daily practices, rules and institutions in the Diet. In the third and final section, we turn to an examination of how key structural features of the Japanese political system that strongly influence parliamentary behavior, focusing in turn on the importance of the legislative process, bicameralism, parliamentary elections, and relations with the executive.

Kenneth Mori McElwain and Benjamin Nyblade, “Electoral Corruption in Japan.” Book chapter in progress for edited volume on electoral fraud in Asia

Japan has a longer history of elections, and a longer history of electoral manipulation, than any country in Asia, with national elections in Japan dating back to 1890. This chapter focuses on how governing parties and incumbent politicians have strategically altered and systematically violated electoral laws in the postwar period. High profile cases of electoral fraud prompted tighter regulations of electioneering and campaign finance in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the ruling LDP also designed those rules to most effectively target the marginal votes necessary to reelect their incumbents and stay in power. Further changes in electoral competition have affected the nature of electoral manipulation, as greater electoral volatility and alternation in political power since the 1990s has altered the costs and benefits of common electoral strategies. Though there is credible evidence that electoral corruption in Japan has declined in recent decades, strong incentives for electoral manipulation remain.

Benjamin Nyblade, “The Evolution of Japanese Election Law in Comparative Perspective.” Early stages article manuscript

What drives change in election law? Which changes appear to be common across different countries and which are more specific to the particular legal and political histories of a country? In this project I plan to examine the evolution of postwar Japanese election law, identifying key changes and the dynamics that drove those changes. By combining an in-depth narrative discussion of the changes in Japanese election law with a broadly comparative lens on election laws around the world, I suggest that there are underappreciated global similarities in the evolution of election law.

Digital Methods for Doctrinal Analysis

Systematic review of case law using traditional methods is generally quite labor intense and time consuming, however new technology allows for more ambitious and systematic evaluation of the evolution of legal doctrine. Using digitized published opinions from the Caselaw Access Project and combining both traditional close reading of case law and text as data techniques, this project focuses on demonstrating how the advent of new text as data methods and digital case sources generates an opportunity for more efficient, transparent, replicable and systematic doctrinal research. After initial presentation of the project at the inaugural Caselaw Access Project at Harvard in 2019, I now have several papers under way that assess the evolution of arbitrary and capricious review, ask what harms are irreparable, and examine judges determine whether law is impermissibly vague. I am scheduled to present on this project at conferences in January and March 2021.

Residential Solar Adoption in Los Angeles

This collaborative project, funded by UCLA’s Sustainable LA initiative, examines the determinants of residential solar panel adoption in Los Angeles, as a window into the legal and policy implications of the determinants of environmentally-conscious consumer decision-making. Policy-makers and researchers often focus on traditional utility maximization models of consumer decision-making, however our research shows that heterogeneity in consumer decision-making approaches, and their values and ties to community (above and beyond simple measures of environmental attitudes), can dramatically affect the adoption of residential solar. Our analyses draw empirical data from a detailed survey we designed and conducted of 3000 Los Angeles home owners, and leverages this data to develop agent-based models that demonstrate the relevance of assumptions about consumer choice on the efficacy of policy interventions in promoting solar energy.

Civil Justice in LA Superior Courts

How can we develop better tools for grounding our discussions of civil procedure, court reform, and (ultimately) dispute resolution in our society? What sorts of empirical data would help the legal community have focused discussions about what we do and how our legal system works? This collaborative project, an initiative of the UCLA-RAND Center for Law and Policy, is developing a systematic dataset of civil litigation in Los Angeles Superior Courts–the single largest state court system in the country.

2020-2021 Presentations

Modes of Extraterritorial Enfranchisement (APSA, Sept 2020)

In the last four decades, the majority of the world’s states have extended voting rights to citizens living abroad. We build on prior work coding extraterritorial voting rights and restrictions by presenting new systematic data on the process by which extraterritorial voting rights were extended in more than 100 countries around the world. We identify both the process of which these rights are extended (e.g. legislation, public referendum, judicial ruling) as well as the key institutional actor. Analysis of this new data suggests that not only is there substantial variation in the process by which extraterritorial voting rights are adopted, but the process of legal enfranchisement provides critical insights into subsequent patterns of implementation and restrictions. With a wider range of actors involved in extending (and in some cases, actively limiting) migrants’ right to vote comes a wider range of factors that matter in understanding this important global trend.

The Evolution of Arbitrary and Capricious Review (GMU, Jan 2021; OWCAL, Spring 2021)

In the two most recent Supreme Court terms, opinions in Department of Commerce v. New York and Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California have highlighted sharp divisions in the Supreme Court about the meaning and practice of judicial review of agency action under the arbitrary and capricious standard. Are other judges as divided in their approach to arbitrary and capricious review? Scholars have long suggested that the arbitrary and capricious standard may be inconsistently applied but there is little systematic scholarship into the actual use of the arbitrary and capricious standard by federal courts. While systematic review of case law using traditional methods is generally quite labor intense and time consuming, new technology allows for more ambitious and systematic evaluation of the evolution and use of key doctrinal standards. Using digitized published opinions from the Caselaw Access Project ( and combining both traditional close reading of case law and text as data techniques, this paper shows how the advent of new text as data methods and digital case sources generates an opportunity for more efficient, transparent, replicable and systematic doctrinal research. For this project I have developed a new dataset of relevant cases and leverage data and text from 26,000 federal court rulings that reference the arbitrary and capricious standard from the adoption of the APA through 2017. I show not just how the number of cases that reference and rely on the arbitrary and capricious standard of review has increased dramatically over time, but how there is an increasing diversity in the sorts of policies and actions being reviewed, and a fairly dramatic increase in the novelty of claims courts are addressing when engaging in arbitrary and capricious review.

Crises and Opportunities: Data, Justice and Legal Education (AALS, Jan 2021)

Participant in AALS Discussion Group on Teaching Data, Teaching Justice. The current wave of crises demonstrates the importance of data skills and analysis in the law, in promoting justice and furthering the public interest. Many people involved in legal education have been involved in ad hoc responses and partnerships in response to the crises, but legal educators can and should build more enduring institutions both within their schools and coordinating across schools, to promote this sort of work.