Now That's What I Call Gerrymandering!

Americans didn't intend to elect a Republican majority to the House of Representatives. Thanks to GOP-engineered redistricting, they did.

The votes are still being counted, but as of now it looks as if Democrats have a slight edge in the popular vote for House seats, 49 percent-48.2 percent, according to an analysis by the Washington Post. Still, as the Post's Aaron Blake notes, the 233-195 seat majority the GOP will likely end up with represents the GOP's "second-biggest House majority in 60 years and their third-biggest since the Great Depression."

After Republicans swept into power in state legislatures in 2010, the GOP gerrymandered key states, redrawing House district boundaries to favor Republicans. In Pennsylvania, Democratic candidates received half of the votes in House contests, but Republicans will claim about three-quarters of the congressional seats. The same is true in North Carolina. More than half the voters in that state voted for Democratic representation, yet Republicans will fill about 70 percent of the seats. Democrats drew more votes in Michigan than Republicans, but they'll take only 5 out of the state's 14 congressional seats.

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22 Responses:

  1. Jeremy Wilson says:

    Why is gerrymandering even allowed? I've never understood it.

    • plumpy says:

      My (uninformed) guess is that when redistricting laws were written it wasn't really an issue. And now that it is, the parties in power (who end up drawing the lines) have no incentive to stop it.

      • James says:

        It's worse than that, but a hard limit on area-to-perimeter ratios would stop it cold. Mathematicians for political office!

    • Charles Stephens says:

      There's a TED-Ed for that:

      cfs

  2. Sam says:

    I'm not saying that either gerrymandering or Republicans aren't bad, but you can't necessarily compare vote totals like that. I don't know if quite this effect happens in the US, but in the UK Tories tend to vote in large numbers even in overwhelmingly Tory seats, wheras Labour voters don't stack up votes in their own safe seats. (No-one will vote for the Lib Dems after seeing what they did this time around, so I'm just going to ignore them.) There's also that campaigns will naturally focus on competetive seats, driving up turnout there, and that strategy (both campaign and voter) is a function of the boundaries.

    • Different Jamie says:

      If you want to have a conversation about the right way to cut up the county in order to group people to facilitate voting, I think there are lots of people better informed than I am about that who are willing to chat. They are not hard to find.

      On the other hand, if these maps make sense to you, please explain. Note that in Ohio one district was altered to include a big spender. And that Husted in Ohio was shameless in changing rules, fighting court rulings about said rules, and generally making a mockery of his role. And that Ohio wasn't the only state in which this shit was going on.

      Think some Republican apologist once wrote a book with a title along the lines of, "they can't cheat if it isn't close". Hm.

  3. wkrick says:

    The solution should go something like this...
    Splitline districtings of all 50 states + DC + PR
    http://rangevoting.org/SplitLR.html

  4. Adolf Osborne says:

    I'm just happy that Ohio is not worse than North Carolina. (Not that second-worst is any good reason to be happy, but I am anyway -- I frankly expected Ohio to top the Gerrymandering scale.)

    That said: We did have a ballot issue to deal with Gerrymandering in this most recent past time 'round, but it failed. So I guess the following will hold true: We're stuck this way for awhile, and there's nothing I can do about it.

  5. Jay says:

    Check out the completely batshit insane looking district I live in here in FL:

    There's no conceivable explanation for the shape of that thing besides gerrymandering.

  6. Brian B says:

    The problem with this argument is that it assumes the entire Republican advantage in this election came from a single factor.

    Turns out that if you do some more investigating, the incumbency effect is twice the gerrymandering effect. Sam Wang says this is indeed the first time gerrymandering systematically favored one party over the other nationally, but the net effect was only about 6 seats. Another analysis here produces a similar result.

    We should, of course, push to get rid of gerrymandering. California went to districts drawn by a nonpartisan commission this year, and the GOP pretty much disappeared as a result. But the barrier is political, not technological or analytical. No one wants to get rid of a system that'll favor them a lot of the time.

  7. db48x says:

    Yea, we should just legislate that districts must be drawn in such a way that they have an equal number of registered voters from every (major) party. Then after a while we can just start flipping a coin, since it'll have the same outcome. Cheaper too.

  8. nooj says:

    I'm a little confused. My understanding is that in Texas, the GOP redistricted so that they would share comfortable wins in one district with losses in another district. (Remember the part where the Texas Democrats left the state to protest and prevent Republican legislation so that certain quorums couldn't occur? Yeah, I'm talking about those good times right there.) The point of the GOP move was they would be a little bit ahead (by 10% or so) in as many districts as possible.

    To me, that GOP move sounded like a typical and strategic (if bullshit) move. But what Mother Jones is saying seems like the opposite thing is happening. The strategies have to be the same. Someone enlighten me?

    (Afterword: apparently, after getting a 10% margin everywhere, Tom Delay decided to get caught laundering money, which pissed off 10% of the population...)

  9. phuzz says:

    How about: we swap.
    You get some people from the UK over to draw up boundaries, and we invite you folks back to the UK to draw up our constituencies. It'll work because neither of us give a fuck about the other's politics.

  10. Anthony says:

    It's more complicated than it looks. The Voting Rights Act requires that non-whites be clustered into districts where they can form majorities (separately by race, where possible - a 30% hispanic + 30% black district doesn't qualify unless that's all the blacks and hispanics you have in the area), and that imperative trumps any state laws regarding geographic compactness.

    Under current political alignments, this automatically handicaps the Democrats, because the white people who live near enough to concentrations of blacks or hispanics are much more likely to vote for Democrats than average white people. So a district that's 60% black and 40% white in a state that's about 50/50 overall R/D will end up voting 85% or more D, and making all the other districts a little more heavily R. That's before any partisan gerrymandering happens.

    There's some history, too. From 1972 through 1992, the Republicans were under-represented in Congress, relative to their popular vote totals, by 3% to 11%. 1994 was the first election in the past 40 years where the Republicans were over-represented in Congress, by 1.4%. (The Democrats were also over-represented in 1994; the difference made up by the complete lack of representation of third parties, despite 3.7% of the popular vote.) Since 1994, the Republicans have ranged from 1.5% under-represented to 4% over-represented, except in 2012, where they're 5.5% over-represented, while the Democrats have ranged from about 1% under-represented to 5.2% over-represented, except in 2012 where they're 3.5% under-represented. So I don't see any great historical injustice to the Democrats in being under-represented in this House election.

  11. Mark says:

    The GOP is so evil, boo hoo, etc etc.

    Come to the glorious land of Illinois where the peoples' Democratic party has gerrymandered the ever living fuck out of our districts and secured, for the dozenth time, a veto-proof majority in our state legislature this past election.

    If the big bad GOP has got you down, visit our utopia of world-record debt, fleeing companies, zero jobs, enormous taxes...

    • Rick C says:

      Exactly. One wonders if this outrage! about Republican gerrymandering applies to Democratic Gerrymandering. I believe CA's got lots of ridiculously-shaped districts, too.

      • Anthony says:

        California finally mostly fixed the problem. The system is still open to being gamed, but it's more subtle and difficult. The Democrats managed to do it anyway, while the Republicans didn't, hence Prop 40 (or 41 - whatever). But when the Democrats were in direct control of California redistricting, districts like that one in Florida in an earlier comment were the rule, not the exception.

  12. Bob says:

    This has been a problem for 150 years or so. I'm doubtful anyone is going to change it any time soon.

  13. DaveL says:

    When you have single-member first-past-the-post constituencies (as the US, UK, and many other countries have) you are not going to be able to have anything like perfect correspondence between aggregate votes and the makeup of the legislature. It's not possible.

    Then throw in stuff like gerrymandering, the voting rights act, and other jolly happy fun politics and fundamentally, you are prevented from anything like "accurate" representation.

    Needs the "grim meathook present" tag.