Redistricting Gave Republicans a 7.5% Headstart in House Elections

Yesterday, I wrote about the Republican sketchy claim of having won a mandate in the House of Representatives where they will hold about a 40 seat edge despite losing the popular vote. I explained how redistricting process undermines Democratic representation by wasting Democratic votes in huge super majorities.

Today, as an exercise I tried to quantify how big an electoral advantage the Republicans are starting with for the rest of the decade thanks to the 2010 redistricting. I created a spreadsheet with the latest election returns for each of the 435 House races and sorted them by the difference between the (leading) Democrat and (leading) Republican. In order to gain a majority, Democrats would have to win 218 seats.

Suppose we magically added 7.2% to the Democratic totals in each district across the nation. In that case, the Democrats would have won the first 217 races on my spreadsheet, the Republicans would still have won the last 217 races on my spreadsheet (although by a smaller margin), and everything would depend on the result of the final race (Florida’s 16th Congressional District) which would then be a dead heat between Fitzgerald and Buchanan.

In this thought experiment the House of Representatives would be precisely in balance, but the Democrats would have increased their margin in the popular vote by 7.2% from the actual value of 0.3% (48.5% to 48.8%) to a hypothetical value of 7.5%.

When the Democrats need to beat the Republicans by 7.5% just to break even, there is something seriously wrong with our democratic process!  

Boehner’s House “Mandate”: Gerrymandering a Democratic majority

Last week, Americans voted not just for President but also for their Representatives and Senators. Results were mixed. In the Presidential election, Obama edged out Romney in both the Electoral College (332 to 206) and in the popular vote (51% to 48%). In the Senate, Democrats overcame all odds and not only held onto but actually expanded their majority. However, in the House of Representatives, Democrats only picked up 4-8 seats out of the 25 seats they needed to retake control of the House. (Four seats remain undecided: AZ-2, CA-7, CA-52 and LA-2.)

Speaker of the House John Boehner (OH-2) took solace in keeping the House. “We’ll have as much of a mandate as he [President Obama] will to not raise taxes.”

How is that the same electorate shows up at the polls and hands victories to the GOP in the House and to Obama and the Democrats in the Senate?

In fact, Boehner is wrong. There was no mandate for the Republicans to keep control of the House. In fact, a majority of Americans voted for a Democrat to represent them in the House of Representatives. According to Dan Keating at the Washington Post:

  • Democratic candidates for the House got 54,301,095 votes (48.8%) while
  • Republican candidates for the House got 53,822,442 votes (48.5%).

But if that is the case, why did more Republicans get elected than Democrats?

According to Ezra Klein,  

What saved Boehner’s majority wasn’t the will of the people but the power of redistricting. As my colleague Dylan Matthews showed, Republicans used their control over the redistricting process to great effect, packing Democrats into tighter and tighter districts and managing to restructure races so even a slight loss for Republicans in the popular vote still meant a healthy majority in the House.


In most states where Republicans controlled redistricting, the Democrats’ share of House seats was far beneath their share of the presidential vote. (Dylan Matthews)

That’s a neat trick, but it’s not a popular mandate, or anything near to it – and Boehner knows it. That’s why his first move after the election was to announce, in a vague-but-important statement, that he was open to some kind of compromise on taxes.

For example, here in Pennsylvania, the Republicans control the Governor’s mansion, the State House and the State Senate, and they used their control to gerrymander the state so that while the Democrats got a majority of the votes (53%) they only took 5 out of 18 seats (28%). They do so by packing Democratic super-majorities into a few districts. Brady won PA-1 with 85.0% of the vote, and Fattah won PA-2 with 89.4%. These huge margins represent wasted votes that potentially could have elected additional Democrats had the districts been drawn differently.

More after the jump.
The situation is not symmetrical in the few states controlled by the Democrats.

This isn’t as true for Democratic-controlled redistricting, and not just because Democrats ran redistricting in only six states. Democrats are just worse at gerrymandering when they get the chance. While Democrats outperformed their presidential vote in House races in Rhode Island, Maryland, Massachusetts and Illinois, they underperformed in Arkansas and West Virginia.

This suggests that it’s going to be tough for Democrats to make big gains in the House until 2022, when the districts are drawn again following the Census. And for that to happen, they’d have to do quite well in the 2020 state legislature elections.

 

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission Strikes Out

Great news to report from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court!

Gerrymandering declared unconstitutional in Holt v. 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission.

Our recent article The Legislative Reapportionment Commission Strikes Back explained Pennsylvania’s flawed redistricting process. Many local leaders petitioned the Pennsylvania Supreme Court about how their communities had been diced into a number of legislative districts. The LRC countered those claims by appealing to the big picture: those splits were “necessary”. Meanwhile, Amanda Holt et al and State Senator Jay Costa et al each proposed a complete redistricting map superior to the LRC’s official map according to all of the relevant criteria: they split fewer communities, the districts were more compact and equal in population, etc. The LRC countered these petitions saying that they usurped the LRC’s traditional authority.


Amanda Holt

In the past few citizens had the technological know how to propose redistricting maps of their own so unfair maps went unchallenged. Now private citizens like Amanda Holt can produce such maps on their personal computers. In fact,  Philadelphia, Ohio, Michigan, Virginia and Arizona have held redistricting contests literally inviting their citizens to help draw the lines.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed with the petitioners and rejected the LRC’s gerrymander. The vote was 4-3 with Justices Castille (R), Baer (D), Todd (D) and McCaffery (D) in the majority, and Justices Saylor (R), Eakin (R) and Melvin (R) dissenting. Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille crossed party lines and joined the three democratic Associate Justices in the per curium order remanding the redistricting back to the Legislative Reapportionment Commission which will have to start over again.

AND NOW, this 25th day of January, 2012, upon consideration of the petitions for review and briefs in these legislative redistricting appeals, and after entertaining oral argument on January 23, 2012, this court finds that the final 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Plan is contrary to law. PA. CONST. art. II, Sec. 17(d). Accordingly, the final 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Plan is REMANDED to the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission with a directive to reapportion the Commonwealth in a manner consistent with this Court’s Opinion which will follow.

The 2001 Legislative Reapportionment Plan… shall remain in effect until a revised final 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Plan having the force of law is approved.

In the meantime, we will stick with the old districts drawn in 2001.

Is the idea that voters should choose their representatives passé?

For too long, politicians have usurped the rights of citizen’s to choose their representatives, instead gerrymandering their states, effectively choosing the people who are most likely to elect them. Hopefully this decision will limit the ability of politicians to choose their constituents and put the power back where it belongs — in the hands of the people.

The new calendar for nominating petitions follows the jump.

  • Today, January 26. Nomination petitions can be circulated using the old districts. Signatures dated January 24 or January 25 will still be accepted even if they come from the districts on the rejected LRC plan.
  • Thursday, February 16, last day to file nominating petitions.
  • Thursday, February 23, last day to file objections to nominating petitions.
  • Monday, February 27, last day court may hold hearings on objections to nominating petitions.
  • Friday, March 2, list of candidates for the primary is finalized. This is the last day for the court to rule on objections to nominating petitions, and the last day for candidates to withdraw.

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission Strikes Back


Pennsylvania’s historic gerrymander is approaching a conclusion.

Let’s review the story so far.

  • Act One: Stacking the Deck. The Census Bureau released the data for Pennsylvania from the 2010 Census on March 11, 2011, but the Legislative Reapportionment Commission on a party-line vote delayed choosing their fifth and final member until the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Supreme Court stepped in and named Judge Stephen McEwen (R) on April 19.
  • Act Two: Running Out The Clock. According to a plain reading of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the LRC then had a 90-day deadline and had to prepare a preliminary plan by July 18. There would then be 60 days for “corrections” and hearings, leading to a final plan by September 17.
    Any appeals to that plan would have to be filed within 30 days or by October 16. This schedule is designed to give plenty of time for potential candidates to plan before filing to run in next year’s elections. However, according to the Republicans on the Legislative Reapportionment Commission, Pennsylvania does not have census data until they say that Pennsylvania has census data. The LRC’s first public meeting was not until August 17, and at that time, they certified their approval of the United States Census data for Pennsylvania and declared that this would start the 90-day clock. By a stroke of the pen, the Republicans bought themselves four months of time.
  • Act Three: Bait and Switch. Republicans on the Committee pretend to negotiate with the Democrats in good faith, and then reveal their secret, partisan redistricting plan minutes before the LRC votes along party lines. The 2011 poster child for the abuse of voters’ rights to fair elections is manifested in central Pennsylvania’s 15th Senatorial district shown above. Currently, the district encompasses Harrisburg and its suburbs east of the Susquehanna River, plus a small adjacent section of York County. But in an attempt to protect an embattled incumbent Senator, the LRC created a new district that eliminates troublesome Harrisburg constituents. So instead of being contained almost entirely in a compact Dauphin County region, the new 15th district snakes through Dauphin, Cumberland, Perry, York and Adams counties creating a 150 mile horseshoe that dismantles any sense of community.
  • Act Four: General Outrage. Local community leaders object that their communities have been  divided into multiple districts — contrary to the protections offered by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The plan has been opposed by public officials throughout the gerrymander. Concerned citizen Amanda Holt develops a map of her own using more compact districts which minimizes splits of county and townships.
  • Act Five: Our Protests Fall On Deaf Ears. December 12, the LRC issues its final redistricting plan, and eleven groups of Pennsylvanians file petitions with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court challenging this map.

Now, the Legislative Reapportionment Commission has responded to the various petitions.

Some of the petitions are by mayors and other locals officials whose communities have been split, packed, cracked and otherwise gerrymandered by the proposed map. The LRC argues that such local concerns should be ignored because splits are necessary in one corner of the state in order to avoid other problems elsewhere.

However, the complaints by Amanda Holt et al and Senator Jay Costa et al take a holistic approach. They both propose complete maps which satisfying the Federal and State requirements of equal population, compact districts, etc. while avoiding splits better than does the LRC map. However, the LRC does not accept this sort of map, saying that approving a map which was not created by the LRC would “invite the public at large to usurp the Commission’s responsibilities and subvert its constitutional role.”

The LRC argues that their plan is no more gerrymandered than previous redistricting maps, and perhaps they are correct on this point. However, computer technology is much more widespread now than it was in 1980 or 1990 or 2000. Back then the only people who could understand the arcane world of redistricting were experts with years of training and expensive equipment, so political operatives were able to get away with a lot of mischief. Now, ordinary citizens like Amanda Holt are able to work with the same data that the LRC has been working with, and if her map is better than the LRC’s map according to all of the criteria mentioned in the Voting Rights Act, the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution, then it should be adopted in place of the flawed plan put forward by the LRC.

Oral arguments are scheduled for this Monday, January 23 in the Supreme Court Courtroom at the Capitol Building in Harrisburg.

Because of the delays imposed by the Republicans on the LRC, the Supreme Court will have little time to decide. Candidates will start circulating nominating petitions for the primaries the very next day: Tuesday, January 24. It would be very confusing to change the district lines once the primary is underway. (The nominating petitions are due on February 14.)

The question is whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will act like a partisan body and rubber stamp the gerrymander by a 4-3 party line vote, or whether they will stand up for the Pennsylvania Constitution and protect the voting rights of Pennsylvanians across the political spectrum.

Prison-Based Gerrymandering in Wisconsin

–by Peter Wagner

This article was prepared on Monday. On Wednesday, the Assembly passed the plan and it is now on the Governor’s desk awaiting signature.

The Wisconsin legislature is rushing through a redistricting plan so they can lock in the maps before the scheduled recall elections can change who has the power to draw district lines. In that rush, prison-based gerrymandering is poised to have an even greater impact on state, county and municipal districts than it did a decade ago.

The Census Bureau counts Wisconsin prisoners as if they were residents of the communities where they are incarcerated, even though they can’t vote and remain legal residents of the places they lived prior to incarceration. Crediting thousands of people to other communities has staggering implications for Wisconsin’s democracy, which uses the Census to apportion political power on the basis of equally-sized state and county legislative districts.

Wisconsin’s 53rd Assembly district has the highest concentration of prisons in the state. The 53rd District claims 5,583 incarcerated people as residents of the district, even though state law says that incarcerated people remain residents of their homes. All districts send some people to prison, although some districts some districts send more than others. But not all districts have prisons, and concentrating 23,000 prisoners in a handful of districts enhances the weight of a vote cast in those districts and dilutes all votes cast elsewhere.

More after the jump.
In Wisconsin, this impact is largest in District 53, where without using prison populations as padding, the district would be 10% below the required size. This gives every 90 residents of the 53rd district the same influence as 100 residents of any other district in the state.

If that seems insignificant, consider that the Supreme Court allows districts to have populations that are 5% too large or small if the state can protect some other legitimate state interest by doing so. The federal judges who have for decades drawn Wisconsin’s state legislative districts have had an even higher standard, allowing only a 1% deviation from strict population equality. The Republican majority of the legislature which drew the new districts took an even higher standard in the Assembly, drawing districts that are, by Census counts, no more than 0.4% too large or small.

The state’s efforts to carefully draw districts that give each district the same population and the same political influence is clearly overshadowed by the decision to use the Census Bureau’s data that credited incarcerated people to the wrong location when drawing districts, and created one of the most distorted state legislative districts in the county. The systematic bias introduced by drawing districts based on Census Bureau prison counts becomes clear when you look in detail at District 53:

District 53 purports to have a large African-American population, larger than 74 other districts. But of the 2,784 African-Americans in the district, all but 590 are incarcerated. The day the people incarcerated in the district are allowed to vote again, they will be on a bus, heading back to their home district. The 53rd District is claiming populations that are not a part of this district and never will be.

The state Assembly is not the only part of Wisconsin to raise the ante on prison-based gerrymandering and draw districts more distorted than they did a decade ago. In our previous research, we found some of the most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering in the country in Wisconsin cities and counties. With two notable exceptions, counties appear to have been unable or unwilling to find a solution to competing state laws that indirectly require them to use the unadjusted Census numbers and engage in prison-based gerrymandering.

The two exceptions are Dodge County, and the City of Waupun. These communities did something clever: they split each large prison between 2 or 3 neighboring districts. Those districts still get credited with an incarcerated population that actually resides somewhere else, but the size of the vote enhancement in any individual district is smaller. And by extension, this reduces the extent to which votes are diluted in other Dodge County or City of Waupun districts.

With Dodge County and the City of Waupun finding solutions, albeit partial ones, the mantle for the most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering is likely going to fall to Chippewa, Juneau, and Waushara counties, all of which saw new prisons built or expanded over the last decade, and all of which appear to be drawing individual county districts that are more than 50% incarcerated. In each of these counties, if you live next to the prisons, you’ll get twice the influence over the future of our county as residents who live elsewhere. That’s not fair. It likely violates the federal constitution’s guarantee of equal representation, and it certainly doesn’t make any sense.

We concede — when fairness and logic aren’t enough to avoid prison-based gerrymandering — that it is technically possible to draw a district that is half incarcerated. One town in Iowa had a district that was 96% incarcerated, until citizens intervened. So what are we watching for at the Prison Policy Initiative headquarters? We’re waiting to see how the cities of New Lisbon and Stanley draw their city districts. There, unless they take action, they’ll be faced with drawing districts that are more than 100% incarcerated. This impossibility could produce some of the most dramatic examples of prison-based gerrymandering in the country. Will those cities follow the state legislature’s blind rush into prison-based gerrymandering and end up drawing one or more City Council districts with no voters? Stay tuned.

Wisconsin cities and counties where relying on the Census for redistricting creates serious problems for democracy after the 2000 Census. (We also looked at Oshkosh City in Winnebago Co., Fond du Lac City in Fond Du Lac Co., Allouez Village in Brown Co., and Sturtevant Village in Racine Co., but these cities and villages are not affected because their local government is elected at large rather than from districts. Marquette County’s districts were not affected by the prisoner miscount because the county and state concluded that the census erred in placing the Federal Oxford prison in Marquette, when it is actually located in Adams County.) This table is updated from Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Wisconsin with the downsized districts in Fond du Lac County.

County District Percent of district’s population that is in prison Resulting Vote Distortion
Adams 5 & 6 64% 9 votes here = 25 elsewhere
Brown 14 22% 39 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Columbia 8 47% 27 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Dane 33 6% 47 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Dodge 29 53% 47 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Dodge 31 59% 41 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Dodge 35 10% 9 votes here = 10 elsewhere
Dodge 8 54% 23 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Fond du Lac 18 18% 82 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Jackson 10, 11, 12 and 19 24% 19 votes here = 25 elsewhere
Racine 13 17% 83 votes here =  100 elsewhere
Sheboygan  22 6% 47 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Sheboygan  32 25% 3 votes here = 4 elsewhere
Winnebago  12 42% 58 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Winnebago  30 16% 21 votes here = 25 elsewhere
City District
Fitchburg City 4 14% 43 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Franklin City 1 38% 31 votes here = 50 elsewhere
Waupun City 2 63% 37 votes here = 100 elsewhere
Waupun City 3 79% 21 votes here = 100 elsewhere

Philadelphia Film Festival

The 19th annual Philadelphia Film Festival will feature 216 screenings of more than 100 domestic and international narrative and documentary films, as well as a multitude of fantastic short films. The Festival will also include exciting VIP receptions and events, a variety of panels with industry professionals and some very special guests. Films will be shown October 14 to 24 utilizing 11 different screens in 6 venues throughout Philadelphia as well as at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.

Gerrymandering

Above to the right is a clip from the movie Gerrymandering featured

One of politics best-kept secrets, Gerrymandering takes a detailed look at this outdated political loophole, effectively explaining both its origins and the logic behind abolishing this act forever. Every ten years when the results of the census are returned, district lines are redrawn to match the current population trends; Gerrymandering refers to the practice of allowing incumbent politicians to determine where those lines fall, and as one commentator says, “Lines never happen by accident”. Wielding the pen, politicians can make their districts look however they’d like, contain whoever they like, and exclude whoever they don’t. It is a tool that transcends party lines, and is used by both Democrats and Republicans. When done “correctly,” it all but silences the voices of any minority (be they racial, ethnic, political) the incumbents deem threatening. Our democracy is built on a system of checks and balances: if a politician does a good job, his constituents re-elect him, and if he does a poor job, he is replaced. This effective, well-paced documentary by first-time filmmaker Jeff Reichert poses a simple scenario: what happens when the people’s power to speak out against unwanted politicians is revoked? By highlighting California’s 2008 campaign to pass Proposition 11, which changes the policies that allow Gerrymandering to occur, and featuring insight from top analysts, activists and politicians, Gerrymandering explores what happens when a population’s voice is silenced not by oppression, but by loopholes. You may never have heard of Gerrymandering before, but after watching this doc you’re sure to have an opinion on the practice. — Jared Miller