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.

 

SCOTUS Upholds “No Representation Without Population” Rule

— by Anna Pycior and Peter Wagner

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the constitutionality of Maryland’s groundbreaking No Representation Without Population Act, which counts incarcerated people as residents of their legal home addresses for redistricting purposes. The 2010 law was a major civil rights victory that ended the distortions in fair representation caused by using incarcerated persons to pad the population counts of districts containing prisons.

The law upheld today is a state-based solution to the long-standing problem in the federal Census of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison location, even though they cannot vote there and remain residents of their home communities for virtually all other legal purposes. The practice of prison-based gerrymandering particularly harms urban communities and communities of color that disproportionately contain the home residences of incarcerated persons. Other states have since passed similar laws, but the Maryland law was the only one to go to the Supreme Court.

“Today’s Supreme Court decision in Fletcher v. Lamone affirmed the constitutional ‘one person one vote’ foundation of our decade-old campaign to end prison-based gerrymandering,” said Peter Wagner, Executive Director of the Prison Policy Initiative and the nation’s leading expert on how the Census Bureau’s practice of counting incarcerated people as residents of the prison locations harms the democratic process.

The lawsuit was filed last November, and the civil rights community responded quickly to brief the lower court on the constitutionality of Maryland’s law. In an amicus brief, the Prison Policy Initiative and Dēmos, along with the Howard University School of Law Civil Rights Clinic, the ACLU of Maryland, the Maryland and Somerset County Branch NAACP, and the fNAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund explained the basis and need for the landmark law. The lower court’s opinion, affirmed today, rejected the allegation that the law was somehow dilutive of minority voting rights, finding that the No Representation Without Population Act was an historic Maryland civil rights victory:

As the amicus brief … makes clear, the Act was the product of years of work by groups dedicated to advancing the interests of minorities.

Brenda Wright, Vice President for Legal Strategies at Dēmos, hailed today’s ruling in Fletcher v. Lamone:

The Supreme Court’s ruling is a huge victory for the national campaign to end prison-based gerrymandering. This decision sets an important precedent that will encourage other states to reform their redistricting laws and end the distortion in fair representation caused by treating incarcerated persons as residents of prisons.

More after the jump.
Today’s decision in Fletcher v. Lamone constitutes the most significant court ruling to date on the factual and legal justification for states to reallocate incarcerated persons to their home residences for purposes of redistricting. The ruling upheld today noted that “the Act is intended to ‘correct for the distortional effects of the Census Bureau’s practice of counting prisoners as residents of their place of incarceration.'” It further noted that

These distortional effects stem from the fact that while the majority of the state’s prisoners come from African-American areas, the state’s prisons are located primarily in the majority white First and Sixth Districts. As a result, residents of districts with prisons are systematically ‘overrepresented’ compared to other districts.

Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that Maryland’s law both meets constitutional requirements and was fairly implemented will hopefully encourage the Census Bureau to change its policy on where incarcerated people are counted in the 2020 Census.

The plaintiffs in Fletcher challenged Maryland’s right to correct where incarcerated people are counted for the purpose of drawing congressional districts. “Congressional districts are held to the highest standards to ensure population equality.” said Brenda Wright of Dēmos. “The Court’s decision that Maryland’s law satisfies the strict standards applicable to congressional districts clears the path for other states to pass similar laws at all levels of government.” New York, Delaware and California have already enacted similar legislation, and advocates are calling on the Census Bureau for a national solution. “Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court affirming that Maryland’s law both meets constitutional requirements and was fairly implemented will hopefully encourage the Census Bureau to change its policy on where incarcerated people are counted in the 2020 Census” said the Prison Policy Initiative’s Peter Wagner.

Pennsylvania Redistricting Take 2

Reprinted courtesy of the Jewish Social Policy Action Network

A new set of district maps for the Pennsylvania House and Senate was proposed on April 12, 2012, by the Legislative Reapportionment Commission. In response to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s ruling in February in Holt v. LRC, the Commission proposed new maps with fewer divisions of counties and municipalities. A thirty-day period is provided for members of the public to testify at a hearing on May 2 or to file written comments with respect to the proposed maps. JSPAN and the Philadelphia Jewish Voice are members of a coalition of non-profit agencies and individuals studying the newly proposed districts. We invite your comments and suggestions.

LRC Press Release After the Jump

Video continues at LRC website.
Legislative Reapportionment Commission Press Release

On Thursday, April 12, 2012, the 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, by a majority vote, approved and filed with the Secretary of State a Preliminary Reapportionment Plan for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A copy of the Preliminary Plan is located on the Commission’s website.

In accordance with Article II, Section 17(c), of the Pennsylvania Constitution, all persons aggrieved by the Preliminary Plan must file exceptions with the Commission within thirty days of the April 12, 2012 filing date. All exceptions must be in writing and contain the name of the individual, a signature, mailing address, and daytime telephone number. Individuals who wish to submit an alternative plan with their written exceptions to the Commission are requested to file a paper copy, and, if that alternative plan is prepared using computer software, a copy of the
“shapefile” of that plan. Written exceptions to the Preliminary Plan must be received by the
Commission on or before 5:00 p.m. on May 14, 2012.
Written exceptions submitted in a traditional format may be mailed to: Charles E. O’Connor, Jr., Esquire, Executive Director, 2011 Legislative Reapportionment Commission, 104 North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120

Individuals who wish to file written exceptions via email are requested to use “Contact Us” link located at the bottom of the home page of the Pennsylvania Redistricting Website at and, in the first line of the message, type the word “EXCEPTION.”

The exception may thereafter be typed directly into the “Message” box or electronically attached
using the “Message Attachments” box.

A public hearing will also be held on May 2, 2012 at 2:00p.m., in Hearing Room #1, North Office Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120 to receive any comments on the Preliminary Plan. Please note that individuals who file written exceptions to the plan and wish to present their exceptions at this hearing shall also make a request to be scheduled for that presentation at the public hearing. Please call (717) 705-6339 for additional information.

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.

GOP Redistricts Steve Cohen Out Of Shtetl

— by David Streeter

In what appears on its surface to be an unfortunate move shifting Jewish voters out of the district of the only Jewish member of Congress ever elected in Tennessee, Republicans are apparently backing a proposal that would separate Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN) from the Jewish constituents and institutions he has represented for a number of years at the state and federal levels.

For details see The Commercial Appeal.

Pennsylvania’s Flawed Congressional Redistricting

— by Dr. Manan Trivedi

The only thing that can compare to the ongoing assault on fairness by Republicans in Washington is what Republicans in Harrisburg did with the Pennsylvania redistricting process. Partisan politics won out in the end. Even my home county of Berks with a population of just over 400,00 got split into four congressional districts. Republican politicians are breaking the public’s trust by breaking apart our community.

More after the jump.
Regardless of where the overreach in protecting political power originates, I am not deterred. As I continue to run for Congress in Pennsylvania’s 6th congressional district, I will fight to bring about the common sense values that my friends and neighbors deserve. I am especially looking forward to speaking with the new voters of the district, including in the town of Fleetwood where I grew up and went to school. I’m eager to compare my career of serving our nation to that of career politician Jim Gerlach who falls in lock-step with Republicans in Washington who have just voted to raise taxes on the  middle class and  support the elimination of Medicare as we know it.

Dr. Manan Trivedi is a primary care physician who served as a battalion surgeon with the Marines during the Iraq War. He and his wife Surekha and their 20 month old daughter, Sonia, live in Berks County.

The Redistricting Vote

The Pennsylvania State House has passed the proposed congressional redistricting maps.  Nearly half of the Democrats in the House voted for it.  PoliticsPA has a rundown of who crossed party lines to vote for or against the maps.  Keegan Gibson gives his opinion on why each rep who voted against their party’s recommendations did so.  It’s interesting stuff.

Remember, everyone who voted yes was agreeing that the proposed 7th district (as shown to the right) was a good idea.

Let’s not forget who came up with this bizarrely shaped district and who approved it.  

Reprinted courtesy of Above Average Jane

The Breathtakingly Brazen PA Congressional Redistricting Plan

Republicans notched a major redistricting win on Tuesday with the unveiling yesterday of a Pennsylvania congressional map that deals a sharp blow to Democrats’ prospects in the state. The plan is not final — it must be passed by both houses of the state Legislature and then signed into law by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. But Republicans control all levers of redistricting in the state, leaving Democrats with little power to contest the map.

“This congressional redistricting plan is breathtakingly brazen in its defiance of the interests of Pennsylvania’s voters” said Common Cause/PA Executive Director, Barry Kauffman, upon the Senate State Government Committee’s vote to approve the Congressional redistricting plan (SB-1249) that will be in place for the coming decade.  Calling the plan the “ultimate in political cynicism” the bill abandons any pretense of maintaining congressional districts as communities of interest.

The plan unveiled today features a district (CD 7) that meanders bizarrely through five southeastern counties  resembling the mythological three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hades.  Another (CD 15) stretches from the Delaware River (Bethlehem and Allentown areas) to the Susquehanna River (just south of Harrisburg) following close to the I-78 and I-81 corridors; while another reaches from the Delaware even deeper into the Allegheny mountains (CD 10).  One western Pennsylvania district, resembling an emaciated hammerhead shark, reaches from the Ohio border to Johnstown.

Erie County has been split in half. Scranton and Wilkes-Barre have been separated from the rest of Northeastern PA. Easton has been separated from the rest of the Lehigh Valley.

Meanwhile, Southeastern Pennsylvania’s fractal lines wind and intertwine in such a way that it is difficult to tell who lives where, and the 7th Congressional District is barely contiguous. On the other side of the state Congressmen Mark Critz and Jason Altmire have been drawn into a district together and will have to compete in the Democratic primary.  

Common Cause/PA noted that the legislature has had the census data, on which the redistricting plan is based, since the beginning of April, but did not release its proposed plan until December 14th.  The legislature could easily have developed the new congressional district plan by the end July, put it out for 60 days of public comments and public hearings, and still passed it before the end of October.  Instead, with the date for candidates to circulate nominating petitions looming just six weeks away, the bill will move forward on the legislative fast track, with no public hearing on the plan, and no meaningful opportunity for interested citizens and community leaders to review the plan and attempt to improve it during its one week of legislative life.

Reps. Jason Altmire (D-PA), left, and Mark Critz (D-PA) must face each other in a primary.

While states likes Iowa, California and Arizona have moved forward to take redistricting out of the hands of self-interested politicians whose principal goals are to create a gerrymandered advantage for their parties and to protect incumbent lawmakers from the voters, Pennsylvania’s system remains the ultimate incumbency protection program.  Several senators even noted that Pennsylvania’s system manifests an abuse of power regardless of which party is in charge.  “If Pennsylvanians ever hope to take back control of their government” said Kauffman, “we must reform our system for drawing legislative and congressional district boundaries.  This plan is a clear-cut case of politicians picking their voters in order to prevent voters from having a meaningful opportunity to pick their elected officials.”

The Democratic party has created a website where citizens can vote on which Congressional District is the most gerrymandered and a Rorschach test where you can propose what each district most resembles. (Examples include “Zombie aardvark in an airplane seat” [District 3], “A rabbit pulling the tail of a giraffe” [District 7]” and “A seahorse riding a platypus” [District 17].)

Close-ups on Southwestern Pennsylvania and Southeastern Pennsylvania

House Democratic Caucus Whip Rep. Mike Hanna (D-Clinton/Centre) intends to offer a fair Congressional map as an amendment to the Republican maps unveiled Tuesday (SB 1249).

Details follow the jump.
 
 State Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Clinton/Centre, has introduced revised congressional maps that more closely resemble the “one-man, one-vote” principle afforded by the U.S. Constitution.

“Voting is the only way citizens can hold their government accountable. Based on what we’ve seen so far in this process, redistricting has become a game, which cripples competitive elections and ensures incumbency protection.

This is politics at its worst and a backwards movement in transparency and reform. We should make certain that every person’s vote counts, putting the interests of all the citizens first, not just the politicians. My proposal will not suppress the voices of 12.7 million Pennsylvania residents, but allow their voices to be heard through their vote.

Hanna’s legislation (H.B. 2078) crafts congressional districts for Pennsylvania that more closely align with suggestions offered by the Pennsylvania League of Women Voters and Common Cause.

My proposal creates a fair redistricting map, putting aside partisan interests and protecting the interests of the voters. This plan will minimize district splits in counties and municipalities and ensure equality of representation across 18 congressional districts. It will emphasize the compactness of districts while ensuring traditional communities of interest remain together in the same district.

Redistricting map proposed by Rep. Mike Hanna: