25 November 2012

Gerrymandering Works (For Party In Power)

Reposted From Jobsanger

We all know by now that President Obama defeated his GOP opponent rather easily in the 2012 election (both in the popular vote and the Electoral College). In addition, most of the contested senate seats were won by Democrats -- giving them a slightly bigger majority in the U.S. Senate than they had before. They now have 55 votes (counting the two Independents who caucus with them).

But what most Americans don't know is that the Democrats also got more votes for all House seats in the country than the Republicans got. The Democrats got 57,340,724 votes for House seats (50.23%), while the Republicans got 56,818,399 votes (49.77%). That's an advantage of about 522,325 votes for the Democrats (or slightly more than half a million).

Now a person might think that would mean the Democrats had a slight majority in the House, or at least the division between the two parties would be very close. But that wouldn't be true. Even though the GOP lost the total raw vote, they were still able to hold on to a significant majority of the House Seats. They won 234 seats and the Democrats won 201 seats, giving the Republicans a 33 vote advantage in the House. That's down from their 49 vote advantage after the 2010 election, but it still will allow them to easily control the House.

How does this happen? How can a party get fewer votes, but still win a significant majority of House seats. The answer is gerrymandering (the practice of establishing a political advantage for a particular party by manipulating geographic boundaries to create a partisan district). And 2010 the Republicans were able to seize control of many state governments, giving them the power to redraw congressional districts to benefit their own party. And from the House results in the 2012 election, it looks like they did a very good job of protecting their own party by gerrymandering districts.

The two pictures above show some districts in Tarrant County, Texas. The top picture shows the congressional districts as drawn by the Republican legislature (note the very oddly-shaped 12th and 26th districts). The federal court threw this out, saying it discriminated against minorities, and instituted the lower map instead, to be used only in the 2012 election (which means the legislature will have to try again to redistrict next January).

You might be wondering why this is allowed to happen. Isn't gerrymandering illegal? Well, yes and no. The 1965 Voting Rights Act made it illegal to gerrymander to deny representation to minorities. Then when the Texas districts were redrawn in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it was legal -- as long as it did not deprive minorities of representation. So now the Republicans, especially in Texas and the South, stuff as many minorities as they can get into as few districts as possible, and then gerrymander the remaining districts to scatter Democratic votes and create safe Republican districts. By creating a few minority districts, they satisfy the law and are able to do what they want in the rest of the state (including dividing up an area with a strong Democratic vote and putting the pieces into several different Republican districts).

Is this dirty politics? Of course it is, and it's played by both political parties. The Republicans were just able to gain an advantage in the 2010 state legislatures -- and that allowed them to gerrymander the redistricting to protect their own. And we saw the results of that in the 2012 election (where Democrats got more votes, but Republicans got more seats).

This really needs to be changed. A few states are going to non-partisan committees for redistricting to prevent the party in power from gerrymandering to their own advantage. The idea is still too new to know if it works or not, but it certainly sounds like it would be better than how redistricting is currently done in most states.

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments are welcome!
Please use the Name/URL option (you don't have to register, just enter a screen-name) or sign your anonymous post at the bottom.