Thursday, April 26, 2018
Opinion

Credit gerrymandering for GOP House control

When Republicans claim that this was a status quo election, they point to their continued hold on the House. The 2012 congressional vote, some have said, didn't undo the party's 2010 successes.

True enough, but that's not because Americans didn't vote to undo them. It's because Republicans have so gerrymandered congressional districts in states where they controlled redistricting the past two years that they were able to elude a popular vote that went the Democrats' way last week.

As the Washington Post's Aaron Blake reported, Democrats narrowly outpolled Republicans in the total number of votes cast for congressional candidates. The margin varies depending on whether you count the races in which candidates ran unopposed and those in which members of the same party faced off (as happened in several California districts). But any way you count it, the Democrats came out ahead — in everything but the number of House seats they won.

Consider Pennsylvania, where President Barack Obama won 52 percent of the votes cast, and Democratic Sen. Bob Casey defeated his Republican rival, 53 percent to 45 percent. Yet Democrats won just five of that state's 18 U.S. House seats. They carried both districts in the Philadelphia area — by 85 percent and 89 percent, respectively — and three other districts, by 77, 69 and 61 percent. Of the 13 districts where Republicans prevailed, GOP candidates won seven with less than 60 percent of the vote; in only one district did the Republican candidate's total exceed 65 percent of the votes cast.

Why such lopsided numbers? Because Republican-controlled redistricting after the 2010 Census packed Democratic voters into a handful of imaginatively shaped districts around Pennsylvania's urban centers and created a slew of GOP districts in the rest of the state. The overwhelming Democratic margins in the two heavily African-American Philadelphia districts didn't require constructing oddly shaped districts, but carving up the rest of the state to minimize districts that Democrats might win required politically driven line-drawing of the highest order.

So it went in several other swing states. In Florida, Obama eked out a victory and Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson won by 13 points, but Democrats will hold only 10 of the Sunshine State's 27 House seats.

Obama won Ohio by two points, and Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won by five, but Democrats emerged with just four of Ohio's 16 House seats.

In Wisconsin, Obama prevailed by seven points, and Democratic Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin by five, but their party finished with just three of the state's eight House seats.

In Virginia, Obama and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tim Kaine were clear victors, but Democrats won just three of the commonwealth's 11 House seats.

In these five states, where both Obama and Democratic Senate candidates won, Democrats will hold 25 House seats in the next Congress to the Republicans' 55. If the control of these House seats reflected the Democrats' statewide margins in presidential and Senate contests, the Democrats would likely be at parity or in the majority in the new House.

Now, this isn't to say Democrats don't play similar games. On Election Day, they picked up five House seats in Illinois after a Democratic-controlled redistricting in 2011, so they will hold 12 of the 18 Illinois House seats come January. But Obama carried his home state by a 16-point margin, and the Democratic pick-ups help create a delegation that fairly reflects the state's partisan balance.

A model for a fairer war to carve congressional districts — so that they more closely reflect voter sentiment — exists in California. Years ago Golden State voters entrusted redistricting to a nonpartisan commission.

Last week's election was the first conducted using the new boundaries. Some longtime incumbents were displaced, and some rising constituencies were empowered; California's new congressional delegation will include five Asian-Americans, nine Latinos and 18 women — all Democrats. But no one is arguing that the new members don't reflect the state's balance of power. Obama carried California by 21 points; Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein won by 23; and Democrats are likely to hold 38 of the state's 53 House seats when the counting concludes (two races are still out).

Republicans love to proclaim their affinity for the marketplace and the genius of competition. But it's precisely by suppressing competition, and crafting uncompetitive districts, that they maintained their hold on the House. Any notion that House Republicans have a mandate of their own that they can bring to a fight with the president is spurious. Their grasp on the House derives not from voter sentiment but almost entirely from the line-drawers' art.

© 2012 Washington Post

Comments
Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

Editorial: St. Petersburg’s waste-to-energy to wastefulness project

A St. Petersburg waste-to-energy plant now under construction has been billed for years as an environmentally friendly money saver. Now it looks more like a boondoggle, with the cost and mission changing on the fly. It’s yet another example of a city...
Updated: 11 hours ago

‘Happy hour’ tax cuts may result in hangovers

Evidence is mounting that the $1.5 trillion tax-cut package enacted in December by congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump was a bad idea, not only for the long-run health of the economy but for the short-term political prospects of the ...
Published: 04/25/18
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18