Friday, 18 Jan 2019

One state has set its districts gerrymandered, the other not. This is how the elections were conducted in both cases.

Following this year's mid-term elections, Democrats are about to win 37 seats in the House. As many observers have pointed out, this total could have been even higher had there been no Republican gerrymandering in some states. A comparison of the results of 2018 House in two states in particular – North Carolina and Pennsylvania – provides a striking illustration of the power of gerrymandering to skew the election results.

Gerrymandering occurs when partisan lawmakers design legislative constituencies to disadvantage political opponents, either by grouping them in a small number of constituencies to limit their influence, or by dividing them across multiple constituencies in order to dilute their political influence. To see how this works in practice, look no further than North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where, after the 2010 census, Republicans drew maps to give themselves huge political benefits during races at the United States House.

How unbalanced? In 2016, the North Carolina Democrats won 47% of the popular vote in the House, but won 23% of the seats. The Democrats of Pennsylvania, meanwhile, won 48% of the vote in disputed House elections, but 27% of the seats. The big differences between popular votes and the total number of seats are one of the telltale signs of a highly gerrymander state.

But the paths of the two states have diverged after 2016. North Carolina has retained its gerrymandered districts for the 2018 elections, barely though several court rulings have ruled that the cards were unconstitutional. In Pennsylvania, by contrast, the state Supreme Court redrawed the cards earlier this year, in time for the elections, creating a much more competitive electoral landscape.

The difference in result at the ballot box is striking.

(Christopher Ingraham's illustration for the Washington Post)

North Carolina, where the old cards were still in place, obtained in 2018 an election result virtually identical to that of 2016. Despite a Democratic wave in which more than half of the voters of the state have opted for a Democratic House candidate, the Democrats won the quarter. contested seats.

In Pennsylvania, however, a majority of 53% of popular vote votes yielded half of the disputed seats – a significant difference from 2016, when 48% of the vote gave Democrats 27% of seats.

I deliberately use the word "contested" – in a small number of races in these states in recent years, one of the main parties did not run a candidate. I excluded these races from this analysis because they give rise to ballots only for a political party.

I focused on these two states because they were often categorized as The country's most confused states have taken various measures and have been the scene of intense litigation and public debates over gerrymandering this year. These are GOP gerrymanders, although it is interesting to note that Democrats know this too, Maryland being the most notable example.

Considering all the seats in these two states, whether disputed or not, the Pennsylvania delegation to the House rose from eleven Republicans and seven Democrats before the election to one division by 9 votes to 9, a much more consistent result. to the popular vote in the state than in previous years.

In North Carolina, however, the results are unchanged: the Democrats held three seats before the intermediate elections, and three, after increasing by 5 percentage points the share of the popular vote of their country in the parliamentary elections contested.

In these abstract discussions about seats and votes, it's easy to lose sight of what it means from a governance perspective. Judge James A. Wynn Jr. of the US Court of Appeals of the 4th Circuit gave a broader perspective in a judgment against the constitutionality of the gerrymandered map of North Carolina earlier this year. He lamented that state voters "have been deprived of a constitutional constituency plan of the Constitutional Congress – and therefore of constitutional representation in Congress".

Adequate congressional representation is one of the cornerstones of American democracy: the whole system is built on that foundation. Gerrymandering eats up this representation, making it difficult for voters to elect a government that represents their will.

An underestimated aspect of Tuesday's election is a shift in the balance of redistributed powers from Republicans to Democrats and independent commissions. If the Democrats continue to rely on these gains in 2020, they will have a chance to see if they are really interested in drawing more accurate cards or if they just want to tip the scales in their favor.


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