Monday, August 15, 2016

Partisan Gerrymandering

Partisan gerrymandering is held up as a political evil responsible for obstructionism, gridlock, and people being disenfranchised. Without it, things would be right in the political world. Or at least better. There’s a lawsuit in North Carolina that’s attempting to end partisan gerrymandering. I’ll leave the merits of the suit and it’s possibility for success to legal scholars.

Those who want to end partisan gerrymandering point to how Democrats won 51% of the North Carolina House of Representatives vote in 2012 and only won 4 congressional districts. Thus, there must be something wrong and a remedy to make it right. It’s unclear what right is. Is it that a party should win the proportional number of seats to the statewide vote or that the lines should be drawn without partisanship in mind?

These are two different things. If we draw districts to ensure each party wins a certain number of seats, we’re hoping to make the districts safer and less competitive. After all, if the seats are toss-ups one party can win a disproportionate number in close races. If you don’t think that can happen you didn’t notice that Democrats won all 7 2014 California congressional races decided by 6 points or less and all 9 of those decided by 12 points or less.

California is a very interesting counterpoint when it comes to this issue. The districts were drawn by a non-partisan commission. While there are some quibbles, and I’ve expressed a few here, those quibbles are minor. At worst, the commission did a good job in California. Democrats now hold a 39-14 advantage in the California delegation and they might even take more Republican held seats in November.

Statewide Republicans usually get about 42% of the vote. Neel Kashkari got 40% in his 2014 run for governor. Mitt Romney got 38% of the two party vote in 2012. That’s about the worst a Republican will do statewide. Yet, 38-42% of the vote would get the GOP 20-22 congressional seats proportionally. So even a non-partisan commission shortchanges one party tremendously.

Currently Republicans hold an 18-9 edge in Florida congressional seats, even though the state has been fairly even statewide. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that the districts had been drawn by Republicans to favor Republicans. They ordered them redrawn. The Republicans did that and the Supreme Court was satisfied. The net result is that Democrats will definitely pick up a Republican seat, Republicans will pick up a Democratic seat, while two Republican and one Democratic seat are in play. The best outcome this year could result in Democrats still having a 16-11 disadvantage.

That’s without gerrymandering. This happens in Florida, and most other states, because Democrats tend to have huge advantages in urban districts and Republicans have smaller advantages in suburban and rural districts. Districts drawn along geographic lines are almost always going to favor Republicans. They do favor Democrats in California because the urban areas are incredibly large and have a lot more districts than urban areas in other states.

If you put an end to partisan gerrymandering you’ll probably see 1 seat in many states move from safe for the party that drew it to safe for the other party and a couple of other semi-safe seats be competitive. Most of the seats will remain non-competitive. So if the end game of getting rid of partisan gerrymandering is to make more competitive districts and make people feel like their vote counts, they won’t succeed even if the lawsuit does. They’ll only succeed if the end game is to put an end to partisan gerrymandering because it feels wrong. Is that really a worthwhile goal?

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