Election Shows Gerrymandering Issues 11/18 10:27
(AP) -- With an election looming, courts earlier this year declared
congressional districts in two states to be unconstitutional partisan
gerrymanders. One map was redrawn. The other was not.
The sharply contrasting outcomes that resulted on Election Day in
Pennsylvania and North Carolina illustrate the importance of how political
lines are drawn --- and the stakes for the nation because that process helps
determine which party controls Congress.
Pennsylvania flipped from a solid Republican congressional delegation to one
evenly split under a map redrawn by court order, contributing to the Democratic
takeover of the U.S. House. Despite an almost even split in the popular vote,
North Carolina's congressional delegation remained overwhelmingly Republican
under a map drawn by the GOP.
"We did everything we could," Democrat Kathy Manning said. "But we just
could not overcome the gerrymandering, and that's the way the district was
designed to run."
Manning held more than 400 campaign events, contacted tens of thousands of
voters and had outspent the Republican incumbent in North Carolina's 13th
District --- but still lost by 6 percentage points in a district Republicans
drew to favor their candidates.
Partisan gerrymandering has been carried out by both Democrats and
Republicans throughout U.S. history. But an Associated Press statistical
analysis based on 2016 election data found that more states had
Republican-tilted districts than Democratic ones. Some of the largest GOP
congressional advantages were in North Carolina and Pennsylvania, where
Republicans fully controlled redistricting after the 2010 Census.
One of the Democrats' biggest edges was in Maryland, where they were in
charge of the last redistricting.
A follow-up AP analysis using preliminary 2018 election data shows the
Republican statistical edge was cut in half under Pennsylvania's new
court-ordered congressional map but grew even larger in North Carolina.
Though an increasing number of states have adopted independent commissions,
many states still rely on lawmakers and governors to draw legislative and
congressional districts. Republicans controlled that process in far more states
than Democrats because of their electoral success nationwide in 2010. Those
maps were in place for the Nov. 6 elections, except in places where courts
ordered them redrawn, and will be again in 2020.
The results have national implications: Democrats potentially could have won
even more seats in the U.S. House and state legislatures had it not been for
North Carolina is a prime example of gerrymandering's consequences.
Republicans and Democrats in this month's elections split the total votes
cast for major party candidates in the state's 13 congressional districts about
evenly, with Republicans getting 51 percent (a figure that is slightly inflated
because one GOP incumbent ran unopposed). Yet Republicans won 10 of those
races, about three-quarters of the total seats.
That equates to a pro-Republican tilt of nearly 26 percent under an
"efficiency gap" analysis that provides a statistical way of measuring the
partisan advantages that can stem from gerrymandering. That figure was up from
about 20 percent in 2016.
By comparison, Democrats in Pennsylvania received 54 percent of this year's
total two-party vote for congressional candidates, including one race where a
Democratic incumbent ran unopposed. Democrats and Republicans each won 9 seats
under a map drawn by the Democratic-tilted state Supreme Court with the
assistance of an outside expert.
That marked a significant shift from the 13-5 Republican majority in the
state's congressional delegation during the three previous general elections
under a map that had been enacted in 2011 by the Republican-led Legislature and
Pennsylvania's pro-Republican "efficiency gap" fell from 16 percent in the
AP's 2016 analysis to 7 percent under this year's court-drawn map --- a level
that some political scientists attribute to the high concentrations of
Democrats in urban areas that make it more difficult for them to win elsewhere.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew districts after it ruled that partisan
gerrymandering in the old map infringed on a state right to "free and equal"
elections. One of the Democrats who sued was Bill Marx, a high school civics
teacher in Pittsburgh who said he feared that legislative gerrymandering was
building apathy and cynicism in the next generation of voters.
Marx said he believes the new district boundaries resulted in "a more fair
congressional representation of the will of the people in Pennsylvania."
But Pennsylvania Republican Party spokesman Jason Gottesman said the new map
"put Democrats at an unfair advantage in this election." Republicans contend
the court overstepped its powers by adopting new districts, a duty that belongs
to the Legislature.
"The Pennsylvania Supreme Court robbed us of at least three to four
congressional seats that we might not have lost if the redistricting would not
have happened the way that it did," Gottesman said.
While Republicans are fuming in Pennsylvania, Democrats remain frustrated in
North Carolina. There, the GOP-drawn congressional boundaries pack Democratic
voters into three highly concentrated districts. Republicans are spread more
evenly across the other 10 districts.
Republicans "have gerrymandered the heck out of lots of different places,"
said Democratic voter Melinda Wilkinson, a retired music teacher from Raleigh.
She added: "It seems very unfair."
Republican state Rep. David Lewis, who helped shepherd the congressional map
through North Carolina's GOP-led General Assembly, acknowledged politics played
a role in the districts but said there is no evidence that Democratic voters
were prevented from "fully participating and exercising their right to choose
the candidates of their choice."
In August, federal judges ruled that North Carolina's congressional
districts violate protections for Democratic voters but determined there wasn't
enough time to redraw them before the Nov. 6 elections. The U.S. Supreme Court
is considering whether to hear an appeal in that case.
For state legislative districts, the AP's analysis has found some of the
largest partisan advantages in Michigan and Wisconsin. Democrats won 52 percent
of the total major party vote for the Michigan House this year and flipped
several Republican-held districts, yet Republicans still won 53 percent of the
Republicans controlled Michigan's last redistricting by holding the
governor's office and both legislative chambers. They won't control the next
redistricting: A Democrat won the governor's race, but voters made that
irrelevant by approving a constitutional amendment shifting redistricting to an
In Wisconsin, a federal judicial panel invalidated the state Assembly
districts as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander in 2016. But the U.S.
Supreme Court overturned that in June and sent the case back to the lower court
to establish whether there was harm to particular voters. A new trial is set
Preliminary results from the 2018 elections show Wisconsin Democrats
received 54 percent of the total votes cast for major party Assembly candidates
--- a figure inflated by the fact that Democrats ran unopposed in 30 districts
compared to just eight for Republicans.
Yet Republicans won 63 of the 99 Assembly seats, just one less than their
pre-election majority. That marks an increase in the pro-Republican "efficiency
gap" from about 10 percent in 2016 to almost 15 percent this year. Democrats
also won or are leading in elections for all of Wisconsin's statewide offices,
showing voter support for their candidates in races that are not affected by
Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos called it a "faulty premise" to say
that Republicans' legislative majority is due to gerrymandering.
"We are the ones who have been given a mandate to govern," Vos said.
But Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said "Wisconsin's gerrymandered
maps worked exactly as Republicans intended." He said non-competitive districts
have made it increasingly difficult for Democrats to recruit candidates and
Wisconsin Progress, an organization that recruits and trains liberal
candidates, said 30 of the 31 Democratic candidates it backed in
Republican-held Assembly districts ended up losing in the Nov. 6 elections.
"No matter what happens, no matter who's in the White House or what the
national trends are or how much money you have, you just can't beat
gerrymandered seats," said Eric Couto, executive director of Wisconsin
Progress. "That's the whole point of gerrymandering."