Why is the US House of Representatives controlled by Republicans in 2013 when Democrats won the Presidency and picked up seats in the US Senate? The answer is not that Republicans outvoted the Democrats when it came to voting for Congress. In fact its the opposite. Sam Wang in a New York Times opinion piece entitled “The Great Gerrymander of 2012“, points out that:
” Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin. This is only the second such reversal since World War II.”
The fact of the matter is that Republicans had an organized strategy and carried it out to gain control of the redistricting process in a number of key state in the 2010 elections. Controlling redistricting controlled the process of setting new boundaries for Congressional races after the 2010 Census was completed. As Sam Wang notes:
“Through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side of every election. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based political group dedicated to electing state officeholders, recently issued a progress report on Redmap, its multiyear plan to influence redistricting. The $30 million strategy consists of two steps for tilting the playing field: take over state legislatures before the decennial Census, then redraw state and Congressional districts to lock in partisan advantages. The plan was highly successful. …
Gerrymandering is not hard. The core technique is to jam voters likely to favor your opponents into a few throwaway districts where the other side will win lopsided victories, a strategy known as “packing.” Arrange other boundaries to win close victories, “cracking” opposition groups into many districts. Professionals use proprietary software to draw districts, but free software like Dave’s Redistricting App lets you do it from your couch. “
The states with the largest imbalance of voting for Republicans and Democrats for Congress and Republican versus Democratic votes cast statewide were – Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North Carolina and Florida which had a severe imbalance in favor of Republicans. Arizona had a severe imbalance in favor of Democrats. Texas and Illinois had a moderate imbalance toward Democrats while Indiana had a moderate imbalance toward Republicans.
The net result of these imbalances heavily favored Republicans because of the gerrymandering that occurred. Republicans in these states had a 7% greater vote than the Democrats. But in terms of electing members to the House of Representatives this 7% advantage was dwarfed by their electing 76% more Republicans than Democrats. These 10 states elected 109 Republican Congressman to the House but only 62 Democrats.
As Wang notes:
In the seven states where Republicans redrew the districts, 16.7 million votes were cast for Republicans and 16.4 million votes were cast for Democrats. This elected 73 Republicans and 34 Democrats. Given the average percentage of the vote it takes to elect representatives elsewhere in the country, that combination would normally require only 14.7 million Democratic votes. Or put another way, 1.7 million votes (16.4 minus 14.7) were effectively packed into Democratic districts and wasted.
The National Conference of State Legislatures lists states with Redistricting Commissions as of 2009. The composition of a Redistricting Commission is important. While Ohio has a Redistricting Commission, it was comprised of a Board consisting “of the governor, auditor, secretary of state, and two people selected by the legislative leaders of each major political party”. Republicans had 4 of the 5 seats, having elected a Republican Governor, Auditor and Secretary of State in 2010. With this Republican partisan redistricting, Ohio’s Republican Congressional Dominance continued. In 2010 Republicans had 13 seats to the Democrats having 5. In 2012, having lost 2 seats due to population changes nationwide, the Republicans however continued their dominance with 12 seats to the Democrats having 4. This was despite Obama winning Ohio by 2,827,621 votes to Romney’s 2,661,407 votes and electing a Democratic US Senator, Sherrod Brown, by a vote of 2,762,690 to 2,435,712 over his Republican opponent.
Sam Wang suggests that such voting disparities between total statewide Democratic to Republican votes and the differing outcome of Congressional races should be addressed by setting up nonpartisan Redistricting Commissions not subject to blatant partisan makeup like in Ohio or subject to which party controls the process in the Legislature because they are the majority party. This would certainly more accurately reflect the national and state political makeup and not give disproportionate representation to one party over the other based on election results in other races that can be gamed. He also said there needs to be stronger judicial review of gerrymandering to ensure a fairer voting outcome.
Washington State voters in 1983 approved Amendment 74 to set up an independent Redistricting Commission. It set up a Commission of 5 members, 1 each selected by the Washington State House and Senate majority and minority leaders in the Legislature and the 5th member selected by the 4 appointed members.The measure was put on the ballot by the Washington State Legislature as a proposed amendment to the Washington State Constitution and passed with a 61% yes vote. The Washington State League of Women Voters was one of the primary forces behind the measure. Washington State was the third state in the country to enact an independent Redistricting Commission.
Washington state in 2012 picked up an additional Congressional seat and elected 6 Democrats and 4 Republicans to the US House of Representatives. President Obama received 56.16% of the vote in Washington State. Senator Maria Cantwell (D) won with 60.45% of the vote. The 10 Democratic candidates for the US House of Representatives received 54.43% of the vote. (1,636,726 votes out of 3,007,096 votes). So Washington State having elected 6 Democrats to the US House out of 10 seats is pretty close to the statewide Democratic voting average. (Voting numbers are from results posted on the Washington State Secretary of state’s website).