“Everybody does it”… but do they?

A reader wrote me after last week’s issue and pointed out that as I detailed examples of states with extreme gerrymandering, I only highlighted states where Republicans redistricted to favor their party but didn’t include counter-examples where Democrats did the same thing.

His point was well-taken: Illinois and Maryland are examples of heavily gerrymandered states where Democrats used their power to rig the maps in their favor. In 2016, Maryland voted 60-35 in favor of Hillary Clinton, which makes it a clearly Democratic-leaning state, but the Democrats have 7 of 8 congressional representatives. Still, Maryland currently has a Republican governor. Right now, the gerrymandering of Maryland is being challenged before the U.S. Supreme Court.

In Illinois, Clinton won 56% of the vote in 2016 vs. Trump’s 39% — again a strongly “blue” state, but one with a Republican governor, and one where at the state-level only a small percentage of local races are competitive, arguably due to Democratic gerrymandering that protects incumbents and maintains their control of the state legislature.

Two thoughts on this…

First, while we can acknowledge that there are Democratic states where the district maps have been drawn for partisan advantage and to protect incumbents, these maps are not as extreme as what we see in places like North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. In those states, the congressional representation is wildly disproportionate to the general partisan lean of the state. Consider this chart from the Brennan Center’s excellent report, Extreme Maps, which compares statewide voting to actual seats and shows which states are most skewed:

Chart showing "skew" of states

On the Democratic side, there are only two states (Maryland and Massachusetts) where there are more than one “extra” seats. On the Republican side, there are SIX states with more than two “extra” seats gained and more than 13 states where there are at least one “extra” seats gained as a result of how the states have been mapped. When you add it all up, the overall impact on the U.S. House of Representatives is 16-29 extra Republican seatsdue to the effects of how districts have been mapped. That, effectively, is enough to determine control of the House. But don’t take my word for it: read the report for yourself.

Second, the broader point my reader made is correct: partisan gerrymandering is bad, regardless of which side does it. Politicians should never be picking their own constituents — that’s the opposite of the way democracy is supposed to work.

And that’s why all of us should support efforts to take politics out of redistricting efforts in every state and turn to independent or court-drawn efforts to handle redistricting.

While independent commissions aren’t perfect or without controversy, the data clearly show that in states where independent commissions or courts draw the maps, representation is fairer and far less skewed than in states where legislatures draw the district lines.

This fall, seven states have ballot initiatives to establish independent commissions, and two states are trying to change the system through their legislature. In six states, independent redistricting commissions already exist.  All of this is a trend in the right direction.


More Election and voting rights news you might have missed this week…



Donald Trump making dumb facesI’m going to mark this down on my calendar, but for once, I think Trump is totally right: we should get rid of the Electoral College and pick the President by popular vote. Even a broken, lying, racist, and narcissistic clock is right twice a day. (Luke Darby, GQ)


2. A Federal Appeals Court upholds Texas Voter ID law

A seemingly never-ending battle over Texas’ voter restriction efforts reached a likely decisive moment this week. As ThinkProgress puts it, the “right to vote just suffered one of its worst losses of the Trump era.” The U.S. Supreme Court is extremely unlikely to overturn this ruling. (Ian MillhiserThinkProgress)


3. Revised Justice Department U.S. Attorneys’ Manual deletes references to gerrymandering

Somewhere, Orwell is smiling. (Zoe Tillman, Buzzfeed)


4. “Pennsylvania ‘would get an F’ on voting machine security”

It might be time to put those tin foil hats back on. Pennsylvania electronic ballots are dangerously vulnerable to attack. (Freda Savana, Bucks Country Courier Times)