This is America, right? Every vote counts. Well, thanks to the magic of gerrymandering,it turns out some votes count more than others.
Gerrymandering is the process of drawing political boundaries to favor one’s own party. Every 10 years, political redistricting occurs – new boundaries are drawn. Within most states, the process is regulated by the state legislature and the governor. In 2010, Republicans scored sweeping victories in many states leaving the GOP in control of not only state legislatures, but also governorships.
When a party controls both the state legislature and the governorship, it pretty much dictates redistricting within that state. The party then works the system to its advantage by clustering as many voters of the opposing party into as few districts as possible, leaving the bulk of the districts safely under its control. The opposing party may win those few districts where its voters are concentrated by huge margins, but the size of its victories is irrelevant. Whether it wins a district with 51 percent of the vote or 99 percent of the vote, it still gains control over only that one district. All those surplus votes exceeding 51 percent might have been better used to win other districts.
Let’s see how gerrymandering by Republicans affected the 2012 election. As a result of the Republican landslide in 2010, the GOP found itself in control of both the legislatures and the governor’s office in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. So Republicans used that power to draw political boundaries which would be favorable to the GOP in the 2012 election.
Did it work? Obama beat Romney 54.3 percent to 44.8 percent in Michigan, almost 10 points. So, in the presidential election, Michigan stayed blue. Gerrymandering didn’t work.
Not so fast. A state boundary is a state boundary. Gerrymandering can’t change state boundaries. But it can change legislative and congressional districts within that state, in this case Michigan. In legislative races in Michigan, Democrats received 347,630 more votes overall than Republicans, nevertheless, the GOP won 59 districts and Democrats only 51. Gerrymandering by the GOP worked.
In congressional contests in Michigan, Democrats got 241,181 more votes overall than Republicans, but the GOP won 9 congressional seats and Democrats only 5. GOP gerrymandering worked again.
What about Wisconsin? Obama won the state getting 52.8 percent of the vote to Romney’s 46.1 percent, almost a 7 percent victory for Obama. And Democratic candidates for Congress received 43,319 more votes overall than Republicans. But, because of GOP gerrymandering, Republicans won 5 congressional seats and Democrats only 3.
Did the same thing happen in Pennsylvania? Obama got 52.0 percent of the vote, Romney only 46.8 percent. Obama won Pennsylvania by about 5 points. And Democratic congressional candidates got 84,008 more votes overall than their Republican opponents. Yet, due to gerrymandering, Republicans won 13 congressional seats; Democrats only 5.
It might be argued that either party can gerrymander political boundaries when it finds itself in control of the redistricting process. However, a light bulb went on in some Republican brains when they saw how well gerrymandering helped them gain legislative and congressional majorities in states where they lost the popular vote. As a result, some Republicans are preparing to do something which no party has dared to attempt – gerrymander the presidential election.
Here’s how presidential gerrymandering would work. A presidential candidate would get one electoral vote for each congressional district that person won in the state and two more for winning the popular vote there. Republicans would gerrymander the process by drawing congressional boundaries favorable to the GOP much as they did in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the 2012 election.
According to Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, if electoral votes in each of the 50 states were determined by this system which allows gerrymandering, Mitt Romney would have won the 2012 presidential election 276 electoral votes to 262 for Obama, despite losing the nationwide popular vote to Obama by almost 3 million votes.
And this movement toward a gerrymandered presidential election could be initiated in any state where the GOP controls both the legislature and the governorship.
You know what I would like to see? I would like to see Republicans conduct a fair election for a change. No Republican attempts at voter suppression of Democratic constituencies (the poor, elderly, the handicapped, minorities, and students) by the use of photo IDs. No Republicans attempts to suppress Democratic votes by reducing early voting days. No Republican attempts to gerrymander political districts.
Instead, just have Republican candidates stand up and frankly tell voters what their party stands for. Hmm, I think I see the problem. When faced with the unvarnished truth, voters won’t support Republicans. So, I expect this isn’t the last we will see of political tricks by the GOP.
Note: This blog has relied heavily on statistical data provided by TRMS (12/12/2012).