GOP Gerrymanders Its Way To Victory

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).

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  • Ray Buckley

    Both Boehner and Bragdon owe their office and majorities due to GOP rigging the election not by any mandate by the voters.

    Without the Republican gerrymanding of the US House and NH State Senate last year Democrats would have won both chambers.

    If you take the old state senate districts and place the votes of the 2012 candidates Democrats won 14 seats – no wonder Bragdon gave his Chief of Staff a 25% pay raise last month. It is widely believed that his CoS, Jay Flanders, created the gerrymandered districts.

    Boehner and Bragdon should keep that in mind as this term begins.

  • Mike Hoefer

    What needs to happen to have a non-partisan redistricting commission in place for 2020?

    Particularly for the Senate and EC (more challenging for the House) I maintain there are very few ways you can divide the state up if you stay true to actual, real communities of interest.

    • Ray Buckley

      It shouldn’t be a law because if GOP has majority they can simply repeal law in their redistricting bill.

      It needs to be a constitutional amendment (what a great idea for Jim Splaine to champion!!)

      • Rep. Jim Splaine

        We have had proposals in the past, supported mostly by Democrats, and unfortunately opposed mostly by Republicans.  Republicans like to talk about fairness, but they sure don’t favor it with their votes.  

        I tend to think that the current House Election Committee, with its makeup and Nashua Rep. David Cote as chair, could do it this time, if they could loosen up some Senate Republicans.  There must be one or two Republicans in the Senate who could shake away from their majority.  Some of those Senate districts on the map are sure tough to justify.

        Let’s hope they also revisit the so-called Voter ID law too, and create a real disclosure procedure that doesn’t include red tape but does the job of letting us know who’s buying our votes, and why.  

  • occupythebillofrights

    A supper majority of voters overwhelmingly supported and passed a 2006 amendment to the New Hampshire Constitution to ensure and guarantee that voters in each town receive their own representative.

    O’Brien’s 2010 redistricting plan was an utterly egregious act of gerrymandering in complete contempt of the New Hampshire Constitution.  

  • Aahz

    Wouldn’t a better solution for a Presidential election simply be to remove the electoral college all together? Then, instead of having 51 elections for President there would truly only be one: winner take all.

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