Gerrymandering – Who Does It?

The Supreme Court is now considering cases on gerrymandering in Maryland and Wisconsin.  This is a test case that Democrats have been demanding but they refuse to admit that they have actively engaged in gerrymandering congressional and legislative seats as much as Republicans have engaged in the practice.  The problem, from a Democrat perspective, is that Republicans had a strong showing in state races just after the last census and thus the had the power to draw districts .  This has allowed Republicans to control the House of Representatives and State Legislatures.  Since 2010 Democrats have huffed and puffed about this claimed the Republicans were unfairly suppressing the vote and all sorts of shenanigans.  I even had one uninformed Democrat tell me the only reason the Republicans controlled the U.S. Senate was because of gerrymandering.  I am not really sure how you gerrymander a state wide election but he was convinced it was true.

What most Democrats have conveniently forgotten is the Burton brothers, John and Phil, and how they redrew districts in California to favor Democrats and eliminate Republicans.  The late Phil Burton, in 1981, drew congressional maps so partisan he described them a “my contribution to modern art.”  By the 2008 some of the voters had tired of this maneuver by Democrats that they brought Proposition 11 to the ballot.  This would have shifted legislative redistricting to a commission and then they followed that up with Proposition 20 in 2010 to give the same commission the authority to draw congressional districts.  It is interesting to note that Democrats like Nancy Pelosi vehemently opposed these two initiatives and the Democrats sponsored another initiative, Proposition 27, that would have repealed the independent commission altogether.  Prop 27 failed and the commission began redrawing the districts.  They are still not entirely fair but they are a lot better than what Phil Burton created.

Now before you applaud this change to independent commissions let me offer a bit of caution.  In 2010 Arizona adopted an independent commission to draw their congressional districts.  The commission would consist of two Republicans, two Democrats and an Independent.  It tuned out that Colleen Mathis, the Independent, tended to lean toward the Democrats and they drew districts very favorable to Democrats.  At the time Arizona had a Republican governor, two Republican Senators and a state legislature that was strongly Republican.  In addition, about 150,000 more Republicans had voted in the previous election.  By most analysts reasoning the delegation should be split with 7 Republicans and 2 Democrats.  Both Ed Pastor and Raul Grijalva should be safe Democrats and 4 of the other seven should be safe Republican with the other 3 leaning Republican.  The results of this redraw ended up with 5 Democrats and 4 Republicans.  If you look at the following tables you can see how this worked to the Democrats advantage.

 

District Party Candidate Votes Percentage
1 Democrat

Republican

Libertarian

Ann Kirkpatrick

Jonathan Paton

Kim Allen

122,774

113,594

15,227

48.79%

45.14%

6.05%

2 Democrat

Republican

Ron Barber

Martha McSally

147,338

144,884

50.41%

49.57%

3 Democrat

Republican

Libertarian

Raul Grijalva

Gabriella Mercer

Bianca Guerra

98,468

62,663

7,567

58.36%

37.14%

4.48%

4 Republican

Democrat

Libertarian

Independent

Paul Gosar

Johnnie Robinson

Joe Pamelia

Richard Grayson

162,907

69,154

9,306

2,393

67.1%

28.4%

3.8%

1%

5 Republican

Democrat

Matt Salmon

Spencer Morgan

183,470

89,589

67.19%

32.81%

6 Republican

Democrat

Libertarian

Green

David Schweikert

Matt Jette

Jack Anderson

Mark Salazar

179,706

97,666

10,167

5,637

61.29%

33.31%

3.46%

1.92%

7 Democrat

Libertarian

Ed Pastore

Joe Cobb

194,889

23,338

81.74%

18.25%

8 Republican

Democrat

Independent

Trent Franks

Gene Scharer

Stephen Dolgos

172,809

95,635

4,347

63.34%

35.055

1.59%

9 Democrat

Republican

Libertarian

Krysten Sinema

Vernon Parker

Powell Gammill

121,881

111,630

16,620

48.725

44.62%

6.64%

 

A careful look at this data shows exactly what happened.  In the two heavily Hispanic Districts (3 and 7) near Tucson the Democrats won easily as was expected.  In the four Republican Districts in the Phoenix area (District 2 crept towards Tucson) the Republicans piled up 60% plus majorities.  In the three other districts the Democrats eked out close wins.  By herding the Republicans into Districts 4,5,6 & 8 the commission was able to create districts where Democrats could win.  By simply making the other four Republican districts more competitive you would have probably see and split of 7-2 with Republicans winning the seats.  In total you have 1,131,663 Republicans casting ballots and 1,037,402 Democrats voting.  If you take away the totals from District 7 where no Republican ran the Democrat total is 842,513.  Clearly more Republicans were voting in the election yet gerrymandering by the committee skewed the results.

I would not want you to think that I would ignore Republican efforts at gerrymandering.  They were late comers to the game but they have become more proficient.  After the 1990 census the use of computers in district modeling were widely available.  In Georgia  the Republicans had struggled to win a majority of Congressional seats and saw this as an opportunity.  They approached the African American leadership in the state and proposed to draw the districts in a manner that would ensure three black majority districts.  This would then allow Republicans do move black voters into districts while diluting their voting power in seat then held by Democrats. In 2018 Georgia has 14 members of Congress and 10 of them are Republicans.  The 4 Democrats are all African American.

In an article in USA Today former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley calls for an end to gerrymandering but admits that he fully engaged in the process as a governor.  Since he has political aspirations at the Presidential level on the Democratic ticket it appears to be a bit self-serving to make this demand now.  He could have done something about it when he was in the state house.  But this is the Democrat mantra these days, finding excuses for why they cannot win elections outside of urban areas and gerrymandering is their latest claim.  Seems they have changed their tune since losing power.

I don’t have a perfect solution to the problem.  There is simply no simple way to create legislative and congressional districts that are free of bias.  For that reason I have come to the conclusion that it would be best if it were left to state legislatures.  They are a group that can be held accountable by the voters and simply voted out of office if the public becomes disenchanted with how they conducted the process.

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