• December 7, 2012

    by Heejin Hwang

    Not long after the 2012 elections, TPM’s Sahil Kapur asked several elections experts how right-wing lawmakers were able to so easily hold their majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, especially since capturing that chamber in 2010 Republican leadership had engaged in obstructionism and promoted the loopy and wildly unpopular idea of privatizing Medicare.

    Sam Wang, a Princeton University professor and co-manager of the Princeton Election Consortium, told Kapur, “The big factors are redistricting and incumbency. In the last few years, Republican-controlled legislatures were very effective at redrawing districts to favor their side. Gerrymandering gave them a built-in advantage of 1.25 percent of vote margin even before a single vote is cast. Incumbency also has its advantages, which is good for another 1.25 percent ….”

    Other states, such as California and Arizona have taken action to lessen partisanship in the creation of voting districts.

    In Nov. 2010, in adherence with the California Voters FIRST Act, State Auditor Elaine Howle randomly selected in lottery like fashion eight members the California Citizens Redistricting Commission (CRC). Two months later, the full-fledged 14-member independent commission embarked on transforming 2010 Census data into State Assembly, State Senate, and congressional district lines.

  • November 28, 2012

    by E. Sebastian Arduengo

    Gerrymandering is such a tried and tested electioneering technique that one might think that the founders intended for political parties to draw boundaries for congressional districts to suit their interests. Given that one of the first uses of the gerrymander was on the part of Anti-Federalists in Virginia to keep James Madison out of the House of Representatives that may well be the case. But, after a round of district drawing following the 2010 census, have the parties finally taken it too far? Now that the 2012 election results are in, for the most part, we can see the effect of partisan redistricting on the composition of the House. While that effect probably wasn’t enough to shift control of the House to the Democrats, it was enough to heavily dilute Democratic voters in several key states.

    But, before getting into that, what allows political parties to exercise so much control over the process of drawing congressional districts in the first place? The Constitution mandates that congressional districts be re-drawn after every census to reflect changes in population distribution; but how this is accomplished is largely left to states’ discretion. The two bedrock principles all states are supposed to abide by are “one person, one vote,” the idea that voters in different districts should have roughly equivalent voting power; and that districts cannot be drawn for the purpose of diluting minority voting power. However, in League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, the Supreme Court largely rejected a challenge brought by Texas voters that the redistricting scheme dreamed up by the Republican legislature was wholly unconstitutional, in part because the justices believed that there was no workable test for judging partisan excess.