An in-depth study conducted by the Associated Press (AP) confirms critics’ worst fears about gerrymandering.
The outlet’s analysis of 435 U.S. House races, and elections for more than 4,000 state legislative seats, found that Republicans were given a disproportionate advantage over Democrats by way of gerrymandering — the practice of partisan re-drawing of districts aimed at benefiting one particular party over another.
AP reporters used a formula developed by University of Chicago law professor Nick Stephanopoulos to determine the affect of gerrymandering in each Congressional and local race. The Stephanopoulos method was cited by the same federal appeals court panel that struck down a proposed district map drawn by Republicans in Wisconsin. The key point of the Stephanopoulos method is the “efficiency gap” used to measure just how much gerrymandering helped the incumbent party maintain its dominance.
Most alarmingly, the study found that in six battleground states — Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin — all six states saw significant wins for Republicans at the local and national level. This is particularly significant, as Republicans were responsible for the re-drawing of district maps following the 2010 Census.
While PBS reports that only 58 percent of registered voters turned out for the 2016 election, even higher turnout by Democrats would have likely resulted in significant Republican victories, due to the level of gerrymandering in Republican-controlled states.
“The outcome was already cooked in, if you will, because of the way the districts were drawn,” College of William & Mary professor and former Democratic Congressional candidate John McGlennon told the AP in an interview.
The AP’s analysis broke down partisan gerrymandering by looking into the level of “packing” and “cracking” in a given district. The practice of “packing” involves cramming as many Democratic voters into one district as possible in order to limit oppositional representation. “Cracking” involves breaking up a district where there’s a heavily concentrated population of Democrats in order to lump in more Republican voters and diminish Democratic influence as a result. According to the study, Republicans used a combination of both in key battleground states like Michigan to secure a high rate of success of on Election Day:
Last fall, [Michigan] voters statewide split their ballots essentially 50-50 between Republican and Democratic state House candidates. Yet Republicans won 57 percent of the House seats, claiming 63 seats to the Democrats’ 47. That amounted to an efficiency gap of 10.3 percent in favor of Michigan’s Republicans, one of the highest advantages among all states.
While the next major Congressional elections are in 2018, whomever wins the 2020 elections will have the final say in what the next series of district maps look like.
Jordan Shaw is a New Jersey-based writer and commentator specializing in national and state government issues for Grit Post. When he’s not writing, you can find him volunteering in Camden, New Jersey, or hiking the Wissahickon Valley Park.