On March 2nd, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. In simple terms, the case is about who has the authority to control political redistricting in the states — the state legislature or an independent commission. In even simpler terms, the case is about legislative entitlement — in this case, the entitlement to gerrymander.

While gerrymander appears only once in the 58 page court transcript, it is a word — an issue — which has led to increasingly less competitive races for control of the U.S. House of Representatives.

For example, according to a Huffington Post article published four days after the 2012 election, “thanks in part to redistricting, Republicans will hold more than half the seats in the House while receiving less than half of overall votes.” Why? Because of redistricting and gerrymandering.

Look at the results from just two states in 2012.

In Pennsylvania, President Obama outpolled Mitt Romney with 52 percent to 46.8 percent of the vote, yet Democrats won only five of the state’s 18 seats in the House of Representatives.

And in Ohio the President defeated Gov. Romney 50.7 percent to 47.7 percent, but Democrats won only four of 16 House seats. In those two states, both won by President Obama by at least three percent, Republicans gained 25 of 34 House seats or 73.5 percent.

Nationally in 2012, Gov. Romney carried 226 House districts while President Obama carried 209, but Obama was re-elected by over four percent. And, while Democrat House candidates earned 1.4 million more votes than Republican candidates, the Democrats won just 201 of 435 seats.

Since any redistricting based on political arm-twisting will be tainted, the solution is computer algorithms that generate districts.

What did the results in 2012 bode for the 2014 elections?

In April of 2013, The Cook Political Report rolled out its’ 2014 Partisan Voter Index (PVI), which they describe as “a means of providing a more accurate picture of the competitiveness of each of the 435 congressional districts.” One of the key findings was that the total number of “swing seats” had fallen to just 90 (down from 164 when the PVI debuted in 1997) — meaning over 79 percent of Congressional Districts nationwide were considered “safe” for one political party.

But it was in just the fifth paragraph of the lengthy 2014 PVI report which contained the most prescient statistic: “Overall, there are 247 House seats more Republican than the national average, and 188 seats more Democratic. This means Democrats would need to hold all Democratic-leaning seats and win 30 Republican-leaning seats to win a majority.”

As we now know, the Democrats did not win back the majority. But, most interestingly, the final make-up of the House of Representatives after all the ballots were tallied in November of 2014 – 247 Republicans and 188 Democrats, exactly what the data said 18 months earlier.

Regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, what’s the answer for more competitive elections? Gregg Easterbrook, a contributing editor to The Atlantic and ESPN.com columnist, suggests the following: “Since any redistricting based on political arm-twisting will be tainted, the solution is computer algorithms that generate districts.

A panel of experts representing a mix of ideologies could check the algorithms for neutrality, then let a mathematical formula draw the lines. This website details the logic of neutral redistricting. A simple way to use mathematics to subdivide any number of persons into the required number of districts is shown here."

Seems to make sense to me.


Bob Bissen
About The Author Bob Bissen
Bob Bissen, a government relations and public affairs practitioner, is Senior Vice President at Cannae Policy Group in Washington, DC, and Founder and President of RJB Strategies in Annandale, VA. He was included in The Hill newspaper list of top lobbyists in 2019 and 2020.

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