Changing a System that Lets Losers Win

In our electoral system, you need not go far to find something broken. In the world of broken political workings, however, there may be nothing more broken than the undemocratic way we elect our U.S. House of Representatives. Specifically, the party that wins the most votes does not necessarily win control of the body, and that is precisely what happened last week. Nationwide, Democratic House candidates received about 500,000 more votes than their Republican counterparts, but nonetheless, will begin the next legislative session firmly in the minority with 40 fewer congressional seats than Republicans (234 Republicans to 197 Democrats—4 races still undecided). This kind of undemocratic result comes about because of gerrymandering and our collective unwillingness to figure out a fair way of drawing congressional lines.

Congressional lines necessarily have to be redrawn every 10 years when the census figures are released. Lines need to be drawn to account for the losing or gaining of congressional seats, but also to account for shifting populations so that all districts have approximately the same number of people (thereby preserving the principle of one person, one vote). In an ideal world, this redrawing of congressional lines would be a mundane activity carried out by disinterested bureaucrats. However, this is a hyper-partisan process fueled by big money in order to stack the deck against one party and in favor of another.

Unfortunately for Democrats, they faired very poorly in the 2010 elections. Republicans took over many state legislatures and governorships, and these bodies redrew the lines in 2011. Hyper-partisanship combined with improving technology allowed these Republican-controlled states to redraw the lines in a way that stacked the deck more effectively than anyone had seen before. Four states deserve particular attention:

Michigan

  • Voter Registration: 40% Democrat; 33% Republican (+7% Democrat)
  • Obama – 54.3%; Romney – 44.8%; (Obama +9.5%)
  • 14 Congressional House Seats: 9 Republicans; 5 Democrats

North Carolina

  • Voter Registration: 45% Democrat; 32% Republican (+13% Democrat)
  • Romney – 50.6%; Obama – 48.4% (Romney +2.2%)
  • 13 Congressional House Seats: 9 Republicans; 3 Democrats (one race still undecided)

Ohio

  • Voter Registration: 37% Democrat; 36% Republican (+1% Republican)
  • Obama – 50.1%; Romney – 48.2%; (Obama +1.9%)
  • 16 Congressional House Seats: 12 Republicans; 4 Democrats

Pennsylvania

  • Voter Registration: 51% Democrat; 37% Republicans (+14% Democrat)
  • Obama – 52.0%; Romney – 46.8%; (Obama +5.8%)
  • 18 Congressional House Seats: 13 Republicans; 5 Democrats

What we see from these numbers is four states that are anywhere from politically middle-of-the-road (OH and NC) to leaning pretty firmly left (PA and MI). Despite these demographics, Democrats control just 17 of these four state’s 61 congressional seats (just 28%!).

Had these four states drawn their congressional maps in a way that accurately reflected the people who live in those districts, Democrats may very well have taken control of the United States House of Representatives, and suddenly the political and legislative future looks much different. Instead, we have disingenuous Republican Congressmen claiming Republicans actually have a mandate to keep taxes low on the rich because they retained control of the House. You really have to be in awe of the chutzpah of these guys.

Democrats also have the problem of conceding many of those areas where they could easily do the same thing. For example, California—the state that has more congressional seats than any other at 53—is a solidly Democratic state. Obama beat Romney by over 21 percentage points and Democrats control all levers of power. They could really use that power to gerrymander the hell out of the state and help Democrats. Instead, the state has created a citizen commission to redraw lines. Despite the heavy leanings of the state, the commission is made up of 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 4 unaffiliated voters. While I admire the effort to remove politics from the process, I can’t say I support the unilateral draw down while the other side ramps up their efforts to hamstring Democrats wherever possible. Be wary of any effort to bring about the same thing in your state. If you are in a red state, efforts to depoliticize the redrawing process are almost certainly being brought by a blue organization, and vice versa.

I found a five-minute video below that very succinctly and interestingly summarizes the problem of our current system, and shows how it can be improved upon. Hopefully enough people get this issue on their radars and we can begin to do something about it.

– Dylan

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7 Responses to “Changing a System that Lets Losers Win”

  1. Now I understand why you said dems have to stop loosing in years that end in 0.

  2. Maryland is a key example of extreme gerrymandering by Democrats.

    Would you advocate for MMP representation? I’m not sure where the political will (let alone attention and understanding) for that change would come from.

    • Shawn – I strongly support MMP not only because it would eliminate the problems outlined in this article, but also because it would create thriving third parties.

      I have mixed feelings about Maryland. While I cannot approve of the tactics, I can’t call for them to make it fairer because we need some states to counteract the Ohio, Pennsylviania, Michigan, and North Carolinas. Oregon is in a similar boat. Democrats have a 13% edge in registration, but have made 4 of the 5 congressional seats pretty safe Democratic seats and have stuffed as many R’s as possible in the 5th seat.

      – Dylan

  3. What you are assuming is that all those that are registered with a particular party vote for that party. I know several people (myself included) that may be registered with a particular party, but vote for the candidate they believe will be best suited to the job, regardless of that candidate’s party affiliation. So, while a person may be registered as a Republican, they may have voted for Obama (I know several of them) and a republican congressman and a Democrat that voted for Obama, may have indeed voted for a Republican congressman.

    • That is a fair point except that we know how everyone voted. A majority of Americans voted for Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives and we ended up with a decisive Republican majority in the House. When an electoral outcome defies the majority’s will, that is undemocratic. I am simply calling for reforms that would eliminate the kind of skullduggery that allows for this to happen.
      – Dylan

  4. Best article written on Bluebros.

  5. […] Republicans have performed nothing short of a mathematical miracle for themselves. As I discussed a while ago on this blog, in the states of Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania—four states that […]

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