Friday, October 28, 2016

Obama wants to fight gerrymandering once he leaves office. He should look to Canada for advice.

Andrew Prokop · Tuesday, October 25, 2016, 10:59 am

If Donald Trump wants to complain about US elections being "rigged," he should stop fantasizing about practically nonexistent voter fraud, and turn his attention to the US House of Representatives.

When Americans voted for the House in 2012, Democratic candidates won 1.4 million more votes than Republicans. Yet after the dust settled, the GOP ended up with a 234-201 majority in the chamber. And notably, in several states, Republicans had won about half or even less of the votes cast in House races — but ended up with a far greater share of the states' Congressional seats:

In contrast, the GOP won a national landslide in 2014. But despite winning big victories in these same four states, they only picked up one new House seat overall among them (in North Carolina). That's because Republicans had already won nearly all of the competitive seats two years earlier.

This discrepancy exists at least in part because of gerrymandering — and it’s one big reason it will be really difficult for Democrats to retake the House even in a year when Trump seems likely to go down to a big defeat.

Leading Democrats have in fact grown so concerned about gerrymandering that former Attorney General Eric Holder is chairing a new group meant to fight it — a group President Obama intends to make "the main focus of his political activity once he leaves office," according to Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere.

Now, gerrymandering isn't the only reason that election results only occasionally match vote totals. "Does redistricting explain why Democrats got a majority of the votes, but not a majority of the seats [in 2012]? Probably not," Eric McGhee, a fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California, told me in 2014. Indeed, while analysts are split on this topic, several have concluded that simple geography matters more — many Democratic voters are packed closer together in urban areas.

And of course, gerrymandering doesn't always benefit Republicans. Some states, like Illinois and Maryland, are gerrymandered in favor of Democrats. There are just fewer of those states, since Republicans controlled so many state legislatures handling redistricting after their 2010 landslide.

Still, gerrymandering infuriates voters because it feels so unfair. Letting partisan politicians — or their appointees — draw congressional districts reverses the normal order of politics. Voters are supposed to choose their politicians. Gerrymandering lets politicians choose their voters.

So if Holder and Obama are serious about ending gerrymandering — rather than just reworking it so that it benefits Democrats — they should look north for some advice.

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