But Sanford still enjoyed the advantage that most winners of congressional races in the United States have. He was nominee of the party that the district was drawn, with painstaking attention to collecting all the Republican and Republican leaning support that could be found on the South Carolina coast, to support.
Partisan redistricting—not just classic gerrymandering but a variety of structural factors—assures that the vast majority of congressional districts in the vast majority of states produce predictable results. Even if the candidate of the dominant party is flawed, even if a challenger has financial advantages, FairVote executive director Rob Richie reminds us that “partisanship is the dominant factor in determining election outcomes.”
Another reform group, Common Cause explains, “For decades partisan wrangling has led to gerrymandered redistricting maps, collusion among the major political parties to create safe Congressional and state legislative districts, and the packing and splitting of concentrations of voters to weaken or strengthen their influence to gain partisan advantage.”
Common Cause notes, correctly, that the circumstance is growing worse, explaining that “advances in information and mapping technology has enabled a level of precision in district drawing that in effect, enables legislators to choose the voters they wish to represent and makes it difficult for voters to hold their elected officials accountable.”
This is the structural reality that shapes our politics.
And it shapes the governing that extends from that politics. Almost everything about what’s happening now in Washington can be linked to the design of our congressional districts, and to the elections that shape the House of Representatives.
“On Nov. 6, Democrats won the most votes in contested House races,” explains Richie. “FairVote’s post-election analysis of partisan voting trends suggests an underlying national preference toward Democrats of 52 percent to 48 percent. (If there had been no incumbents and each party had run a candidate in every district, the Democrats would have won 52 percent of the votes.) With a comparable edge in 2010, Republicans gained sixty-four seats to take the House. But this year, winning a House majority would have required a much bigger swing toward Democrats, as much as 55 percent of the vote, a historical high.”
Ian Millhiser:Why Americans Actually Voted for a Democratic House
Based on ThinkProgress’ review of all ballots counted so far, 53,952,240 votes were cast for a Democratic candidate for the House and only 53,402,643 were cast for a Republican — meaning that Democratic votes exceed Republican votes by more than half a million.
The actual partisan breakdown of the 113th Congress will be very different, however. Currently, Republicans enjoy a 233-192 advantage over Democrats, with 10 seats remaining undecided. That means that, in a year when Republicans earned less than half the popular vote, they will control a little under 54 percent of the House even if Democrats run the table on the undecided seats.
There is a simple explanation for how this happened: Republicans won several key state legislatures and governors’ mansions in the election cycle before redistricting, and they gerrymandered those states within an inch of their lives. President Obama won Pennsylvania by more than 5 points, but Democrats carried only 5 of the state’s 18 congressional seats:
Similar stories played out elsewhere. Obama won Virginia, and Democrats took 3 of 11 House seats. Obama won Ohio, but Democrats carried only 4 of 16 seats in Ohio’s House delegation.
Every ten years, after the U.S. Census releases its latest population reports, most of the 50 states begin the complicated process of drawing new election districts. As you might expect, partisan bickering and maneuvering inevitably distort things. So a decade ago, Arizona voters decided to end the partisanship by removing the redistricting process from the state legislature and placing it in the hands of an independent commission. Last year, the new commission, consisting of two Democrats, two Republicans, and a nonpartisan chair, got to work on its first set of maps after the 2010 census.
Unfortunately, the results were anything but nonpartisan. The independent chair sided consistently with the two Democrats, essentially giving them control over the makeup of the congressional and state legislative maps. Lawsuits were launched, along with a push by Arizona’s Republican governor, Jan Brewer, to impeach the chair. The new maps, if let stand, “could reshape the state’s political landscape” in the Democrats’ favor, theArizona Republic reported. Already, state lawmakers are looking at doing away with the commission or significantly changing it.
Arizona isn’t alone. In many states, including those where reformers had tried to make the process less political, redistricting has already determined the outcome of this year’s races for Congress and state legislature. In part, blame naivety for the reformers’ failure: redistricting isn’t easily drained of partisanship. But federal election law—especially the Voting Rights Act, which mandates a certain amount of legal gerrymandering to reach preferred racial outcomes—shares some of the blame. Though some states are inching toward ways of carving out fairer, less politicized electoral maps, reform is slow, and scheming over election districts remains nearly as important as it ever was to politicians’ fortunes, the composition of state legislatures, and even control of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“I sing your praises, sometimes I get in trouble for doing that but I will continue to do it forever,” Democratic Assemblyman Dov Hikind told Republican State Senator Dean Skelos on his post-Shabbos radio show late last Saturday night. “I just want to personally thank you for being so amazingly responsive to all of New York State, but to the Jewish community in particular. You are really just a superstar.”
Mr. Skelos, the leader of the New York State Senate and one of the “three men in a room” that control decision-making in Albany, received this high praise for adding yeshiva tuition tax credits into the state budget and his recent work to fund bus service to those same private religious schools. Mr. Hikind is a longtime assemblyman and power broker in the Jewish neighborhoods of southern Brooklyn and, despite being a Democratic Party official, has been more than willing to endorse Republicans.
At the end of last year, Mr. Skelos traveled to the Masbia soup kitchen in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn where, after donning a velvet yarmulke, he chopped carrots, peeled potatoes and ladled kosher soup to the needy. He proceeded to tell a story about smuggling Jewish artifacts into the Soviet Union and joked that his own Greek Orthodox beliefs gave him insight into Orthodox Judaism, letting Yiddish words like tzitzis and shul roll off his tongue all the while. Cameras rolled and mobile phones snapped photos for the Jewish media to consume later, of course.
Mr. Skelos is hardly the first powerful politician to make the pilgrimage to Brooklyn’s kosher soup kitchens, but he is the most notable Republican to do so in recent years, demonstrating a new reality that a swath of heavily Democratic Brooklyn and Queens is ready to vote for candidates who belong to the same party as Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. Indeed, Mr. Skelos and his Republican colleagues drew a new State Senate district in southern Brooklyn this year and packed it with as many Orthodox Jewish voters as possible. In past redistricting cycles, the district lines suggested Republicans sought to dilute the Orthodox vote.
Faced with a choice between a 10-term congressman and a freshman, Illinois voters opted for the newcomer in a heated Republican primary battle, while in a separate race one of the state’s veteran Democrats easily won the biggest re-election fight of his 17-year congressional career.
In an incumbent versus incumbent GOP clash that was forced by redistricting, U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who was among the five Illinois freshmen elected in 2010 during a tea party-backed Republican surge, won the nomination Tuesday with a double-digit victory over U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo.
U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. won his Democratic primary over former Congresswoman Debbie Halvorson.
Kinzinger, a former Air Force pilot who still serves in Air National Guard, had received a late endorsement from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va. Because no Democrat was on the ballot, Kinzinger is almost certainly headed back to Washington.
For the past 30 years, redistricting in Texas has provided great theater. As the state has gone from one-party Democratic to a Republican stronghold to renewed stirrings of bipartisan competition, the controlling party has exploited the decennial line drawing to lock in gains. And just as certainly, the courts have provided refuge for those on the outs.
The Supreme Court has recognized the problem on a national scale but has been unable to see a solution. The justices have failed to find an easy definition of what is fair, what level of manipulation is permissible, how much greed is tolerable, how many districts should be assigned to this group or that group.
Unfortunately our democracy has done little to bring order to the self-serving spectacle of political insiders trying to cement their advantage, the voters be damned. Fifty years ago the Supreme Court decreed that it would strike down unequal population in districts, but other than translating that into a one-person, one-vote requirement, the Court has done little else. We are told that gerrymandering offends the Constitution, but that nothing can be done about it.
So, following the logic of going where the getting might be good, litigants have learned that partisan grievances only get traction if adorned in the inflammatory garb of racial claims.
Of course, race and politics are difficult to separate. The polarization of the parties nationally yields a heavily minority Democratic party and an overwhelmingly white Republican party. The richest partisan gains follow the lines of race and ethnicity.
Which brings us to the current Texas showdown. Since the last redistricting a decade ago, the state gained nearly four million residents, mostly the result of surges in the minority population. In turn, Texas received an additional four congressional districts. As a general rule, states more easily distribute population gains than losses. But with a divided Congress, every seat has become part of the national battleground. With Republicans in control of the Texas Legislature, the state was carved up to create four districts that they would likely control. So, off to litigation we go, where the story becomes inordinately complicated.
Texas is a “covered jurisdiction” under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act which means that it cannot put its plan into effect unless it is “precleared” by either the Department of Justice or a special three-judge court in Washington, D.C. This year, for the first time since the VRA was passed in 1965, the Justice Department is headed by Democrats at the time of redistricting. Texas decided to try the D.C. court instead, and the state is now about to go to trial to prove that the new plan is not discriminatory in either its effect or its intent.
Meanwhile, suit was also filed in Texas before a special three-judge federal court claiming that the new plan could not be implemented before it was precleared, that the pre-2010 Census plan on which the lines were based could no longer be used because it failed to account properly for the population of Texas, and that the new plan was in fact discriminatory. That case, too, was scheduled for a quick trial.
Federal judges hearing a lawsuit over election redistricting in Texas exceeded their authority when they jettisoned maps that had been approved by the state Legislature and replaced them with maps of their own.
In an unsigned unanimous opinion on Friday, the US Supreme Court said a three-judge panel in San Antonio should have deferred to legislatively-drawn maps whenever possible and only departed from the enacted maps when necessary to avoid a likely violation of the Voting Rights Act or the Constitution.
The dispute is significant because how election maps are drawn can impact who is elected and which political party prevails. With four new congressional districts in Texas, those and other newly drawn could play a key role in which party controls Congress next year.
The Republican-controlled Legislature’s maps were challenged by minority rights advocates and others who said they were drawn so as to minimize the likelihood of minority candidates being elected.
Redistricting 101: Eight facts about redrawing the US political map
The high court said the federal judges in Texas were wrong to award themselves the power to draft new election districts and to base their effort on their own conception of what is best for Texas voters.
Setting the boundaries for congressional and other districts is a political task best left, as much as possible, to elected political leaders, the court said.
“To the extend the District Court exceeded its mission to draw interim maps that do not violate the Constitution or the Voting Rights Act, and substituted its own concept of ‘the collective public good’ for the Texas Legislature’s determination of which policies serve ‘the interests of the citizens of Texas,’ the court erred,” the justices wrote.
“Because the District Court here had the benefit of a recently enacted plan to assist it, the court had neither the need nor the license to cast aside that vital aid,” the justices said.
It is the beginning of the end for the Arizona redistricting drama that has put Congressional races in the state in limbo.
The state Independent Redistricting Commission, the bipartisan group tasked with redrawing the state’s Congressional lines, passed a map this evening. It is “pending analyses by the panel’s legal counsel and voting-rights consultants,” according to a news release from the commission.
The map will then have to be submitted to the Justice Department for pre-clearance approval.
The vote fell along party lines. Five members constitute the commission: two from each party and a registered Independent named Colleen Mathis. The two Democrats voted for the map, the two Republicans voted against it, and Mathis served as the swing vote for passage.
“This is a significant step toward fulfilling our mission,” Mathis said in a statement. “We worked very hard to reach consensus on the map where possible, and it was also our consensus that it was time to move the process along.”
Arizona’s redistricting was one of the nastiest in the reapportionment cycle and caught national attention in early November.
The U.S. Supreme Court late Friday granted a request from Texas Republicans and said it would intervene in a momentous dispute over redistricting and the voting power of minorities.
The justices, setting oral arguments for Jan. 9, are about to enter one of most contentious state battlegrounds in the wake of the 2010 Census and the new national round of redistricting.
The justices blocked Texas from using state legislative and congressional maps drawn by a lower court as a substitute to a state map. That court had said the state map could undermine the voting rights of Latinos and blacks. Texas Gov. Rick Perry and other state officials said the lower court exceeded its authority and should have deferred to the Texas legislature, which is controlled by Republicans.
The court agreed to decide the constitutionality of the state’s redistricting plans for the state Senate and House and for the state’s 36-member delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives.
The justices’ decision to take up the case revs up an already politically charged court term. In November the justices said they would hear a series of challenges to the Obama-sponsored health-care law.
At the center of the Texas dispute is federal protection for minorities’ voting rights, particularly in places such as Texas which had a history of racial discrimination at the polls. A key question is how much authority judges have to redraw a legislature’s map when the new boundaries have not yet won federal approval and as candidate registration for the primaries is beginning.
Friday’s case emerges from a Texas voting-rights controversy that has been pending before lower court judges in San Antonio and Washington, D.C.
In Minnesota, for instance, the Republicans’ legal efforts to influence redistricting are being financed through a group called Minnesotans for a Fair Redistricting.
Fair Redistricting describes itself as independent, but it has much of its leadership in common with the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota, a group with ties to the political empire of the Koch brothers, industrialists from Kansas who’ve spent millions funding conservative causes. The head of the Freedom Foundation, Annette Meeks, told ProPublica she has “no involvement” with Fair Redistricting. But both organizations’ tax filings list the same address: Meeks’ home address.
Fair Redistricting is registered under the name of her husband, Jack Meeks, who is also on the board of the Freedom Foundation. He did not respond to requests for comment.
Who is actually paying for Fair Redistricting’s lawsuit and lawyers? And what district lines are they pushing for? The group doesn’t have to say and has so far kept its finances and plans under wraps. Annette Meeks did not respond to questions about the group’s donors or its ties to the Koch brothers, but she said the group complies with all legal filing requirements. But the group’s public tax filings contain no information on its contributors.