The Myth of Gerrymandering - Granite Grok

The Myth of Gerrymandering

I have been very active on twitter opposing HB 706, the misnamed (purposefully) “Independent Redistricting Commission” and supporting the Governor’s veto.  For example:

I recently had a twitter skirmish with a Socialist-robot who was apoplectic that HB 706 had been vetoed. In part:

To be clear, of course the GOP attempted to “gerrymander” in 2012. My point is that it didn’t/doesn’t work – the Democrats now control all of State government with the exception of the Governor’s office.

But I thought I should re-up something I posted in 2016 in repose to the NHPR piece on gerrymandering, which I continue to believe rather thoroughly debunks NHPR’s self-serving definition of gerrymandering. Here it is:

 

NHPR’s Ridiculous Definition of Gerrymandering (4/21/2016)

The term gerrymander originally referred to manipulating the shape of a political district to benefit a political party.  The term apparently originated in 1812, when a Massachusetts newspaper drew a cartoon that likened a state-senate district drawn by the Democrat-Republicans to favor their candidates over the Federalist candidates to a salamander:

Gerrymander.Cartoon

More recently there was the famous I-85 district congressional district in North Carolina, a racial gerrymander to attempt to comply with pressure from the Clinton Department of Justice to maximize the number of majority-minority districts, which the United States Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional.  The district stretched 160 miles and for much of its length was no wider than the highway except where it reached out to pick up pockets of African-Americans:

I85.district

While the objectives were different in both of the above cases, what made the districts gerrymandered was geography.  More specifically,  that the district was purposefully drawn in an asymmetrical shape spanning widely separated towns and cities in order to achieve a political objective.

Now compare the above maps to New Hampshire’s State Senate district twelve, which NHPR, in an article released yesterday (“As New Hampshire Shifts to a Swing State, Why Do Legislative Lines Still Favor Republicans?”) claims represents a Republican gerrymander:

State.Senate.District.12.2014

(The blue (Democrat) and red (GOP) represent how the towns/wards voted in 2014.)

District 12 was redistricted in 2012, but it was also shaped as a rectangle before the 2012 redistricting:

State.Senate.District.12.Before.2012

Needless to say, District 12 does not remotely resemble a gerrymandered district.  Yet according to NHPR it is gerrymandered because when the State was redistricted in 2012 the GOP-controlled legislature removed Nashua Ward 9, which NHPR considers a Democrat ward, and added the GOP towns of Greenville, New Ipswich and Rindge.  (As a parenthetical note  in 2010 (the map just above) even the Democrat wards voted Republican).

No court, as far as I know, has ever recognized a rectangularly-shaped district as a gerrymander.  NHPR claims gerrymander on the basis of a recent article in the hard-left New Republic that argues in favor of expanding the definition of a gerrymander to include the “Efficiency Gap.”

Here is how NHPR explains the concept.

The metric hinges on what researchers call “wasted votes.” A vote is wasted if it had no impact on the outcome of a given election. So, any vote for a winning candidate that’s in excess of the number needed to win that race is counted as wasted, since the candidate didn’t need it to secure victory.  And any vote for a losing candidate is also considered wasted, since it had no impact on the result. Some number of wasted votes are inevitable in any contested election. In a truly neutral legislative map, Republicans and Democrats will have roughly the same amount of wasted votes.

But creating districts that minimize wasted votes for one party’s candidates and increase the number of wasted votes for the opposing party—that, in essence, is gerrymandering. The result is an electoral map that reflects partisan intent over voter intent in the final tally of legislative seats.

Thus, even if population were evenly distributed throughout New Hampshire, dividing the State into 24 equally sized symmetrical districts by a neutral method (one that ignores the partisan makeup of cities and towns) would still be a gerrymander if that method resulted in more wasted votes for one party than the other party.  In other words, this theory requires the legislative map-drawers to draw the map by taking into account the partisan makeup of the cities and towns, and drawing them into districts in a way that should result in proportional representation.

There is actually a lawsuit taking place in Wisconsin right now based on this theory, Whitford v. Nichol.  If you are interested in a comprehensive discussion of all of the problems with this theory that NHPR left out of its article, here is a link to a court-submission from election law expert Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics.

Here are some problems that I see:

The assumption that the statewide vote total for all State Senate races accurately measures “voter intent” is far too glib.  For example, the assumption doesn’t account for the quality of candidates (e.g., “cross-over” votes for a good candidate, low turnout for a bad candidate).  It doesn’t account for macro-political forces driving or dampening voter turnout.  It doesn’t account for variables such as the vote being driven by an issue of local concern –for example, Northern Pass or the Kinder Morgan pipeline– that may not break down on party lines.

The theory ignores demographics.  Democrats tend to live in cities, while Republicans tend to live in more rural areas.  Thus, it is unavoidable that there will be more “wasted votes” in districts that do not divide cities.  It makes more sense to include Nashua Ward 9 in District 13 than in District 12 because the residents of Ward 9 probably have more common interest with other residents of Nashua than with the towns.  Yet the theory apparently would require Ward 9 to be included in District 12 in order to even up the number of “wasted votes.”

The theory is based on the premise that the function of the State Senate is to represent political parties, not persons.  The voters in District 12 (which borders Massachusetts) have different interests than the voters in, for example, District 1 (the North Country).  That’s why we elect State Senators by district rather than electing them statewide.  Indeed, the logical endpoint of the theory is to do away with districts and elect State Senators statewide by having the voter either vote Democrat or Republican and then allow the parties to fill the seats based on the percentages as that would eliminate “wasted votes” altogether.