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Thursday, January 03, 2013

GOP Election-Rigging and Our Broken Government

Voting booth as trash can
In terms of votes cast for candidates to the House of Representatives this year, my home state of Wisconsin was close to evenly split. The edge went to Democrats, which is what you'd expect from a state that went for Obama. In the end, the total popular vote from all congressional races went Democrat -- 50.8%-49.2%. And here's where the math starts to get fishy: Wisconsin sent five Republicans to the House and three Democrats. This is a Republican controlled state and the congressional districts have been rigged through gerrymandering.

Wisconsin is a robbed electorate, but we aren't the worst off. That dubious award seems to go to Michigan. In that state, Democrats won the total house vote with a clear majority, 52.7%-47.3%. But they sent only five Democrats to Washington, while electing nine Republicans.

Republicans seem have Democracy bass-ackward and believe it should work the way the filibuster works in the Senate -- i.e., the side with the least votes wins. But I say "seem to" because it's pretty clear that Republicans believe democracy shouldn't work at all and that the most skillful cheater and vote-rigger deserves the office. That is, so long as they're a Republican.

Princeton University's Sam Wang, an election modeller who outperformed Nate Silver in the 2012 presidential election, has been investigating gerrymandering and finds that it's a largely Republican-caused problem.

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Wang warns, "Recent changes in partisan gerrymandering constitute one of the major crises facing our system of government." And looking at the obviously stolen elections above, it's really hard to argue against it. In fact, the consequences of this sort of tortured and twisted democracy are obvious in our present politics. It encourages the partisan divide, by rewarding extremist Republicans with the reddest of red districts, carved out in meandering district borders. In other words, our hyper-partisan politics exist because Republicans cheat -- they choose their voters, instead of having their voters choose them. If they didn't, they'd be voted out of office and Democrats would run both chambers and the White House. Since redistricting can't affect statewide races, Democrats own the Senate and the White House. District by district shenanigans give Republicans the House of Representatives -- by a minority vote. In 2012, Democrats led Republicans in the total House vote nation-wide by a non-trivial 1,362,351 votes. 49.15% voted for a Democratic candidate, while 48.03% voted for a Republican. Yet the GOP retained control of the house.

And, of course, all this robs people of their votes. People redistricted out of competitive districts by gerrymandering suddenly find their votes don't really make a difference -- a blue drop in a red ocean. According to Wang (emphasis his):

In the seven Republican-controlled states, the total votes cast were 16.22 million (50.8%) for Republicans, 15.68 million (49.2%) for Democrats for a 74 R, 32 D outcome. The simulations indicate that this seat split would normally only require 11.7 million Democratic votes. In other words, 4 million Democratic voters in seven states were disenfranchised.

In Illinois, the total votes cast were 2.74 million (55.4%) for Democrats, 2.21 million (44.6%) for Republicans for a 12 D, 6 R outcome. In this case, 1.8 million Republican votes would have been “enough” to elect this delegation, so that about 400,000 Illinois Republican voters were disenfranchised.

Therefore the disenfranchisement due to partisan-controlled redistricting was a total of 4.4 million voters from both parties. Democrats were disenfranchised more than Republicans, at a ratio of 10:1.

Clearly, when it comes to redistricting, Democrats do engage in some pretty shifty moves themselves, but when the bulk of the guilt shift ten to one to Republicans, you really do have to say Republicans are the problem. The advantage would go to Democrats if redistricting were taken out of the hands of party hacks and handed over to independent, non-partisan boards.

As things are, House elections are so skewed toward Republicans that Democrats would need a huge vote advantage to recapture that chamber. Over at ThinkProgress, Ian Millhiser reports:

The upshot of this is that if Democrats across the country had performed six percentage points better than they actually did last November, they still would have barely missed capturing a majority in the House of Representatives. In order to take control of the House, Democrats would have needed to win the 2012 election by 7.25 percentage points. That’s significantly more than the Republican margin of victory in the 2010 GOP wave election (6.6 percent), and only slightly less than the margin of victory in the 2006 Democratic wave election (7.9 percent). If Democrats had won in 2012 by the same commanding 7.9 percent margin they achieved in 2006, they would still only have a bare 220-215 seat majority in the incoming House, assuming that these additional votes were distributed evenly throughout the country. That’s how powerful the GOP’s gerrymandered maps are; Democrats can win a Congressional election by nearly 8 points and still barely capture the House.

Republicans can win a minority and keep the House, while Democrats need a landslide.

Government can't work this way. You can't have democracy elect the president and senators, while anti-democracy elects representatives. The will of the people is being subverted and it is literally breaking government through strident partisanship. We voted for something very different than what we're getting.

And the worst part? Almost no one is talking about it.

-Wisco

[image source]


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