GOP Brags About Tactics That Lose Them The Vote, But Win Them The House

Republican State Leadership Committee logo with red Salamander looming over map of the US & inscribed "Gerrymandering"

If you had any doubts about the Republicans rigging elections, a recent report released by the Republican State Leadership Committee should lay all doubts to rest. Unfortunately, we can’t complain to any of the election monitoring organizations that observe elections in third world countries like ours: The GOP’s massive gerrymandering of congressional districts back in 2010 is perfectly legal, albeit ridiculously over-the-top and transparently manipulative.

Entitled How a Strategy of Targeting State Legislative Rages in 2010 Led to a Republican U.S. House Majority in 2013, the report — described in Scott Keyes’ Think Progress article as “shockingly candid” — the document describes in lurid detail how the RSLC spent “$30 million in the 2010 election cycle to sweep up low-cost state legislature races in blue states like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.” This strategy enabled the Republicans to seize control of the legislatures in 25 states, enabling them to draw new district boundaries in their favor.

The report triumphantly commends the new district maps in these crucial swing states for enabling GOP candidates to “win” 12 out of 16 congressional races even though 1.1 million more American citizens voted for Democrats than for Republicans. Keys adds, “Though party officials typically dance around the unseemly issue of gerrymandering, this report is surprisingly candid and unabashed. The RSLC, after all, is tasked with winning control of state legislatures in large part so they can redraw congressional maps to the GOP’s benefit after redistricting.” Data from Think Progress2012 House Popular Vote Tracker shows an even more egregious gap, with totals of 59,646,195 Democratic votes and 58,283,047 GOP votes — a difference of over 1.3 million (1,363,148).

While political parties on both sides of the aisle have historically redrawn district boundaries to their advantage, the GOP has gone above and beyond in abusing our Democratic institutions to gain power. Although their agenda clearly does not have the support of the American people, they have repeatedly demonstrated that they will stop at nothing to get their way. Think Progress‘ Ian Millhiser bleakly reports that because of gerrymandering, Democrats “would need to win the popular vote by over 7% to take back the house.”The madness has already started in the aforementioned Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan.

On her December 22nd, 2012 show, Rachel Maddow explains how gerrymandering has enabled Michigan Republicans to “steam ahead” with its platform of shockingly conservative laws, even though Michigan is more of a blue state than a red state. 54.3% of Michiganders voted to re-elect Barack Obama and only 44.8% voted for the GOP Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney — a 10 point lead. Although much has been said and written on the subject, Maddow’s report remains one of the best explanations of the effects on GOP-led redistricting in swing states.

Here’s the video:

An article by my AI colleague, Rika Christensen explains how the hyper-partisan districts created by the GOP’s gerrymandering contributes to the intractable gridlock in Congress, at the expense of our country’s economy and its reputation. Because the most obstructive GOP legislators in Washington come from freshly-minted districts jam-packed with Tea Partiers, they won’t have to bear any consequences for their destructive agenda. Their safe districts will keep voting them in.

But wait! Things might get even worse. Enraged by Obama’s 2008 and 2012 wins, the Republicans have come up with a new way to mess around with electoral votes to make it harder for Democrats to win presidential elections. Christensen also wrote about how bills introduced in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsyvania would award electoral votes proportionally by districts, instead of giving an entire state’s votes to the candidate that wins the popular vote there. These dubious reforms — which supposedly represent rural areas more fairly — are already in effect in Maine and Nebraska. According to this logic, Mitt Romney should be our president, because he won 222 congressional districts and Obama ‘only’ won 206. There’s just one problem: Representing American votes only by district fails to account for population density. The majority of Americans live in cities, and the majority of urban voters vote Democratic. Our laws and system of government are designed to balance the interests and rights of legislative minorities against the will of the majority, but the swiftly fading conservatives are determined to tilt this precarious balance overwhelmingly in their favor.

While redistricting is often necessary to account for population shifts, gerrymandering has gotten out of control. A possible solution may be the one that ended the interminable gridlock and dysfunction of California’s State Legislature. Spooked by a $25 billion deficit, cuts in services, the recession, and the collapsed real estate bubble, fed up Californians voted for Proposition 11 in 2008. The legislation created a non-partisan California Citizens Redistricting Commission to redraw State district boundaries. In  2010, Proposition 20 charged the CCRC with redrawing congressional district boundaries as well. The legislation’s language insists that districts  must be delineated as “communities of interest,” very specifically defined as:

“a contiguous population which shares common social and economic interests that should be included within a single district for purposes of its effective and fair representation. Examples of such shared interests are those common to an urban area, an industrial area, or an agricultural area, and those common to areas in which the people share similar living standards, use the same transportation facilities, have similar work opportunities, or have access to the same media of communication relevant to the election process.”

Such language will make it difficult for future partisans to devise bizarrely-shaped and oddly attenuated congressional districts like the ones in Ohio and Pennsylvania, as shown below:

Gerrymandered maps of Ohio and Pennsylvania

Maps of gerrymandered congressional districts in Ohio and Pennsylvania. Thanks to GOP gerrymandering, these are now “red states” represented by Republican congresspeople, even though Obama carried both states in the 2012 election. Maps from Slate via Daily Kos.

Four years later — despite passing bills to fund major infrastructure upgrades and educational improvements — The State of California now has a modest but significant surplus and its economy is growing. Californians were able to break through the gridlock with a ballot proposition. Propositions enable citizens to put legislation on the ballot for a direct yes/no vote, for a modest $200 submission and enough signatures (5% of registered voters, or 8% to change a constitutional amendment). As Californians familiar with the notorious Proposition 13 are well aware, propositions also sometimes enable voters to pass laws that seem good at the time and wind up having terrible long-term consequences. But in this case, Propositions 11 and Propositions 20 have worked as intended to create fairer and more sensible districts.

Elisabeth Parker Elisabeth Parker is a writer, Web designer, mom, political junkie, and dilettante. Come visit her at ElisabethParker.Com, “like” her on facebook, or follow her on Twitter. For more articles by Elisabeth, click here.