Commentary

Pennsylvania-NC comparison demonstrates the destructive impact of gerrymandering

An editorial that appeared in yesterday’s Fayetteville Observer highlights some new and fascinating analysis on the impact of gerrymandering conducted by the Associated Press in the aftermath of this month’s elections. AP compared two states with similar voting patterns and profiles — Pennsylvania and North Carolina. The main difference in the two states: one (Pennsylvania) did away with partisan gerrymandering, while the other (North Carolina) has not.

This is from the editorial (“Stats show extending of gerrymandering’s political power”):

Pennsylvania’s voter makeup is not unlike ours, tending liberal in the big cities and conservative in small-town and rural areas. But before this year’s elections, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew the state’s electoral districts after ruling that partisan gerrymandering had interfered with residents’ constitutional rights to “free and equal” elections.

In both states, the state and federal districts had been redrawn after the 2010 federal census by the Republican lawmakers who had taken over their states’ legislatures. They gerrymandered with a vengeance, using sophisticated computer programs to engineer districts that would give them ironclad control over government. They did their job well in both cases, creating a 10-3 Republican majority in this state’s congressional delegation and a 13-5 Republican dominance in Pennsylvania’s. In both states, the GOP had an iron grip on the state legislature as well.

In this month’s elections, North Carolina Republicans held onto every one of those congressional seats, despite some spirited, heavily financed Democratic challenges. It was simply impossible to overcome the powerful gerrymandering. But in Pennsylvania, where the court oversaw redistricting and kept the politicians’ hands off it, the two parties split, each winning 9 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. Democratic votes were about 54 percent of the two-party total there. In this state, Republicans got about 51 percent of the two-party vote but netted nearly 75 percent of the congressional seats. The GOP’s percentage is skewed a bit by the fact that one Republican congressman, Walter Jones, ran unopposed. The other districts all had contests.

The AP explained that in North Carolina, it “equates to a pro-Republican tilt of nearly 26 percent under an ‘efficiency gap’ analysis that provides a statistical way of measuring the partisan advantages that can stem from gerrymandering. That figure was up from about 20 percent in 2016.” In Pennsylvania, that same measure fell from 16 percent in the 2016 elections to 7 percent with the court-drawn maps.

Of course, none of this is a surprise, but it’s good, once again, to see the arguments of voting rights advocates confirmed in the data.

The bottom line: The lawsuit that ended Pennsylvania’s gerrymandering situation is now being replicated in North Carolina state court — even as federal litigation continues as well. Let’s hope fervently that one or both cases succeed. As the Observer editorial noted in conclusion:

No matter which court rules first, the handwriting should be clear to North Carolina Republicans: Gerrymandering has gone too far, and both the courts and the people are fed up with it. You can change the system now, or you can wait for the courts to do it. Other options are unlikely, except for this one: Despite the gerrymandered advantage, voters may hand the General Assembly back to the Democrats anyway. They’ve already begun.

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