In the 2012 elections, it appears that Democrats won the popular vote for House seats by a narrow margin, 49 percent to 48.2 percent, according to The Washington Post. So how did Republicans expand their margin to win the “second-biggest House majority in 60 years and their third-biggest since the Great Depression”?
Gerrymandering! That’s how. Republicans redrew the district boundary lines in key states to favor themselves. In Pennsylvania, Mother Jones reports, Democrats received half of all votes cast in contests for the House, but Republicans took roughly three-quarters of the seats. The same thing happened in North Carolina. Democrats took more votes than Republicans in Michigan, but won only five of the state’s 14 congressional positions.
“Partisans manipulate the process to their advantage,” says Sundeep Iyer of the Brennan Center, a left-leaning public policy group which has been pushing for redistricting reform to limit partisan gerrymandering. “Not only did redistricting make it easier for Republicans to keep control of Congress this election,” Iyer and his colleague Keesha Gaskins wrote at the Brennan Center’s website, “but it also may have made it easier for them to keep control over the next decade.” (My colleague Nick Baumann warned of exactly this two years ago.)
Republicans point to Illinois and Maryland as examples of Democrats playing the same game, and it is true that Democrats in those states drew maps favorable to their interests. In Maryland, Democrats got 62 percent of the combined vote in House races and 88 percent of the congressional seats; in Illinois they won 54 percent of the vote and about two-thirds of the congressional seats.