Saturday, January 19, 2013

How Does Congressional Gerrymandering Manifest Itself? Take Pennsylvania For Example


Pennsylvania has 18 congressional districts and the Republican-controlled legislature carved them up in such a way as to create 5 Democratic seats and 13 Republican seats, despite Pennsylvania having more Democratic voters than Republican voters. Obama took 2,990,274 votes in November (52%) and Romney took 2,680,434 (47%). Obama only won a dozen of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, but he won the big ones with the most population:
Philadelphia- 1,526,006
Allegheny- 1,223,348
Montgomery- 799,874
Bucks- 625,249
Delaware- 558,979
Lehigh- 349,497
Luzerne- 320,918
Nothampton- 297,735
Erie- 280,566
Dauphin- 268,100
Lackawanna- 214,437
Monroe- 169,842
Romney did manage to win Chester County (pop- 498,886), but it was a virtual tie 123,280-122,232. Many of the counties Romney won were the tiny, underpopulated ones like Cameron County (5,085), Sullivan County (6,428), Forest County (7,716), and Potter County (17,457).

Statewide, Bob Casey was reelected with 53% of the votes cast, while Republican multimillionaire Tom Smith took 45%. Casey won all the counties Obama did and added 5 more including Chester. But, of course, the place to look for tampering with the intentions of democracy are in the gerrymandered redrawn districts. As you can see in the Maddow video above around 83,000 more Pennsylvanians voted for Democratic House candidates than for Republican candidates and yet... the GOP won 13 House seats and the Democrats only won 5. (It was much worse in Michigan, where almost a quarter million more votes were cast for Democratic House candidates than for Republicans but where the GOP wound up with 9 seats and the Democrats wound up with only 5.) How did that happen? Glad you asked. Let's stick with Pennsylvania as our model.

The gerrymanderers drew the districts to pack as many Democratic voters-- particularly African-Americans and union households-- into just a few districts. The 5 Democratic winners are won by big margins, not because they are more popular than Republicans but because their districts were drawn to concentrate likely Democrats into them and keep them out of districts Republicans targeted as red. (For the sake of this discussion, I'm leaving out the incompetence and ideologically catastrophic choices made by DCCC chairman Steve Israel, who certainly exacerbated Democrats' problems everywhere in America and helped Republicans win seats they might have otherwise lost like Mike Kelly's, Charlie Dent's and especially Joe Pitts' in Pennsylvania.)

Here are the percentage wins in each district, from strongest to weakest:
Chaka Fattah (D) 89%
Robert Brady (D) 85%
Mike Doyle (D) 77%
Allyson Schwartz (D) 69%
Tom Marino (R) 66%
Tim Murphy (R) 64%
Glenn Thompson (R) 63%
Bill Shuster (R) 62%
Matt Cartwright (D) 61% (non-incumbent)
Scott Perry (R) 60% (non-incumbent)
Patrick Meehan (R) 59%
Lou Barletta (R) 58%
Jim Gerlach (R) 57%
Charlie Dent (R) 57%
Michael Fitzpatrick (R) 57%
Joe Pitts (R) 55%
Mike Kelly (R) 55%
Keith Rothfus (R) 52% (non-incumbent)

The pattern is clear: Democratic voters packed into a few districts while likely GOP voters are spread out just enough to make sure the Republican candidates win by comfortable, though not overwhelming, margins. This is exactly what Republican legislatures gave Republican governors in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio (and what Democrats certainly did in Illinois and Maryland). It's outrageous and it should be illegal. The idea of the Republicans attempting to rig presidential elections by using their gerrymandered districts to assign electoral votes is equally absurd. A real reform, in fact, would be to just do away with the electoral college system altogether, something most Americans agree with. Gallup yesterday:
Americans are nearly as open to major electoral reform when it comes to doing away with the Electoral College. Sixty-three percent would abolish this unique, but sometimes controversial, mechanism for electing presidents that was devised by the framers of the Constitution. While constitutional and statutory revisions have been made to the Electoral College since the nation's founding, numerous efforts to abolish it over the last 200+ years have met with little success.

There is even less partisan variation in support for this proposal than there is for term limits, with between 61% and 66% of all major party groups saying they would vote to do away with the Electoral College if they could. Similarly, between 60% and 69% of all major age groups take this position.
But the GOP doesn't want to abolish it; they want to pervert it so they can use it to steal presidential elections the same way they steal legislative and congressional elections. Imagine if we had a competent Democratic Party-- or one that was united behind the idea of standing up for working families!

By the way, there's an awful reality show I stumbled across on he Discovery Channel, The Amish Mafia. Really wretched but it certainly helps explain why Republicans do so well in Lancaster and York counties.

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