Thursday, January 17, 2013

Who's this Jerry Mander guy?

Republicans have gone through through a lot of hand wringing after last November's election losses. Many operatives were criticized for not doing better. After all, the money just poured into Republican campaign coffers; "we paid for this election fair and square." But party faithful cannot complain too much, not when you consider how deeply unpopular and reviled Republicans in Congress are. It is a wonder they won as many seats as they did. Let's just say Republicans did well, though for the wrong reasons.

Republicans were never in the running for the White House, not really. Despite hopes, and indeed, firm convictions they would prevail, Republicans paid the price for nominating a deeply flawed candidate.

And though they lost a few seats in the Senate, Republican pols and voters remain dramatically over-represented. The reason why there are so many Republicans in the Senate-whether they actually control it or not, is simple enough; the reason has been with us since the very beginning of the republic. The US Senate is not designed to reflect proportionate representation. As every civics class ought to teach, only the US House of Representatives sends members in accordance with each state's population; big states have more representatives in the House than do small ones. It's only fair, you see.

The Senate, on the other hand, was designed at the outset to counter the potential for big-state tyranny. So each state sends two senators regardless of size. Sounds kind of, sort of, reasonable, maybe. Except that what we now have is small-state tyranny. One result is that a state such as Alaska, with population of about 750,000, or Wyoming, with population of about 570,000, have equal voting power with California, with over 38 million, or New York, with over 19 million. And wouldn't you know it, AK, WY, and several other small, rural states reliably send Republicans to the Senate.  Of course, there are small blue states that benefit as well, including Vermont, Delaware, and Hawaii. But taken together, Republicans win senate seats with fewer votes, sometimes far fewer, especially in the rural, ranching and farming states. The fact that millions more Americans actually vote for Democratic candidates than they do for Republicans, and have less to show for it, reflects systemic electoral misrepresentation that skews the Senate towards Republicans, rural farmland, and Dixie.

This disproportionate representation, you may say, is regrettable, but worth it because it helps offset the proportional representation in the House, which obviously favors large states. And besides, proportional representation is written in stone, or at least the US Constitution. So yeah, there's that.

Now we see, pace the Constitution, that Republicans are overrepresented in the US House as well. Color me not surprised.

Here's how Bill Berkowitz, writing in Alternet, puts it:
Tens of millions poured into a stealth redistricting project before the 2012 elections kept dozens of GOP Districts safe from Democratic challengers.

If somewhere in the recesses of your mind you were wondering how, despite President Barack Obama’s re-election victory and the Democratic Party’s gains in the Senate, Republicans continue to control the House of Representatives, think redistricting.

Redistricting is the process that adjusts the lines of a state’s electoral districts, theoretically based on population shifts, following the decennial census. Gerrymandering is often part and parcel of redistricting. According to the Rose Institute of State and Local Governments at Claremont McKenna College, Gerrymandering is done “to influence elections to favor a particular party, candidate, ethnic group.”
Over the past few years, as the Republican Party has gained control over more state legislatures than Democrats. And, it has turned redistricting into a finely-honed, well-financed project. That has virtually insured their control over the House. “While the Voting Rights Act strongly protects against racial gerrymanders, manipulating the lines to favor a political party is common,” the Rose Institute’s Redistricting in America website points out.
Dana Milbank writing on Jan. 4, also acknowledged the important role of gerrymandering:
The final results from the November election were completed Friday, and they show that Democratic candidates for the House outpolled Republicans nationwide by nearly 1.4 million votes and more than a full percentage point — a greater margin than the preliminary figures showed in November. And that’s just the beginning of it: A new analysis finds that even if Democratic congressional candidates won the popular vote by seven percentage points nationwide, they still would not have gained control of the House.
The analysis, by Ian Millhiser at the liberal Center for American Progress using data compiled by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, finds that even if Democrats were to win the popular vote by a whopping nine percentage points — a political advantage that can’t possibly be maintained year after year — they would have a tenuous eight-seat majority.
In a very real sense, the Republican House majority is impervious to the will of the electorate. Thanks in part to deft redistricting based on the 2010 Census, House Republicans may be protected from the vicissitudes of the voters for the next decade. For Obama and the Democrats, this is an ominous development: The House Republican majority is durable, and it isn’t necessarily sensitive to political pressure and public opinion.
According to the Jan. 4 final tally by Cook’s David Wasserman after all states certified their votes, Democratic House candidates won 59,645,387 votes in November to the Republicans’ 58,283,036, a difference of 1,362,351. On a percentage basis, Democrats won, 49.15 percent to 48.03 percent. 
This in itself is an extraordinary result: Only three or four other times in the past century has a party lost the popular vote but won control of the House. But computer-aided gerrymandering is helping to make such undemocratic results the norm — to the decided advantage of Republicans, who controlled state governments in 21 states after the 2010 Census, almost double the 11 for Democrats.
Gerrymandering has been with us from the republic's beginnings, and it certainly isn't just Republicans who jockey for advantage.  But the most recent redistricting results are ominous. The country is divided more than it has been in generations; Republican indifference to voter preferences, along with some clever insulation from the voters themselves, come at a time of breathtaking extremism in that party's politics.

"He who controls redistricting can control Congress." Karl Rove

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