How redistricting keeps incumbents


(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

In 1812, Gov. Eldridge Gerry signed a bill that redistricted Massachusetts to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party. When mapped, one of the districts in the Boston area was said to resemble the shape of a mythological salamander. Thus we have the process of “gerrymandering,” the creative drawing of districts to benefit the party drawing the districts.

Ever since, we’ve had incumbent parties trying to disenfranchise opposition voters by merrily “packing” them (putting large numbers of them into a few districts to concentrate their votes) and “cracking” them (spreading them among multiple districts to dilute their influence).

Trying and succeeding. A study by The Associated Press has found, to no one’s great surprise, that Republicans, in charge of redistricting efforts in the majority of states, have a far greater partisan advantage in their races.

The AP scrutinized the outcomes of all 435 U.S. House races and about 4,700 state House and Assembly seats up for election last year using a new statistical method of calculating partisan advantage. It’s designed to detect cases in which one party may have won, widened or retained its grip on power through political gerrymandering.

The analysis found that Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts. That helped provide the GOP with a comfortable majority over Democrats instead of a narrow one.

In Indiana, the study found a marked difference in “efficiency gaps” for the two parties (the further away from zero, the bigger advantage a party has). For the 2016 congressional races was 10.6 percent in favor of Republicans, while the efficiency gap for the state senate races was 4.76 percent. Researcher Eric McGhee, who helped create the mathematical formula used in the study, says the gap could be even higher — 13 percent in favor of house Republicans and 17 percent for the Senate. As Tom Sugar, a member of the special interim study committee on redistricting in Indiana, says, the state is “more Republican than Democratic for the most part … But it isn’t 80 percent Republican.”

The AP study outlines both the problem and, unfortunately, the reason it’s so difficult to solve.

How do you get those in power to give up that which keeps them in power?

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to [email protected].

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