P.S. …: ‘Urban renewal’ needs an antidote for gerrymandering

Following the 2016 election, the Associated Press (AP) employed a new statistical method of calculating partisan advantage to analyze the outcomes of all U.S. House races as well as the outcomes of approximately 4,700 state-level House and Assembly seats. The method was designed to detect cases in which one party won or widened power by way of “packing” or “cracking” redistricting techniques. Traditional battleground states including Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were among those found to have significant Republican advantages in their U.S. and/or state House races due to gerrymandering. Unsurprisingly, each of these states also had districts redrawn by Republicans following the 2010 census. The AP’s analysis found that there were four times as many states with Republican-skewed state House or Assembly districts than Democratic-skewed districts. As a result, among the 24 states that typically determine the makeup of Congress, up to 75 percent were found to have Republican-tilted U.S. House districts. Likewise, a 2014 Duke University-led study titled “Redistricting and the Will of the People” found that in 2012, more North Carolinians voted for Democrats in congressional elections. Yet, while N.C. Democrats received more votes, Republicans won nine of 13 congressional seats. Furthermore, the same study found that when 100 sets of random districts were drawn, and election results were retabulated, an average of 7.6 democratic representatives were elected. As a result, the study’s authors concluded that the notion that elections represent the “will of the people,” particularly in battleground states, ought to be seriously questioned.

It is worth noting that lawmakers and citizens alike have long been concerned about the effects of disproportionate representation, particularly if urbanized districts or populous coastal states were to have excessive influence over their neighbors. However, contrary to previous concern, it now appears that in key battleground states, or those with many less populous, right-leaning districts, urbanization could potentially lead to a sort of “self-packing,” amplifying the effects of partisan gerrymandering even further, perhaps with devastating outcomes. For example, Pennsylvania has approximately three million registered Republicans and four million registered Democrats. Yet, as of 2016, Pennsylvania has 13 Republican-led districts and only 5 Democrat districts — an astounding case of misrepresentation due to redistricting. Importantly, Pennsylvania has been urbanizing more rapidly in the past decade. Between 2000 and 2010, 5.6 percent more Pennsylvanians lived in urban areas, and the median age of Pennsylvanians in rural areas was higher than that of the commonwealth and of urban areas, as more younger residents are living in said urban areas.

Unfortunately, with this in mind, ensuring fair redistricting in the future will not ensure national proportionality on its own, much less electoral outcomes that more closely resemble public opinion. Due to a growing urban population and the redevelopment of cities, especially in states like Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio — areas once with far higher percentages of its population in rural districts — gerrymandering will have a larger and more unavoidable effect than ever before. As certain demographics unintentionally “pack” themselves — the notion of “blue dots” in otherwise “red seas” — the effects of Republican-led gerrymandering will only further minimize the voices of a left-leaning electorate overall, distorting electoral outcomes for decades to come.