Friday, November 9, 2012

Does Legislative Representation Properly Represent the Votes of the Electorate? (Part 1)

I’m starting a new series of occasional posts about our electoral process and some of the problems or issues that we should address (or at least discuss whether they are, in fact, problems at all). We are the greatest nation on earth with a tremendous form of government. And yet we have so many problems in our electoral system that we should, in many cases, be embarrassed. By way of example, can someone please explain to me why any American should have to wait an hour, let alone five or six hours, just to cast a ballot? We can land men on the Moon and robots on Mars, but we can’t seem to figure out how to run an election. It’s time that we started examining our electoral process to determine whether changes are necessary and, if so, of what kind.

Indiana has 9 Congressional Districts. On Tuesday, those districts elected 7 Republicans and 2 Democrats. But I want to look at the vote totals that the candidates received in their districts and that the parties received statewide. To that end, here is data culled from the website of the Indiana Secretary of State (I omitted two candidates that received 4 and 0 votes respectively and have not checked back to see if this data was updated after I copied it on Thursday).

District 1 Pete Visclosky (D) 187,347 67.29%
  Joel Phelps (R) 91,072 32.71%
District 2 Brendan Mullen (D) 125,968 47.97%
  Joseph Ruiz (L) 8,841 3.37%
  Jackie Walorski (R) 127,799 48.67%
District 3 Kevin Boyd (D) 92,179 32.95%
  Marlin Stutzman (R) 187,611 67.05%
District 4 Tara Nelson (D) 92,896 34.15%
  Benjamin Gehlhausen (L) 10,554 3.88%
  Todd Rokita (R) 168,566 61.97%
District 5 Scott Reske (D) 125,192 37.59%
  Chard Reid (L) 13,425 4.03%
  Susan Brooks (R) 194,415 58.38%
District 6 Brad Bookout (D) 95,966 35.20%
  Rex Bell (L) 15,828 5.81%
  Luke Messer (R) 160,838 58.99%
District 7 André Carson (D) 161,422 62.82%
  Carlos May (R) 95,521 37.18%
District 8 Dave Crooks (D) 122,258 42.92%
  Bart Gadau (L) 11,127 3.91%
  Larry Bucshon (R) 151,441 53.17%
District 9 Shelli Yoder (D) 99,732 41.26%
  Todd Young (R) 141,972 58.74%

So what are the totals?

Democrats 1,102,960 44.44%
Libertarians 59,775 2.41%
Republicans 1,319,235 53.15%

There are a few interesting things to take away from these results. First, note how there was only one race that was actually close (District 2 where the margin of victory was less than 1%). The other races all had margins of victory of at least 10 points (and some exceeded 20 points!). But the overall total has a margin of victory for the Republicans of just under 10 points. More importantly, though the Republicans received 53.15% of the total votes cast in House races, they won 77.78% of the seats. Or, said the other way, even though Democrats received 44.44% of the votes cast, they only won 22.22% of the seats (or a percentage victory that is exactly half of the percentage that one would expect based on the raw vote totals).

So ask yourself this: Is the Indiana delegation to the House of Representatives, consisting of 2 Democrats and 7 Republicans actually representative of Indiana’s electorate?

If we take the Republicans percentage of the raw vote (53.15%) and apply that to the total number of seats from Indiana, and round up, the Republicans should be expected to have 5 of the 9 seats. If we take the Democratic percentage of the raw vote (44.44%) and apply that to the total number seats from Indiana, the Democrats should be expected to have the remaining 4 seats.

But the Republicans have 2 “extra” seats at the expense of the Democrats. Why?


Take a look at this map of Indiana’s Congressional Districts. [Update November 12, 2012: The map below is incorrect; I researched this before posting on Friday and was convinced that I had the correct map but I was mistaken. Thus the discussion of this map and its particular oddities is still interesting though not current. I will post a correct map as soon as I find a good, version that can be properly embedded.][Update November 12, 2012: Current map is at the bottom of this post.]

Why the odd shapes? Why does the 2nd Congressional District have those little pieces of Porter and Elkhart Counties? Why does the 2nd Congressional District have that really weird little piece of Howard County, almost disconnected from the rest of the district (that’s the city of Kokomo)? Or How about the 4th Congressional District? Why does it have that little piece cutting Fountain County in half? Or the “isthmus” that stretches across eastern Monroe County down to all of Lawrence County? The 5th Congressional District gets the far north of Marion County, then skirts through Hancock County before coming back into the far south of Marion County. In the 6th Congressional District, we have odd little incursions into Shelby County and Dearborn County, plus a piece of Johnson County. The 9th Congressional District has an odd protrusion in Bartholomew County to include the city of Columbus. Finally, look carefully at the edges of the 7th Congressional District and note how jagged they are … and that unlike every other Congressional District in the state, the 7th Congressional District is contained to a single county.

All of these questions can, I believe, be answered quite simply. The districts are drawn to pre-determine the outcome of races.

You see, the politicians who draw these districts are well aware of and take into consideration whether the population of a given area tends to vote Republican or Democratic. And when these new districts were drawn in 2011 … those making the maps were Republicans.

Now, in all honesty, it could have been much worse. But it could also be much, much better.

I think that most of us would agree that it would be wrong for a map to be drawn to intentionally dilute the voting power of African-Americans (a tactic that has been common in the South) or any other ethnic voting group (in particular, Latinos in Texas). Most of us (I hope) understand that simply isn’t how fairness should work in a democratic system. But why is drawing lines based on perceived political affiliation any different? I don’t think it is.

I’ve got a lot more to say on this subject and as part of this new series of posts, I’ll be coming back to the issue of gerrymandering and some thoughts on solutions.

But until then, please visit The ReDistricting Game to learn more about redistricting and try your hand at drawing district lines.

Update November 12, 2012: The map above is incorrect; I researched this before posting on Friday and was convinced that I had the correct map but I was mistaken. Thus the discussion of this map and its particular oddities is still interesting though not current. I will post a correct map as soon as I find a good, version that can be properly embedded.

Update November 12, 2012: Here is the current map of Indiana’s Congressional Districts. From a quick glance, they don’t appear to have the sort of easily visible obnoxious gerrymanders present in the map above. However, given the vote results, it remains clear that the districts, as redrawn, were still gerrymandered in a way to produce predictable results.

Indiana Congressional Districts 2012

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At Sunday, November 11, 2012 2:04:00 PM , Anonymous Karin said...

Great Blog post from super white guy! Give it a read.

At Monday, November 12, 2012 2:49:00 PM , Blogger Keith said...

The congressional map above is old. Those are the districts used until 2011. The new districts don't look any better though.

At Monday, November 12, 2012 3:01:00 PM , Blogger katzmandu said...

That's an older map. The newer map isn't nearly as bad:

At Monday, November 12, 2012 3:40:00 PM , Blogger MSWallack said...

OK. I'm really, really annoyed. I searched and searched and thought that I had the right map. Apparently I didn't. My bad. If anyone has a good .jpg of the correct map, please send it to me. I'd like to post a correction with the new map.


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