AFTER THE ELECTION, Speaker John Boehner boasted that, Republicans having maintained a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, there is “no mandate for raising tax rates.” But it appears that a majority of Americans did not vote for divided government. Rather, the right stole the House — and did so quite legally, through gerrymandering.
In 2010, Republicans took control of a record number of state governments just in time for the every-10-years redrawing of congressional district maps; they, naturally, drew them in their own favor. Pennsylvania’s (still not-quite-final) congressional election results are sobering: 2,702,901 Pennsylvanians voted to send Democrats to the House, and 2,627,031 voted for Republicans; yet an astonishing 13 of 18 Pennsylvania U.S. House seats were won by Republicans. In other words, Democrats won 50.7 percent of the House vote in Pennsylvania, but just 27.7 percent of House seats.
The way an increasingly Democratic state that has stopped swinging right in presidential elections continues to send an overwhelmingly Republican congressional delegation to Washington is through gerrymandering. It is a form of disenfranchisement. Look at one such cartographic monstrosity: Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan’s surreally contorted 7th District is one of the most gerrymandered in the country. This anti-democratic Republican advantage is now locked in for 10 long years. And it’s a nationwide phenomenon: Democrats appear to have won about 48.8 percent of the popular House vote, edging out Republicans by three-hundredths of a percentage point, the Washington Post reported.
This stratagem is far from peculiar to Republicans. Democrats would have done the same. Decennial redistricting is when politicians choose their voters, and both parties seize the opportunity. Republicans, who also retained control of both chambers of the General Assembly in this election, gerrymandered state districts, too. This locks in Republican control of state government; it also installs a sort of meta-gerrymandering, whereby gerrymandered state districts make it more likely that Republicans will control the legislature again in 2020, when they can gerrymander House districts once more.
This should be a scandal, like the winner of the presidential popular vote losing thanks to the electoral college. But election-reform issues, unfortunately, are boring — and political leaders aren’t taking the lead. Just because gerrymandering is the oldest game in American politics doesn’t mean we shouldn’t change the rules.