Gerrymandering in the 2013/14 US House of Representatives

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Analysis of Gerrymandering in the

2013/14 House of Representatives

By

Roy G. Saltman

Background:

Political commentators have noted that the cumulative nationwide vote for the US House of Representatives in the November 2012 election showed an apparently anomalous result.  The total vote for the Democratic party surpassed the total for the Republican party by almost 1.6 million (out of about 117 million cast), while the number of seats won by Republicans (234) exceeded the Democratic number (201) by 33 in the chamber total of 435.

One cause for this is gerrymandering: that is, the drawing of the boundaries of the single- member districts in a state so as to favor one particular political party.  In a state assigned four or more seats, and in which the minority party is strong enough to obtain at least one seat or more, gerrymandered boundaries are often set so as to cram many of the opposition voters into a small number of districts that they will win by large pluralities.  This ploy provides the controlling party with a larger number of seats than they would achieve by a proportional division of the state’s total vote.

Besides increasing the controlling party’s representation in the House, the arrangement provides for safer seats for both parties.  This result obtains because the process promotes the assignment of supporters of the two major political parties to different districts.

In a state assigned two or three seats, or more if the opposition party is particularly weak, a successful ploy is to divide the opposition voters among the districts so that they cannot win a single seat.  This method also reduces the level of opposition from the minority party.

A consequence of gerrymandering is that it promotes the candidacy of extremists.  In a district that is safe for a particular political party, advocated positions need not be centrist or moderate, which would attract the votes of independents or the opposition party.  A major concern of moderates is the positions of intra-party opponents at the far end of the political spectrum.  This conflict may force the views of moderates in that direction.

In the current political climate, an extremist faction in the House has created havoc, to the detriment of many workers, tourists, small businesses, and the international reputation of this country.  Their rise to significance may be due, in part, to the excesses of gerrymandering.

Summary:

An analysis of each state’s cumulative vote for the US House of Representatives in the November 2012 election shows that gerrymandering has resulted in the Republicans obtaining 16 seats more than they would have if seats were assigned proportionally according to the total of each party’s vote in each state.  Instead of the 2013 membership of 234 out of a total of 435 (ignoring subsequent resignations), Republicans would have 218 seats.  Democratic membership would be increased by 15 from 201 to 216, and one Libertarian would be elected in Texas.

The procedure for assigning seats to each political party that is used here, called the cumulative-proportional method, continues to result in Republicans maintaining a majority in the House, albeit by a bare minimum.  The total nationwide vote used in this method includes votes cast for the major party candidates on other party lines, and therefore slightly exceeds vote totals obtained using only the major party lines.  With this method, the total vote for Democratic candidates exceeds the corresponding vote for Republican candidates by almost 1.4 million votes out of more than 118 million cast.  The latter number includes votes cast in every state for any political party (called a “Qualifying Party”) that obtains at least one seat in that state.

The source document for all data employed is Statistics of the Presidential and Congressional Election of November 6,  2012, corrected as of February 28, 2013, compiled by Karen L. Haas, Clerk of the House of Representatives.

The attached tables show the results achieved.  Table 1 displays the current House membership from the November 2012 elections, and the changes in the number of seats for each state that would have resulted if the cumulative-proportional method presented here were used.  Table 2  provides summary data from Table 1.  Table 3 and Table 4  show how the votes employed here differ from the votes employed in the source document.

Method of Calculations:  Texas as an Example

For each state, the analysis begins with the total vote cast in the state for the House. In the case of Texas, this figure is 7,664,206.  Then, votes cast for candidates or parties that do not achieve a certain statewide minimum are eliminated.  For Texas, this process consists of eliminating votes cast in the columns in the source document for “Independent,” “Green,” and “Write-in.”  The total remaining is 7,625,757, consisting of 4,429,270 Republican votes, 2,949,900 Democratic votes, and 246,587 Libertarian votes.   The seat-assignment process begins with the party qualifying for at least one seat, but having the least quantity of votes among the qualifying parties.

Libertarians are entitled to one seat because their total vote, of 246,587 is more than ½ of the total 3-party vote divided by the number of seats assigned to Texas. In every other state, no third party polls enough votes to be considered for a seat; the 2-party total is used.

Texas is entitled to 36 seats; the total 3-party vote divided by 72 (36 times 2) is 105,913.  The Libertarians have enough votes for at least one full seat, but no more.  In order to have two seats, they would have needed, at minimum, a quantity of votes more than one-seat’s worth, 211,826, plus ½ a seat, or 317,739 votes.

The number of seats assigned to the Democrats is obtained by dividing the Democratic total of 2,949,900 by 211,826.  The quotient is 13.926, yielding 14 seats for the Democrats, since the quotient is equal to or higher than 13.5 and less than 14.5.  If the quotient was less than 13.5 but equal to or higher than 12.5, the Democrats would obtain 13 seats, and if the quotient were equal to or greater than 14.5 but less than 15.5, they would get 15 seats.

The Republicans would be entitled to all the remaining seats: 36 minus 1, minus 14, or 21.

Special Cases:

In situations in which two opposing candidates are from the same partly, as in several contests in California and Louisiana, the votes of both candidates are included in the statewide total for the party.  The source document makes the same decision.

In the calculations for some states, the totals shown in the source document for “Republican” and “Democratic” do not fully reveal the total votes for the candidates of the respective parties.  Total votes for the candidates include additional votes that were received from other parties.

In Connecticut, in Congressional District 5 (CD-5), the Republican candidate received votes on the “Independent” line.  Democratic candidates in Connecticut and South Carolina received votes on the “Working Families” line.  In Oregon, Republicans received votes on the “Republican, Constitution” line, and Democrats on the “Democrat, Working Families” line.

In Florida, votes for unopposed candidates are not listed and cannot be included in the total.

In Maryland, where more than one candidate for an office is stated to be of the same party, the total for a party includes all votes from all candidates of that party.  More than one Democrat ran in CD-1 and CD-7.  More than one Republican ran in CD-2.

In New York, .votes for “Conservative” are added to the votes for “Republican” where the Conservative party supported the Republican candidate. This is not the case in CD-7, where the Conservative party ran its own candidate.   Similarly, votes for the “Independence” party are added to “Republican” in those cases in which the Independence party supported the Republican candidate.  In CD-20, the Independence party supported the Democratic candidate, which obtained its votes.  In CD-6, but not in others, the Libertarian party supported the Republican candidate, who garnered its votes.  The Tax Revolt party supported the Republican candidate in all cases.  The Working Families party supported the Democratic candidate in all cases.

The addition of votes to the “Republican” and “Democratic” columns, as described above and in Table 4, reduces by 214,281 votes the quantity by which the cumulative Democratic total for all states exceeds the cumulative Republican total for all states.  The addition of these votes, totaling 1,351,902, increases the total vote cast for purposes of this analysis from 116,837,737, shown in Table 3, to 118,189,639, shown in Table 2.   The Democratic total is now 59,660,427 votes and continues to exceed the Republican total by 1,377,802 votes.

Specifics of Table 1:

The 4th column from the left shows the quotient of the current number of CDs won by the Republicans (column 3) divided by the total number of CDs assigned to the state (column 2).  The 5th column from the left shows the percent of votes won by Republican candidates; it is the quotient of the number in column 6 divided by the number in column 7.  A comparison of column 5 with column 4 is an indicator of the extent of gerrymandering, but it also indicates the limitations of distributing a small integer number of seats among parties obtaining thousands or millions of votes. Except for Texas, column 7 is the sum of the total votes won by Democrats in the state plus the number of votes won by Republicans in the same state.  To find the total won by Democrats, the number in column 6 is subtracted from the number in column 7.  In the row for Texas, the number in column 7 includes the number of votes won by the Libertarian party, identified in Table 4.

Column 8 reveals the change in the number of seats that would result if the calculations carried out in this paper were applied and the current disparities reversed. The states now implementing gerrymandering gaining 2 (or more) Democratic seats are California (5), New York (3), Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts.  Those states gaining just one Democratic seat are Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.  Those states with gerrymandering gaining 2 (or more) Republican seats are Florida (4), Ohio (4), Pennsylvania (4), Texas (3), Alabama, Indiana, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia.  States gaining just one Republican seat are Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.  The total result is, currently, 16 extra seats for the Republicans.

For states assigned just 2 seats, the method used here requires one seat each for each party, as long as each party’s percent of votes is 25 % or more.  That is the case for every state in this category: Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island.  Thus, distribution in these states, now 2-0, would be changed to 1-1, if the current situation were reversed.   As only Idaho is a Republican state, the quantities indicated for these states now favor the Republicans with 3 additional seats.

Conclusions and Recommendations:

Gerrymandering has a 200-year history, but the application of computers has made the designs even more convoluted.  The result totally confounds the concept that each member of the House should represent citizens living in a distinct area.  Designs of district boundaries are typically finalized by the state legislature, and will, in most cases, represent the interests of the legislature’s majority party, certainly if the governor is of the same party.  (In one state, Iowa, the district boundaries are proposed by a nonpartisan legislative staff agency.  Districts in that state are required to be compact, and state subdivisions may not be split.)  The only federal requirement now in force for CDs is that they must consist of contiguous territory.  That is, each must have a single boundary that encloses a single area, such that a route along a boundary eventually returns to the starting point and encompasses all the district’s territory within.  A company providing the software from which boundaries may be determined is Caliper Corporation of Newton, MA.  The software allows a user to interactively access Census Tracts, so as to combine them in a desired manner.

The current situation seriously distorts the intentions of voting citizens, and therefore is a black mark on the face of democracy. Remedies are needed.  The cumulative-proportion system described above may be used, or a bipartisan commission outside of legislative control could determine district boundaries, or an Iowa-like system could be used.  In a cumulative-proportion system, each party would announce a list of statewide candidates in order of preference, such that the first person on the list has first priority for a seat, and others on the list have the priority of their place in line.  A bipartisan commission retains the current system of single-member districts, but is much fairer.  Every state should be required to use some equitable method.

In Maryland, a protest was mounted against gerrymandering by Republicans in the western part of the state who had lost their representative due to the reapportionment based on the 2010 national census.  Their desire to reverse the reapportionment was put to a referendum, but it failed to pass.  An excuse for that state’s Democratic gerrymandering is that it counteracts the Republican gerrymandering carried out in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

It would appear, from decisions of the US Supreme Court, that gerrymandering for party advantage is Constitutional, whereas gerrymandering to eliminate or reduce representation by racial minorities is not.  Thus, only a law of Congress could implement a requirement for bipartisan commissions or the use of the cumulative-proportion method in each state.

The fact that, even eliminating the effects of gerrymandering, the Republicans would maintain a majority of seats in the current House, despite a Democratic cumulative vote majority, is an artifact of the process of assignment to each state its particular number of House seats.  The situation is similar to that of the Presidential vote in 2000, in which Gore had a majority of popular votes, but Bush a majority of electoral votes,

About the Author:

Roy G. Saltman is a computer scientist who has carried out research and consulting on the voting process over many years.  While employed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (formerly NBS), 1969–1996, he authored two reports on the subject.  The 1978 report laid the groundwork for development of federal guidelines for voting equipment. The 1988 report called for the elimination of the voting system type that caused the Florida fiasco of 2000.  His book, The History and Politics of Voting Technology, was published in 2006 by Palgrave Macmillan.  He has advanced degrees in engineering from MIT and Columbia U., and a Master of Public Administration from American U.

Table 1:  House Membership:  Current vs. Cumulative-Proportional Method

State

CDs

Total

CDs

R

Seats

% R

Votes

% R

Cum Votes

R Candidates

 

Cum Votes 

Qual. Parties

Change in R  Seats

AL

  7

  6

 85.71

  64.01

     1,233,624

     1,927,122

-2

AK

  1

  1

100.00

  69.08

       185,296

       268,223

    0

AZ

  9

  4

 44.44

  54.44

     1,131,663

     2,078,657

       +1

AR

  4

  4

100.00

  67.66

       637,591

       942,361

-1

CA

 53

 15

 28.30

  37.99

     4,530,012

    11,922,715

       +5

CO

  7

  4

 57.14

  51.43

     1,143,796

     2,223,949

     0

CT

  5

  0

  0.00

  34.47

       500,290

     1,451,271

       +2

DE

  1

  0

  0.00

  34.17

       129,757

       379,690

     0

FL

 27

 18

 66.67

  53.01

     3,826,522

     7,218,924

-4

GA

 14

  9

 64.29

  59.22

     2,104,098

     3,552,967

-1

HI

  2

  0

  0.00

  32.55

       137,531

       422,539

       +1

ID

  2

  2

100.00

  66.14

       406,814

       615,111

-1

IL

 18

  6

 33.33

  44.59

     2,207,818

     4,951,520

       +2

IN

  9

  7

 77.78

  54.19

     1,351,760

     2,494,314

-2

IA

  4

  2

 50.00

  48.47

       726,505

     1,498,892

    0

KS

  4

  4

100.00

  79.12

       740,981

       936,486

-1

KY

  6

  5

 83.33

  60.01

     1,027,582

     1,712,326

-1

LA

  6

  5

 83.33

  76.09

     1,143,027

     1,502,217

     0

ME

  2

  0

  0.00

  38.34

       265,982

       693,801

       +1

MD

  8

  1

 12.50

  34.33

       858,428

     2,500,196

       +2

MA

  9

  0

  0.00

  25.11

       697,637

     2,778,231

       +2

MI

 14

  9

 64.29

  47.27

     2,086,804

     4,414,789

-2

MN

  8

  3

 37.50

  43.68

     1,210,409

     2,771,393

     0

MS

  4

  3

 75.00

  63.10

       703,635

     1,115,033

     0

MO

  8

  6

 75.00

  56.66

     1,463,586

     2,583.140

-1

MT

 1

 1

100.00

 55.49

       255,468

        460.407

     0

NE

 3

 3

100.00

 64.24

       496,276

        772,515

-1

NV

 4

 2

50.00

 50.22

       457,239

        910,549

     0

NH

 2

 0

 0.00

 47.76

       311,636

        652,561

          +1

NJ

12

 6

50.00

 44.36

     1,430,325

      3,224,626

-1

NM

 3

 1

33.33

 44.84

       343,269

        765,458

     0

NY

27

 6

22.22

 35.16

     2,242,554

      6,378,890

          +3

NC

13

 8

61.53

 49.07

     2,137,167

      4,355,524

-2

ND

 1

 1

100.00

 56.83

       173,585

        305,455

     0

OH

16

12

75.00

 52.07

     2,620,233

      5,032,618

-4

OK

 5

 5

100.00

 67.62

       856,872

      1,267,196

-2

OR

 5

 1

20.00

 42.01

       687,839

      1,637,499

          +1

PA

18

13

72.22

 49.24

     2,710,070

      5,503,608

-4

RI

 2

 0

 0.00

 41.03

       161,926

        394,605

          +1

SC

 7

 6

85.71

 58.01

     1,026,129

      1,768,934

-2

SD

 1

 1

100.00

 57.45

       207,640

        361,429

     0

TN

 9

 7

77.78

 63.23

     1,369,562

      2,166,075

-1

TX

36

24

66.67

 58.08

     4,429,270

      7,625,757

-3

UT

 4

 3

75.00

 66.64

       647,873

        972,182

     0

VT

 1

 0

 0.00

 24.46

        67,543

        276,143

     0

VA

11

 8

72.73

 50.96

     1,876,761

      3,682,786

-2

WA

10

 4

40.00

 45.56

     1,369,540

      3,006,266

          +1

WV

 3

 2

66.67

 59.91

       384,253

        641,354

     0

WI

 8

 5

62.50

 49.24

     1,401,995

      2,847,010

-1

WY

 1

 1

100.00

 74.30

       166,452

        224,025

Table 2:  Summary Data for Table 1

States

CDs

Total

CDs

R

Seats

% R

Votes

% R

Cum. Votes—

R Candidates

Cum. Votes—

Qual. Parties

Change

in R Seats

 50

 435

234

53.79

49.31

    58,282,625

   118,189,639

-16

Table 3:  Source Document Vote Totals, R + D Vote Total, and % R Votes

Source Document

Cum. Votes R

Source Document

Cum. Votes D

Cum. Votes R + D

Votes

% R

     57,622,827

    59,214,910

    116,837,737

49.23

Table 4:  Votes Added to Source Doc. Totals to Create Cum. Votes in Table 2

State

Added to

Cum. Votes—

R Candidates

Added to

Cum. Votes—

D Candidates

Votes for

Libertarian

Party

Added to

Cum. Votes—

Qual. Parties

CT

      9,710

       66,883

            0

        76,593

MD

         22

       14,896

           0

       14,918

NY

   509,517

      238,383

           0

      747,900

OR

   140,549

       96,741

           0

      237,290

SC

         0

       28,614

           0

       28,614

TX

         0

            0

     246,587

      246,587

Totals

   659,798

      445,517

     246,587

    1,351,

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