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Congressional districts and true democracy

By Bruce Walker
web posted June 13, 2005

Anytime the Left becomes frantically concerned with "political reform," be sure that this means that the Left is losing a fair fight and wants to change the rules. Redistricting and reapportionment are an excellent example. Despite the fact the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives for forty-two consecutive years, the current twelve year period of marginal Republican control is a "crisis" because there are so many "safe" districts. Really?

The ugly truth is that there was a period of almost complete disenfranchisement of tens of millions of Americans since the end of the Second World War, but that was the result of Democrat gerrymandering of state legislative and congressional districts.

The two biggest states – California and Texas – are the states in which the issue of how congressional districts are drawn has become most vital. Texas, of course, had the audacity to implement legislative rather than judicial congressional districts after the 2002 elections and Governor Schwarzenegger is pushing to have both state and congressional districts drawn by a panel rather than the legislature.

Leftists love to help us forget history, so here is some important history that anyone seriously interested in political reform needs to have to judge where we have been and where we are going. Consider the percentage of the popular vote that Republicans received (of the two parties) and the percentage of congressional seats Republicans won in those two big states in the four redistricting decades prior to post-2000.

In 2002, Republicans' successful effort to bring democracy to Texas, Republican congressional candidates received 55 per cent of the statewide vote in Texas, but won only 46 per cent of the congressional seats. In 2000, under the prior decade's congressional districts, Republican congressional candidates statewide won 54 per cent of the statewide vote, but won only 40 per cent of the congressional seats. In 1990, under the previous decade's congressional districts, Republican congressional candidates won 46 per cent of the statewide 46 per cent of the statewide vote, but won only 30 per cent of the congressional seats. And in 1980, Republican congressional candidates won 40 per cent of the statewide vote, but only 21 per cent of the congressional races.

In 2004, under new congressional boundaries drawn by Texas Republicans, Republicans would have won between 18 and 19 of the contested House seats based upon the votes in contested races, and they won 20 House seats, which is fairer than the judicially drawn districts of two years earlier and much fairer than any districts drawn by Democrats in the prior three redistricting cycles. In fact, because that excludes any votes for Congressman Ron Paul, who ran unopposed as a Republican from a populous district, the actual number of seats Republicans should have won and did win is very close to identical.

None of this, of course, seemed to bother much the professors and public interest groups which are so furiously scampering about now like Chicken Little screaming "The sky is falling!" and these pundits have never ever mentioned that in 2004 the correlation between the statewide total for Republican (or Democrat) candidates for congressional much closer than in the last four decades of congressional districts in Texas, or, put another way, the percentage of Texans voting for Republican (or Democrat) candidates for congress in Texas now is pretty close to equal to the percentage of congressmen of each party actually winning seats in Congress.

What Governor Schwarenegger is proposing in his California legislative district plebiscite would rectify another wrong. Consider the same four elections – 2002, 2000, 1990 and 1980 – and the percentage of votes cast for Republican congressional candidates compared with the percentage of congressional races won by Republicans.

In 2002, with congressional districts drawn exclusively by Democrats, Republican candidates for congress statewide won 46 per cent of the two party vote, but elected won only 37 per cent of the congressional races (that equals five seats in the House of Representatives.)

In 2000, using districts drawn a decade earlier with a Republican governor and Democrat legislature, Republican congressional candidates received 46 per cent of the statewide popular vote and won 44 per cent of the congressional seats. In 1990, Republican congressional candidates won 48 per cent of the statewide vote but won 44 per cent of the congressional races. And in 1980, under districts drawn exclusively by Democrats, Republican congressional candidates actually won a clear majority of the popular vote, 53 per cent, but elected won only 46 per cent of the House of Representatives races.

There was, indeed, massive disenfranchisement of voters, but it was Republican voters who were having their votes reduced by 20 per cent, 30 per cent, or – in the case of the Texas districts in 1980 – having their votes cut in half by flagrant Democrat gerrymandering.

Since Republicans became the majority party, the situation has dramatically improved, not only in specific states but nationally. In many parliamentary democracies, voters cast ballots for party lists, which means that the number of members in the national legislature is about equal to the number of votes cast for the party. How does the House of Representatives look, based upon that standard?

In 2002, if Republicans were given the number of congressional seats that the party won in congressional races, then it would have exactly the 228 seats that it won – the districts perfectly reflected the will of the American people. In 2000, it would have 219 seats instead of the 221 won, or a deviation of 1 per cent from perfection (and, because uncontested congressional races in Floridian races are not counted and because Republicans had significantly more of those, Republicans likely, again, would have had exactly the number of congressional seats as its percentage of the national vote.) Congressional elections have come to be as precise a measurement of partisan support as at any time in American history.

In 1998, Republicans would have had 220 instead of the 228 won, a deviation of 1.8 per cent and in 1996, Republicans would have had 218 instead of the 226 races won, another deviation of 1.8 per cent. The deviation would have been smaller, in both cases, if uncontested Floridian congressional races were counted, but in any event, in both elections Republicans would have actually won control of the House of Representatives. In 1994, if Republican votes for congressional candidates were translated into seats in the House of Representatives, then Republicans would have won 233 seats instead of the 231 actually won, a deviation of less than half of one percent.

Did democracy work better before Republicans gained power? Democracy was a joke. In 1990, if Republicans won the same number of seats in the House of Representatives as Republican candidates for Congress nationally, then Republicans would have had 200 seats in the House of Representatives. How many seats did Republicans win that election? Only 167 seats, a deviation of almost 8 per cent.

Newsflash to so-called "pundits" and hand-wringing public interest groups suddenly concerned about whether or not democracy in America is working now. Yes, thanks to Republican fairness contrasted with grotesque Democrat gerrymandering for the prior half century, democracy in America now works better than at any time since 1789. No thanks, we might add, to you.

Bruce Walker is a senior writer with Enter Stage Right. He is also a frequent contributor to The Pragmatist and The Common Conservative.

 

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