Jun 29, 2015 by

States where Democrats could gain from non-partisan congressional redistricting ballot initiatives.

States where Democrats could gain from redistricting reform ballot initiatives, with current congressional district counts

Republicans have successfully used redistricting to all but ensure they’ll keep control of the House of Representatives short of a 2006-style wave for Democrats. The numbers are stark: Fifty-five percent of the nation’s congressional districts were drawn to favor Republicans while only 10 percent were drawn to favor Democrats, with the balance drawn independently.

As a result, a majority of seats voted for Mitt Romney even though Barack Obama won in 2012—by four points. It should thus come as no surprise that Republicans were able to easily keep the House despite losing the popular vote that year, and there is the very real possibility this could happen again in 2016 even if Democrats hold the White House.

So what can progressives and democracy activists do to fight back against Republican efforts to rig the system? In the wake of the Supreme Court’s new decision upholding the constitutionality of Arizona’s independent redistricting commission, one strategy is clear: Reformers should try to institute similar changes in other states where voters can put initiatives on the ballot. Arizona and California both successfully voted for independent commission reforms that produced fair maps. There’s no reason this can’t happen elsewhere.

Ballot initiatives are an ideal tool for reform: They both sidestep self-interested legislators and they can appeal to reform-minded voters by avoiding any appearance of overt partisanship. And with the nation’s districts already tilted sharply in favor of Republicans, Democrats need to use every tool available to eliminate that unfair advantage.

Fortunately, several key states permit the initiative process. When adequately funded and written so as to be easily understood by voters, ballot measures focused on redistricting reform have typically proven very popular and have passed by wide margins in both Arizona and California.

So what states are next on the list? Key targets include Michigan, Ohio, and Florida—three big states that send far more Republicans than Democrats to Congress even though Barack Obama won them all twice. Several others are amenable to reform as well: Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Utah. Were independent redistricting commissions to take hold in all of these states, Democrats could stand to gain anywhere from nine to 17 seats after the 2020 Census—just by having fair maps.

And that figure isn’t just wishful thinking. Rather, it’s the product of careful analysis of what nonpartisan congressional maps would look like in each of these seven states, compared to their current GOP gerrymanders. Head below the fold to see our hypothetical maps, along with our analysis of their political impact on both Democrats and Republicans. And please note: These maps were not designed to benefit Democrats. Rather, it simply follows that if you replace GOP-slanted maps with fair ones, Democrats will benefit as a result. As Stephen Colbert famously said, the facts have a liberal bias. Fair maps, it turns out, have one, too.

We’ll start with a look at the big three states: Florida, Michigan, and Ohio. Following those, you can find our maps for Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Utah.

Florida — Proposed Map:

Proposed Florida non-partisan congressional map.
Interactive versionDistrict summary stats
Current Map:

Drawn by: Republican governor and legislature
Intended to Favor: Republicans
Delegation: 10 Democrats, 17 Republicans
2012 Vote: Obama 50, Romney 49
Summary: Republicans blatantly ignored the recently enacted Fair Districts amendment and the original map was struck down, with litigation currently on appeal.

Net Impact: Democrats could gain two to six seats in 2016.

Republicans drew an aggressive gerrymander that blatantly violated the Fair Districts amendment passed via ballot initiative in 2010. Democrats won a Pyrrhic victory last July when circuit court struck down parts of the map, but let Republicans get away with making minimal changes with little partisan impact. The case is currently being appealed to the state Supreme Court where the left-leaning bloc has a majority thanks to former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Democratic-trending Florida would provide Democrats with tremendous opportunities for gains if the state switched to nonpartisan redistricting. Compared to the current map, the above proposal automatically would result in two additional Democrats in 2016 in the Orlando-based 10th district and South Florida-based 26th. Obama won the St. Petersburg-based 13th and Miami-based 25th by around ten percent and both Republican incumbents would be ripe targets

In Central Florida, Obama now won the 7th District and while Republican Rep. John Mica is entrenched, the 72 year old won’t be around forever and this part of the state is trending Democratic. The 6th District is roughly 50-50 and with an open seat in 2016, Democrats very well could win it. On the flip side the 5th now only went for Obama by 5.6 percent, but this is a worthwhile trade-off because the new 10th is a safe seat.

Florida absolutely needs to be one of the top priorities for redistricting reform. Unlike every other initiative state, activists would need to win 60 percent of the vote to pass a constitutional amendment. However, we previously saw the voters pass both reform measures on the ballot even in the 2010 disaster. Therefore, it’s quite feasible to pass one final initiative to take redistricting completely out of the hands of the legislature, especially if aided by presidential-cycle turnout.

Michigan — Proposed Map:

Proposed Michigan non-partisan congressional map.
Interactive versionDistrict summary stats
Current Map:

Drawn by: Republican governor and legislature
Intended to Favor: Republicans
Delegation: 5 Democrats, 9 Republicans
2012 Vote: Obama 54, Romney 45
Summary: Republicans effectively maximized their seats.

Net Impact: Democrats could gain two to four extra seats in 2016.

Republicans lost the congressional popular vote in Michigan in 2012 yet walked away with nearly two-thirds of the seats due to their gerrymander. This nonpartisan map immediately gives Democrats two additional districts that Obama won by double digits, with the suburban Detroit-based 11th and Lansing-based 8th. Two more Republican-held seats narrowly voted for Obama, with Rep. Fred Upton looking somewhat rusty in the 6th while freshman Rep. John Moolenaar would have been an excellent target in the 4th. The 1st District Rep. Dan Benishek would remain vulnerable in the 1st, but that seat barely changes.

Democrats were fools not to target this state in 2012 after we lost the 2010 gubernatorial election, but Democratic activists are organizing to finally put reform on the ballot in 2016. Along with Florida, Michigan should be one of our top priorities as it could give us several more seats.

Ohio — Proposed Map:

Proposed Ohio non-partisan congressional map.
Interactive versionDistrict summary stats
Current Map:

Drawn by: Republican governor and legislature
Intended to Favor: Republicans
Delegation: 4 Democrats, 12 Republicans
2012 Vote: Obama 51, Romney 48
Summary: Republicans effectively maximized their seats.

Net Impact: Democrats could gain four to five seats in 2016.

Ohio is essential to fighting the bias of Republican map making. A nonpartisan map like this one would ensure Democrats win at least seven seats in anything but a Republican wave, while it very likely could give the party nine seats in a good year. The Cincinnati-based 1st, Akron-based 13th, and Cleveland-based 7th all went for Obama by double digits while the new 5th District gave him a 5-point margin. Even the 6th is still competitive down-ballot.

There is no good reason not to pursue an initiative here when Republicans are guaranteed three-fourths of the seats despite Ohio being consistently close to the national median. Democratic state legislators shamefully prevented the current map from being put to a 2011 referendum by voting for the Republican gerrymander and there is no excuse for Democrats not to fight to ensure our electoral system is fair.

Arkansas — Proposed Map:

Proposed Arkansas non-partisan congressional map.

Click any map to enlarge

Interactive versionDistrict summary stats
Current Map:

Drawn by: Democratic legislature
Intended to Favor: Democrats
Delegation: 4 Republicans
2012 Vote: Obama 37, Romney 61
Summary: Democrats drew a dummymander, which is a map that unintentionally functions as a gerrymander for the opposite party.

Net Impact: Democrats might still be able to win a district in the 2020s.

Arkansas Democrats drew by far the most moronic map of anyone in the country in 2012 when they erred in thinking they could win three districts and instead were left with none. While a nonpartisan map only significantly improves the 1st District and it’s still fairly Republican-leaning, this map would be considerably better than anything Republicans would draw in 2022, when they would seek to make the 1st and 2nd ironclad.

While the state would not provide a substantial boost to Democrats, nonpartisan redistricting is still worth pursuing, because a compact 2nd District that gave Obama 44 percent of the vote could potentially be won with a good candidate in a good year. When states like Texas lack the initiative, our options are limited.

Missouri — Proposed Map:

Proposed Missouri non-partisan congressional map.
Interactive versionDistrict summary stats
Current Map:

Drawn by: Republican legislature overrode veto of the Democratic governor with turncoat legislative Democrats.
Intended to Favor: Republicans
Delegation: 2 Democrats, 6 Republicans
2012 Vote: Obama 44, Romney 54
Summary: Democrats complained when this map passed with turncoat Democratic support along with Republicans. However, the only effect of the map was to protect Democratic Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, who had quite modest wins in both 2010 and 2014.

Net Impact: Democrats don’t lose one of their two seats in 2022.

A nonpartisan Missouri map wouldn’t win Democrats any additional seats, but in 2022 it very likely could prevent Republicans from eliminating one of the two we hold. Geography bias against Democrats is terrible in Missouri and thus it’s quite likely that Republicans will keep their veto-proof majority in the legislature, giving them total control over congressional redistricting in 2022. It would not take much for them to make the Kansas City-based 5th District significantly less Democratic, but a nonpartisan map like this makes that considerably less likely.

It’s only a difference of one seat, just like Arkansas, but think of it this way: it’s more efficient to spend several million dollars now to ensure a seat remains safe than to have to spend much more than that over future years to target another seat cycle after cycle.

Nebraska — Proposed Map:

Proposed Nebraska non-partisan congressional map.
Interactive versionDistrict summary stats
Current Map:

Drawn by: Republican governor and legislature
Intended to Favor: Republicans
Delegation: 1 Democrat, 2 Republicans
2012 Vote: Obama 38, Romney 60
Summary: Republicans’ minimalist gerrymander made a crucial difference in 2012 and just barely failed in 2014. They could have split Omaha and made the 2nd safely Republican.

Net Impact: Democrats might keep their lone seat in 2016 and beyond.

Republicans will almost certainly still control the process in Nebraska and after Democrats won the 2nd District in a bit of an upset in 2014, they will be more likely to seriously alter the district in 2022 to ensure Democrats can’t win it. A nonpartisan map would result in a 2nd District that is slightly less Republican than it currently is. If Democrats were to be extra cunning, they would have Nebraska’s commission utilize partisan competitiveness as Arizona’s does, allowing the 2nd District to be close to a 50-50 seat by 2012 presidential performance.

Utah — Proposed Map:

Proposed Utah non-partisan congressional map.
Interactive versionDistrict summary stats
Current Map:

Drawn by: Republican governor and legislature
Intended to Favor: Republicans
Delegation: 4 Republicans
2012 Vote: Obama 25, Romney 73
Summary: Republicans effectively maximized their seats.

Net Impact: Democrats gain one safe seat.

A nonpartisan Utah map would practically guarantee Democrats one solid seat in blue-trending Salt Lake City, compared to the four dark-red seats currently in place. Unfortunately, Utah would be one of the most difficult states to do because organizers would need signatures equivalent to 10 percent of the presidential ballots cast in 26 of the 29 state senate districts and many of these districts are nearly monolithically Republican.

However this state is still worth pursuing. Rather than having close races to elect a conservative Democrat costing the party millions in 2012 and 2014, we could wage a ballot campaign once and create a safe district, allowing us to save our future millions for more worthwhile Democrats.

All in all, establishing independent redistricting commissions in these states could win Democrats over a dozen extra seats, and the party would be foolish not to pursue them.

For all of our posts in our Nonpartisan Redistricting series, click here.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Mon Jun 29, 2015 at 09:37 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.


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