Tag Archives: gerrymandering

Assembly Democrats Shoot and Miss

The new Democratic congressional map is political malpractice in the first degree.

Both parties have aggressively pursued gerrymanders this year—Democrats in New Mexico, New York and Illinois—Republicans in North Carolina, Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin—to take a few examples. The critical difference, however, is that the Democrats have proposed a national ban on gerrymandering, while Republicans remain adamantly opposed.

Gov. Larry Hogan has lambasted creative Democratic line drawing in Maryland, where such attitude benefits his party, but is hardly an avatar of reform. He has studiously avoided commenting negatively about Republican gerrymanders elsewhere or endorsing national legislation to address the problem.

Good government promoters along with newspapers like the Washington Post and New York Times piously inveigh against gerrymandering by either party. Except at this point, given the unashamed efforts by Republicans to gerrymander wherever they can—and fighting national efforts to ban it—Democrats choosing to abandon it is unilateral disarmament. The distribution of Democrats already works to the benefit of Republicans, but Republican gerrymandering is designed to assure partisan lockups by the GOP whether the voters agree. This is already the case in the Wisconsin legislature.

Which brings me to Maryland.

General Assembly Democrats decided to reconfigure the districts to render the First District a toss up (at best) for their party rather than a safe Democratic seat. Some of the potential reasons were outlined in a piece appearing in Slate:

[Rep. John] Sarbanes is also the lead sponsor of the For the People Act, or H.R. 1, which includes as a central plank an end to partisan gerrymandering and a national move to independent, nonpartisan redistricting commissions. As a national crusader against gerrymandering, he couldn’t bring himself to go full 8–0, several Democratic sources said. . .

[Rep. Kweisi] Mfume was concerned that absorbing chunks of largely white Republican voters into his district from Harris’ would distract from his representation of majority-minority communities in Baltimore. He was adamant against suggested changes, like stretching his district north to the Pennsylvania border. . .

[The Maryland Legislative Redistricting Commission] settled on the seven-Democrat map with a more competitive 1st District. This one still extended Harris’ district across the bay to Anne Arundel County—but curiously excised Annapolis, the inclusion of which would have been quite helpful to the Democratic candidate challenging Harris. Several sources cited one factor: The Democratic state senator representing Annapolis, Sarah Elfreth, didn’t want a competitive congressional district like the 1st layered atop hers. (“Sen. Elfreth had no role,” her staff told me when asked about this factor.)

In contrast, Reps. Steny Hoyer and Jamie Raskin were described as fully on board with an 8-0 map.

In the end, General Assembly Democrats settled on a map that is truly the worst of all worlds. They drew a district that has an excellent chance of reelecting Rep. Andy Harris—an ivermectin prescribing, coup friendly representative. Yet the lines are sufficiently ugly that no one is going to give them “credit” for not gerrymandering. Is Rep. Sarbanes really so benighted that he thinks he looks good because he stopped Democrats from gerrymandering more?

Indeed, the map preserves some of the old plan’s more derisory elements, such as the Hoyer hook that swings the Fourth into College Park completely unnecessarily. And Third District Rep. John Sarbanes will represent Harford and Montgomery Counties.

To those who say it is unfair to have an 8-0 map, let them get a national gerrymandering ban passed. It’s a great overdue idea that’s languishing due only to Republican opposition.

In the meantime, an 8D-0R map in Maryland, where Biden won 65-32 seems a lot fairer than the projected 11R-3D map in 50-49 (Trump) North Carolina, 9R-5D map in 50-49 (Biden) Georgia, or 12R-3D map in 53-45 (Trump) Ohio. Republicans also seem unbothered by the Democratic shutout in Oklahoma, which Trump by the same margin as Biden won Maryland.

Meanwhile, the maladroit gerrymander passed by General Assembly Democrats no doubt has many people rolling their eyes either because it’s a gerrymander or because it’s such an incompetent one. SMH.


Congressional Plan Fairer Than You Think

CDMD2012 Congressional District Map

Redistricting remains one of the more contentious if arcane subjects in American politics. Unlike in many other western democracies with single-member district elections, such as Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom, the U.S. still usually allows politicians to draw both congressional and state legislative districts.

Some advocate that states ought to construct plans that are fair to Democrats and Republicans. And Maryland’s congressional plan has been attacked as unfair to Republicans not only by the GOP but by other observers, such as St. Mary’s College Professor Todd Eberly.

But how do you measure partisan fairness? Here are two basic principles that some see as underlining a fair plan that does not favor one party over the other along with an assessment of how well Maryland’s current plan lives up to them:

(1) No Partisan Bias. This principle is the simple idea that a party should win 50% of the seats if it wins 50% of the votes. Note that this is not the same as proportionality–that a party wins the same share of seats as votes.

There are different ways of testing for partisan bias. Examining the vote of statewide candidates in different districts is one simple way to test plans (not necessarily the best but easy to comprehend). The advantage of statewide candidates is that one can assess party performance with the same two candidates across all districts.

In this example, I use the presidential race. As is well known, Obama carried seven of the eight current districts in 2008. The two-party vote in each congressional district is shown in the first two columns:


Obama’s average vote share was 63.1%. But what if there was a uniform swing across all district of 13.1% towards McCain? Under this scenario, Obama and McCain would each have averaged 50.0% of the vote (see columns 3 and 4). Interestingly, each would also have carried four districts–exactly 50% of the total.

So the current plan passes a simple and cursory bias test. When each party receives 50% of the vote, each should win 4 districts.

(2) Symmetry reflects that if one party gains 65% of the seats with 55% of the votes, so should the other party. In single-member plurality elections, a party often gains a seat bonus when it wins more than a majority. This principle encapsulates the idea that such a bonus should be symmetrical and equal for both parties.

How symmetrical in Maryland’s plan? Again, examining the presidential vote is illuminating. In the example, below I envision a uniform swing across districts to estimate how many districts McCain would have won if he had received 63.1%–the share Obama actually won in the election.


The table suggests that McCain would have carried six districts–one less than Obama carried with the same share of the vote. So the plan is not perfectly symmetrical. The two black-majority districts (4 and 7) contain so many Democratic voters that even a Republican tsunami would not turn them blue, though the 7th comes close.

Examining the data in the table closely further suggests that Republicans would need only an additional 2.5% of the vote to carry all eight districts. However, Democrats would not achieve the same feat if they received the same vote share.

In truth, it can be very hard to construct plans free of bias and perfectly symmetrical. Moreover, swings are rarely uniform and the geographical concentration of partisans can shift over time. Of course, that also doesn’t mean we can’t often do better.

This at-first-glance examination also indicates that moaning about the partisan unfairness of the plan is not necessarily justified even though the plan was crafted by Democrats and one assumes designed to achieve their ends.

Complaints about the plan probably need to focus more on other issues. Next, I examine compactness–one of the major criticisms of Maryland’s redistricting plan.