On November 6, Republican House Speaker John Boehner noted that while the American people re-elected President Obama and a Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate, they were also, “renewing our House Republican majority.” Boehner added. “With this vote, the American people have also made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.”
But here’s the problem: Most American voters cast their ballots for the Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives. The most recent tabulation has 59,318,160 votes for Democratic candidates, and only 58,143,273 votes cast for Republican candidates for the U.S. House.
So how come the Republicans retain control of the U.S. House with 234 representatives to only 201 representatives for the Democrats? The answer is gerrymandering, the drawing of congressional district lines to create the maximum number of Republican majority districts while concentrating Democratic voters in a few districts which are then overwhelmingly Democratic (or vice versa).
Pennsylvania is a good example. Because Republicans elected a Republican governor and a Republican majority in both houses of the state legislature in the Republican landslide year of 2010, they alone controlled the reapportionment of congressional districts based on the 2010 census.
As a result, in the 2012 election, Republican candidates won most of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts, although most Pennsylvania voters supported Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives. The actual vote in Pennsylvania was 2,710,827 votes for Democratic candidates, and 2,642,952 votes for Republican candidates, though the result was only 5 Democratic members of Congress and 13 Republican members of Congress from Pennsylvania.
Readers should google and examine the 2012 maps of Pennsylvania’s 7th and 6th congressional districts for especially egregious examples of gerrymandering.
Republicans argue with some justification that Democrats often do the same kind of gerrymandering when they control state government after a national census. Consequently, Republicans argue that the 2012 election result, that leaves them in control of the U.S. House of Representatives although most voters supported Democrats, is not unusual. If fact, the 2012 outcome was rare and anomalous, reflecting the extreme degree of political polarization and gerrymandering in the U.S. today.
Republicans say the same thing happened in 1996 when they retained control of the House despite a national majority of votes for Democratic House candidates. Sharp-eyed observers, however, have noted that Louisiana elections concluded that September would have given the Republicans a national popular vote majority if counted together with the November results.
It turns out that we have to go back 60 years to 1952 to find another example of one party (Republicans) controlling the U.S. House of Representatives although the candidates of the other party (Democrats) received a majority of the votes. (Similar anomalies occurred in 1942 and 1914 when Democrats ended up in control of the House, although most votes were cast for Republican candidates.)
The solution to this imperfection in our democracy is obvious. In California where Democrats dominate state government, they have created a non-partisan commission to re-apportion congressional and legislative districts according to clear and transparent guidelines, as is also done in Iowa, Australia, Canada, and many European democracies.
Non-partisan reapportionment commissions won’t guarantee a correlation between the popular vote for House candidates and party control of the U.S. House of Representatives. But they can guarantee that if a mismatch ever happens again, it won’t be because of deliberate political manipulation of congressional district lines by one political party in order to achieve a gerrymandered majority.