Gerrymandering in North Carolina: win <50% of the popular vote, take 70% of the seats

Mike from Mother Jones writes, "The Dems do this too, but these charts show how Republicans have become masters as gerrymandering their way to victory. In North Carolina, for instance, more than half of the electorate voted for Democratic representation, yet Republicans will fill about 70 percent of the state's House seats. Maybe that's not quite cheating--it is legal, after all--but it sure smells like it."


  1. Even if it’s legal, it’s still disproportionate.

    Congress has the power to regulate their own elections and take the districting power away from states. Perhaps they should.

  2. having a Legislature set the districts for the Legislators is a fox+henhouse issue.  it should be a job for the supposedly impartial Judicial branch.  they don’t have to do it themselves, they could assemble experts, but the Judicial branch should at least have to sign off on the map.

    1. California’s Republican minority convinced the public to set up a non-partisan/bi-partisan Citizens’ Commission to do redistricting this time, figuring they’d get a better deal than letting the Democrat-controlled legislature do it.  Unfortunately for them, they botched the political process of getting their volunteers onto the committee, so it was even less Republican, and since none of the members were legislators, they didn’t do the “I’ll let you keep your district safe if you let me keep mine safe” horsetrading they’d have gotten with a legislative committee.  Since then they’ve put a couple of initiatives on the ballot trying to overturn the system they set up in the first place, and failed.  (California’s rules for initiatives also made that a bit more complicated, because they had to ask “Should we approve the CItizens’ Commission recommendation?”, and get their supporters to vote “No” if they wanted it overturned in favor of letting the legislature propose an alternate plan.)

      (As a third-party voter who thinks that California’s Democrats are incompetent optimists and California’s Republicans are incompetent hostile right-wingers, and whose two favorite minority parties (LP, Green) don’t get space on “bi-partisan” committees, I get to say “neener neener” at the Republicans for botching this.  In practice, it helped contribute to the Democrats getting more than 2/3 of the Assembly this time, which lets them pass a budget and raise taxes without Republican support, so the state’s going to get even more expensive but maybe less broken.)

  3. Can’t help but notice that in the 2 Democrat examples, the popular vote was over 50% anyway.  Dems sure aren’t very good at manipulation and deceit.

    1. Well, see, in the USA we have a two-party system:  the party of incompetence and the party of evil.  Sometimes the former do more damage, but their pratfalls are much more amusing to watch than the latter, so it’s a wash.

  4. How about switching to proportional representation? That would fix a lot of problems. Most importantly, it’d make it a multi-party system, and eventually the two corrupt parties can be voted out (which is why they will always block it, of course).

    1. I’m not in principle strongly opposed to Proportional Representation, but it does have the (to me) undesirable effect of taking away your own personal Congressperson, the Representative who serves your district and intervenes for you when necessary. Congresspeoples’ offices actually do a surprising amount of constituent service. Arguably, this is corrupting of the system, but at present it’s often a vital part of how services are procured – and if you go to a Proportional-Representation system your geographic district won’t have its own Representative, presumably destroying this system.

      Also note that Proportional Representation would presumably dilute the power of the major parties in large states, but not in small states. New Hampshire has 4 seats in the House, and a party with a healthy 15% of the vote might get none of them – but would get an influential bunch of them in California. Unless you want nationwide Proportional Representation, which would be food for thought but would completely upend the nature of our Congress.

      And there are ways other than Proportional Representation (run-offs and their various kin) to boost the participation of third and alternative parties.

      1. On the bright side, you’d have two or more congresspeople. So you don’t have to deal with one anti-lgbt [or anti-free-speech, or the like] congressperson who’s never going to intervene for you anyway.

      2. Living through the switch between “proportional” (or at least “at large”) local representation to district representation in SF, I would never want to go back.

        It wasn’t proportional, strictly, it was like most school boards or the like where you voted for 12 supervisors, and the top 12 vote-getters were put in office.  It meant that everyone was competing out of a pool of 100 or so, so unless you had major financial and institutional support you’d never have enough people citywide vote for you.

        Proportional is actually worse than that:1) It’s party based: goodbye to any chance of seeing an independent.
        2) There’s not even the possibility that you’re electing some you want: you choose a “side”, then their leadership tell you who you’re going to get.

        In SF the proportionally elected supervisors were generally 10 or 11 party hacks to one or two independent voices.  Half of the hacks would typically quit before the end of their term because they’d been given a lobbying job or just couldn’t be bothered to come down to city hall for all the arduous rubber-stamping, so they’d then have their places filled directly by the mayor.

      3.  It doesn’t matter.  No matter how many Greens and Libertarians think a parliamentary system would be good for America, it will never happen.

      4. The House is supposed to represent the people, the Senate is supposed to represent the states.

        So, make the House elected on a national proportional level – and by proportional, I mean a list system, so you vote for the party you want in. That way, every member of the house is supposed to represent every citizen, not just the ones from their district. Tie House representation to being a US citizen, not being a citizen of a district. And, determine each party’s list in the primary.

        Make the Senate elected on a state level as it is now, ideally using some system other than first-past-the-post for the seats. This way, the Senate represents your state (which is, ultimately, a district).

  5. To say democrats do it as well is an understatement: just look at Barney Frank’s heavily gerrymandered 4th district in Massachusetts — several parts of his district were all of 100 yards wide. When the lines were re-drawn for 2013, he decided to retire, knowing he’d actually have to fight to keep his seat. Classic case of foxes guarding the hen house.

    1.  One example makes it an “understatement”?  (Frank would probably have won regardless of the redistricting, I doubt his decision to retire was heavily influenced by it.)

    2. So you’re saying that Barney Frank’s district was redrawn in a way that forced him to retire, but that he did it on purpose? What an odd view of things.

      1. I think he’s saying that after Frank’s gerrymandering was removed, Frank believed he could not be re-elected, so he retired.  2013 is in the future and the past tense was used in the previous sentence.

        I always wondered how Barney got re-elected after his boyfriend admitted running a prostitution ring out of Frank’s house.  I mean, sure, Barney got used, but lurid sex scandals usually kill a career in politics regardless of actual guilt.  People say “look, he makes bad choices, elect somebody else”.  Oh, and Frank did “fix” parking tickets for his lover, too, and most people won’t forgive such a clear cut abuse of power.  It’s amazing he could survive even with gerrymandering.

  6. People think of Texas as “deeply red” and yet republicans only got about 54.9% of the house vote.  Yet because of gerrymandering they have 24 of the 36 of their house seats.  I live in Pennsylvania which also had more than 50% of the vote for democrat house members but only 5 of 18 seats and when you look at the districts they only make sense if you’re gerrymandering the election.  

    Look at thing like: to see just how bad districting is in most places.  Ideal gerrymandering involves making as many districts as possible to just barely favor your party and then as few extra districts as possible that overwhelmingly favor your opponents party.

  7. Personally I’m a big fan of adding a constitutional amendment to require all districting to be convex relative to the space being subdivided.  Specifically, it could be worded as such “When any region is subdivided into districts for purposes of representation or voting, the districts must be drawn such that no straight line which begins and ends in any district may pass through any other district.”  We might want to substitute “great circle arc” for “straight line” if we’re worried about the pedantry, but either way, it would make gerrymandering impossible.  It wouldn’t end all battles about how to subdivide regions, but it would be an improvement.

    1. It would hardly make gerrymandering impossible.  Look at Indiana for a simple example.  You have the core of Indianapolis as one district and the chicago surburbs in another (entirely urban) and all but one of the remaining districts spoke off from them so each of those districts has a bit of urban space which is overwhelmed by exurban and rural communities.  This certainly passes your test, and it even looks reasonable (certainly better than the worst offenders), but I’d laugh at you if you suggested that this wasn’t the result of partisan politics.

    2. This wouldn’t require a constitutional amendment. Under Article 1 Section 4 Congress has the right to regulate the election of Representatives  Right now they don’t often use that right to override state regulations but they could.

    3. Convex doesn’t actually work, because it’s typically better to align districts along existing political or geographical boundaries, such as a city border, or a river, which aren’t straight lines, so that people know what district they’re in and so the district has some relationship to community structures and common interests.  Also, it often makes sense to have a non-convex district next to a convex one, e.g. a round city in one district and the non-convex suburban or rural area around it in a different district.   If you don’t allow that, you’re likely to split the whole region up into a pizza-shape, with each slice being a fraction of the city and lots of farmers, which given US demographics, often means “white suburban Republicans are a majority in each district.”

      Or you could take a purely objective approach to splitting a state into d districts, starting at the top and drawing horizontal lines for each N/d people.  It does mean that your district line is “everything north of 38.123 degrees”, and maybe that cuts diagonally across the middle of your block, but hey, everybody’s got GPS these days, or at least Google Maps.

  8. It’s not just Gerrymandering at work here. D votes tend to be clustered into urban areas, where blacks, gays, union members, government employees, and other D-oriented groups congregate. Romney got no votes at all in some philadelphia precincts. R’s on the other hand, are widely spread out, in small towns and suburbs. So unless there’s intentional balancing, with weird districts drawn from farms and a little slice of city, a 50-50 state will tend to have more R districts, unless we move away from the district model entirely.

    1. No, because districts are supposed to be based on population. So in theory if a city contains 50% of a state’s citizens, then it ought to have 50% of its districts. Each city district would be a lot smaller, but would have the same amount of people.

      1. No, because a precinict heavily tilted to one party (The 100% Democrat precincts in Philly) will result in all of the other precincts tilting to the other party.

        For example, if there are three precincts with a total distribution of 50% for each party, but one precinct is 100% D, the other two precincts will be 67% R.

        1. Yes, you do get cases like this where a fair and unbiased districting would favor one party or the other.  But there are some precincts in PA and other states that will vote 100% republican as well.  If it’s truly made in an unbiased fashion it will tend to balance out.  But most states were recently districted in a clearly biased fashion.  The majority of states districted by republicans were districted such that the majority of the districts are something like 30-40% urban and 60-70% rural (or just such that the voting trends are 55-65% republican and 35-45% democrat) and if that wasn’t possible for all of the districts, one or three were made 85-95% democrat.  

          The other fun thing to do is while gerrymandering is to put the most popular of your opposing parties candidates in the same district (even if it means that you have a snake like district that runs across your state but really try to avoid it) so that they have to run against each other in the next election.  This happened in several places as well.

        2. You could give Representatives proportional voting shares… based on the percent of the popular vote they get. So if someone winds by 51 their vote is weighted by 1.02.  Someone like Nancy Polosi at 80% would get a weight of 1.6 (AKA 8/5’s of a congressman)

          1. That’s actually very interesting — each district could even have two or three representatives, each one just getting the proportion of their vote in congress.

            So in the district in which the Dem candidate got 60% Dem and the Rep candidate got 40%, both candidates would go to congress and the first would have 0.6 votes and the second would have 0.4 votes.

            This simultaneously solves both the proportional representation problem, gerrymandering, and everyone still gets to have their own personal representative looking out for their interests.

            Besides doubling the size of congress, this sounds like a great idea.

  9. It happens all the time on both ends.  Pretty sure in this last election I can point to an area where one party received just over 52-55% of the votes but still got 100% of the representation

  10. Congress has the power to regulate their own elections and take the districting power away from states.

    You don’t really expect this to happen, do you? With a Republican House?

    But it’s a nice thought.

    1. That comment was supposed to be a reply to the first comment by  Michael Langford.Stupid login un-nested it.

  11. Stop making it easy for them; register independent.  Where do you think they get the data linking voting affinity and location?

    1. That is not all they can look at. They can easily look at election results by existing precinct  That is an even better indication than party affiliation.

  12. North Carolinian here.  Since the 2010 Republican take over of our Legislature, the state has been running, not walking, back to the 1850’s.  The redistricting has been nothing short of ghastly.  Someone above mentioned Union members.  Clearly, they’ve never visited NC where Unions are basically non-existent.

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