When a dinner guest said they thought Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run for US President was significantly affected by horrible gerrymandering in Wisconsin, I flashed hot.
Not because any taboos on discussing religion or politics had been breached. No, hearty debate is welcome on all topics at my table. But this comment felt akin to claims that vaccines cause autism, the earth is flat, or Ben Carson is a scintillating speaker. It had the feeling of SIWOTI, and I am nothing if not a SIWOTI Warrior. Apologies to those swept up in the battle.
The battle raged. I said gerrymandering doesn’t affect national elective office. It doesn’t affect statewide offices, like Governor, either. It doesn’t affect Senate elections. Its effects are closely limited to State legislative districts and US House Congressional districts.
Guests said, “How can you say that?”
I replied, “By saying it. The effect of gerrymandering is to increase the number or State or Congressional legislative seats a party gets by drawing precise maps designed to favor the specific party. Gerrymandering is designed to seize control of legislative bodies at the State legislative and National House level.”
The debate raged briefly, doused by the wise suggestion that we table the argument to research realities, rather than slit each other’s throats at the dinner table over something we agree on: Gerrymandering in WI is very bad (criminal in my mind) and grossly hurts the people of our state, and others.
Resolution: Gerrymander RUM — Rare, Unmeasured, and Minor.
After the meal I contacted , Sachin Chheda, a friend heavily involved in shepherding Gill v Whitford, the Wisconsin gerrymandering case, to the US Supreme Court. I went straight for the jugular: “Sachin, I assert that gerrymandering doesn’t affect Presidential elections. True?”
His quick response, “I disagree with your assertion. I would argue gerrymanders distort reality, and therefore affect everything.” Oh no!
Mind you, I am about to say I learned something, and my absolutist statement was wrong — in its absolutism. But I am also going to say that none of the three ways Sachin discussed are “Direct” or certain impacts, like the effects “Packing, Cracking, Hijacking, and Kidnapping” have on legislative districts. Those are real and obvious. The effect on Presidential elections is RUM. Sachin clearly laid out three ways that a gerrymander could affect national elections, like the 2016 Presidential election.
- Presidential Election Thrown to the House — “If Gerrymanders result in a party having an unrepresentative proportion of US House of Representatives seats, then if the election were ever thrown to the House it would impact the election.”An election would have to end with NO candidate receiving a majority of Electoral votes for this to happen. Since the passage of the 12th Amendment detailing this process in 1800 (Before “Gerrymandering” was given a name in 1812), the election has gone to the House once in 1824.
This potential effect is rarely encountered, and as you’ll see in item 3, of limited import because only 2 states allocate electoral votes based on House Districts.
- Distortive effects on Turnout: “If there are fewer competitive house districts, then turnout is probably suppressed, which does affect Presidential (election)s.”This scenario imagines a voter more interested in his local representative’s race than in the national Presidential race. Also, said voter lives in a gerrymandered district where they feel helpless and that their vote just doesn’t count, so they stay home and don’t vote in any election. I suppose I can credit this suppression to gerrymandering, but I can also credit it to voter apathy and ignorance.
This potential effect is Unmeasured or Unmeasurable. Speculative.
- “Gerrymanders can directly affect electoral college vote assignment in states that allocate electoral votes by House Districts.”
I see how this could have direct effect on Presidential elections. I was wrong in this way. In states where electoral votes are tied to congressional districts, Gerrymandering has direct impact on the Presidential election.
How many states allocate this way? It turns out that only Maine and Nebraska do this, and neither of those are among the four states that had most effect on the 2016 election: NC, WI, MI, and PA.
But that aside, I have to admit that if those two states have been gerrymandered, then the allocation of electoral votes could definitely be impacted — in 1/25th of states, comprising 5 out of the 435 Congressional seats, for slightly more than a 1% potential effect.
This potential effect is Minor, but legitimate.
The bottom line is that gerrymandering can theoretically have some small impact on national elections: Rare, Unmeasurable, and Minor, in order of the scenarios presented. But gerrymadering had nothing to do with the 2016 Presidential election or Hillary’s results specifically.
I am grateful to my friends for spirited discussion, and their tolerance of my strident, absolutist position, and for Sachin’s clear explication of how gerrymandering can affect Presidential elections.
Now, let’s all get dessert. RUM Cake anyone?