Redistricting Helped Republicans Hold Onto Congress – NYTimes.com
Wisconsinites leaned Democratic when they went to the polls last month, voting to re-elect President Obama, choosing Tammy Baldwin to be their new United States senator and casting more total votes for Democrats than Republicans in races for Congress and the State Legislature.
But thanks in part to the way that Republicans drew the new Congressional and legislative districts for this year’s elections, Republicans will still outnumber Democrats in Wisconsin’s new Congressional delegation five to three — and control both houses of the Legislature.
Pennsylvanians also voted to re-elect Mr. Obama, elected Democrats to several statewide offices and cast about 83,000 more votes for Democratic Congressional candidates than for Republicans. But new maps drawn by Republicans — including for the Seventh District outside Philadelphia, a Rorschach-test inkblot of a district snaking through five counties that helped Representative Patrick Meehan win re-election by adding Republican voters — helped ensure that Republicans will have a 13-to-5 majority in the Congressional delegation that the state will send to Washington next month.
Republican-drawn lines also helped Republicans win lopsided majorities in other swing states Mr. Obama won: Democratic Congressional candidates won nearly half the votes in Virginia but only 27 percent of its seats, and 48 percent of the vote in Ohio but only a quarter of its seats.
Last month’s Congressional elections were the first to be held in new districts that were drawn across the country after the once-a-decade process of redistricting, when many state officials, charged with redrawing their district maps to account for population shifts, indulge in carefully calculated partisan cartography aimed at giving their party an edge.
Republicans had the upper hand: thanks to the gains they made in 2010 state-level elections, Republicans controlled the redistricting process in states with 40 percent of the seats in the House, Democrats controlled it in states with 10 percent of the seats, and the rest of the seats were drawn by courts, states with divided governments or commissions.
In the nation as a whole, Democratic candidates for Congress won 1.1 million more votes than Republicans, according to a tally of the popular vote kept by David Wasserman, the House editor of The Cook Political Report. But Republicans maintained their control of the House — making this one of a handful of elections in the last century where the party that won the popular vote for Congress did not win control of the House.
Redistricting may sound esoteric, but it can have an impact on governing at the state and federal levels. It may have played a role in Michigan’s decision to pass anti-union legislation this week, a month after Mr. Obama won the state by nine points. Michigan Republicans drew the maps in the last two cycles, and even though Republicans lost some seats last month they were able to keep their majority with 54 percent of the seats in the state’s House of Representatives, while getting just 45 percent of the popular vote. And since redistricting gives many members of Congress less competitive, more politically homogeneous districts, it is often cited as one of the factors exacerbating political polarization — a tension can be seen in the current fiscal debate.