How to gerrymander your way to a huge election victory
By Christopher Ingraham
Oct 28 2016
A recent analysis by political scientists John Sides and Eric McGhee suggests that Democrats are poised to win a majority of votes in U.S. House contests but walk away with a minority of seats — again. As I wrote last week, a big factor in this odd disparity is the way some Republican state legislatures have gerrymandered congressional districts in a way that gives them far more House seats than their popular vote totals would suggest.
For a refresher on how gerrymandering happens, recall that the Constitution mandates that every 10 years, seats in the U.S. House are doled out to states according to state populations, as determined by the decennial census. In 2010, for instance, it worked out that a state got one house seat for roughly every 710,000 inhabitants. States have to assign each of their House seats to a congressional district. This requires drawing a map that splits a state up into a number of geographic regions, each with a population of about 710,000.
In most states, this process is done by the state legislature with the approval of the governor. So you see where the potential for shenanigans starts to creep in: If the statehouse and governor’s mansion are controlled by the same political party, there’s not much to stop them from drawing congressional districts in a way that maximizes that party’s representation in the U.S. Congress.
Below is an abstracted illustration of how this can work. It supposes we have a very tiny state of 50 people, each represented by a square. Thirty of them belong to what we’ll call the Blue Party, and the 20 others to the Red Party.
The illustrations show how you can divide those 50 people up into five different geographic “districts” in ways that either accurately represent the party divide in the state or that give one party or another an advantage relative to their population. Here’s a deeper explanation of what’s going on in this abstract scenario.