Backwards: When Politicians Choose Their Voters
Voters are suppose to choose elected officials, not the other way around.
A core tenet of representative democracy is the governed choose the government. That is, citizens, exercising their rights to participate in free and fair elections, collectively elect office-holders. However, in the United States, due to the usage of single-seat districts as the fence put around those voters, office-holders can, through the redistricting process, choose their own voters.
This violates the very notion of elected, representative democracy.
This situation in the United States is made possible because of our strict two-party system wherein, aided by computers, politicians can manipulate district lines to create districts that very clearly contain advantageous populations of voters who are highly likely to vote for a specific party, regardless of candidate and very likely regardless of policy debates. (Yes, some voters change their minds and some districts can change due to demographic and migratory changes over time, but on balance, such changes are rare relative to the overall population).
Let’s consider Illinois. In 2020 the state voted 57.5% for Biden and 40.6% for Trump which matched the average results of presidential contests in Illinois since 2000 (57% for Ds, 41% for Rs, and 2% for others). Hence, It is not unfair to characterize the state as roughly 57-41 D to R (which tracks within a couple of points with the 2018 governor’s race and Senator Duckworth’s 2016 election).
Its current House delegation is 13 D, 5 R (so, 72.2% D and 27.8% R). This already tells us that the state’s lines are drawn in a way that favors Democrats (or, at a minimum, that the outcomes of Illinois House races do not reflect the actual partisan breakdown of the state’s population as inferred from the presidential vote). Indeed, that is a pretty significant deviation that should be concerning if one is interested in quality of representation.
Starting in 2022 the state will lose 1 seat, down to 17. So what might the breakdown look like?
The not yet approved map would create 14 Democratic seats and three Republicans. That’s 82.4% of the seats for the Ds and 17.6% for the Rs on what will likely be a ~57-41 D/R vote split statewide in November of 2022.
A partisan Democratic response might well be: “Good! Turnabout is fair play.” After all, other states, like Texas, will be gerrymandering their districts to favor Rs. And, perhaps from a tactical point of view, one could make the argument that given our rules, this is how the game has to be played.
But, I have to stress that the game in question isn’t democracy, and that should concern anyone who actually thinks democratic governance is desirable.
Meanwhile, speaking of Texas, Mother Jones assesses that Texas Republicans Are Pulling Out All the Stops to Dilute the Voting Power of People of Color.
Through the redistricting process, Texas Republicans are building a sea wall against demographic change—an early indicator of how the Republican Party nationally is responding to momentous population changes not by reaching out to growing communities of color but by diluting their voting power. At a time when Texas is becoming more diverse and Democratic, the new maps drawn by Republicans for congress and the state legislature would make the state’s political representation far whiter and more Republican, all but ending competition at the very moment when ascendant Democrats are finally making the state competitive.
Of course, since racial demographics correlate strongly with partisan voting, the Republicans have every interest in diminishing the voting power of non-whites.
White voters have been a minority in Texas since 2004 and over the past decade 95 percent of the state’s growth came from communities of color, but the GOP’s proposed congressional map increases the number of white Republican districts and decreases the number of majority-Latino and majority-Black districts. It packs minority voters into as few urban areas as possible in cities like Austin, Dallas, and Houston to limit their representation, while spreading out the rest among deeply red exurban and rural areas to nullify their influence. Despite gaining nearly 2 million Hispanic residents and more than 500,000 Black residents since 2010, Republicans didn’t draw a single new majority-Latino or majority-Black congressional district. Instead, the two new House seats the state gained due to population growth were given to majority-white areas in Austin and Houston.
Like I said above: politicians picking their voters. I know this is not new, but increasing partisanship and improved technology mean it is deeper and more common. And regardless of anything else, it is unhealthy (at least if one values democracy).
And I would note: if we had proportional representation, the issue of majority-minority districts is moot. A group’s voting strength is their actual proportional size in the population.
All of this is made worse in the US due to our too-small House of Representatives and the fact that most districts are drawn by partisans in legislators. (While a movement to nonpartisan redistricting process would be an improvement, they would not solve the underlying problems). Keep in mind that at least part of the issue is residency patterns (i.e., partisans tend to cluster, especially in cities).
All of these problems and issues are the direct result of our system. Multi-seat districts in proportional representation systems can’t be gerrymandered. For that matter, multi-party systems make gerrymandering almost pointless even in single-seat plurality systems like in the UK.
Back to the new Texas map
Republican House candidates won 53 percent of the statewide vote in 2020 but would hold a projected 65 percent of seats under the new lines, which were approved by the state Senate redistricting committee on Monday. The number of safe GOP seats would double, from 11 to 22, while the number of competitive districts would fall from 12 to just one.
Our system is simply not representative.
Some examples of the maps in Texas: