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Fun with numbers

Monday, Sep 16, 2019

* Tribune editorial

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court disappointed Americans who yearn for an end to partisan gerrymandering — the drawing of legislative and congressional district lines to favor the party in power. The court admitted that these maps “are incompatible with democratic principles.” But it said it had no right to interfere.

The decision seemed to close off judicial remedies for a problem that politicians are not likely to solve — because they don’t see it as a problem. But a state court in North Carolina has given new hope that elections can be made to enhance the interests of voters rather than the self-serving priorities of the pols.

This decision has some relevance to Illinois, where Democrats in Springfield have gone to great lengths to keep themselves in power. In 2018, Democrats got 61% of the votes in U.S. House races but 72% of the seats. Often, the loaded dice mean there is no game at all. Of 39 state senators up for election, 20 had no opponent.

North Carolina had a similar map, but designed to bolster Republicans. They hold 10 of 13 congressional seats thanks to a map that a GOP lawmaker confessed was the best he could do — “because I don’t believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

North Carolina Republicans hold 77 percent of the congressional seats despite winning only about half the congressional votes cast statewide.

* There’s also this

In fact, [North Carolina Democrats] didn’t stand a chance of picking up a fourth seat unless they could net 52.5 percent of the statewide vote, something they achieved only once since 2000, in the 2008 election.

And four seats would still leave the NC Dems in a 9-4 deficit.

* The Illinois Republicans lost two congressional seats last year that few thought they could possibly lose when the map was drawn in 2011. President Obama lost the 6th Congressional District by 8 points in 2012 and he lost the 14th by 10. Democratic congressional candidates lost the 6th and 14th by about 18 points in 2012 and then won them by 5 and 8 points, respectively, last year. That’s a huge turnaround and had way more to do with President Trump’s lack of suburban appeal (to say the least) and the poor campaigns the GOP incumbents ran than the way the maps were drawn.

Those two races last year were also relatively close. The equivalent to flipping about a half percentage point of the statewide congressional vote would’ve done the trick for the GOPs. And then the Democrats would’ve won 60.5 percent of the statewide vote for 61 percent of the seats.

* Look, there’s no doubt that the Illinois maps are gerrymandered. I wouldn’t argue otherwise and I am all for independent, non-partisan redistricting. But saying Illinois’ district maps are “similar” to North Carolina’s is just whataboutism.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - NotRich - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:16 am:

    Its not about drawing the maps.. its about being a better political operation, finding better candidates that fit each district..thats how you gain control of the legislature

  2. - Rich Miller - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:17 am:

    ===Its not about drawing the maps===

    Yes, it is. Don’t be naive. It’s always the most important decennial event in Illinois.

  3. - cover - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:18 am:

    It’s almost like the Trib thinks “fair maps” could somehow produce a GOP majority in at least 1 chamber of the General Assembly… not sure how that is possible, especially in the Trump era.

  4. - Fav human - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:21 am:

    The article is a bit unfair to Roskam. He knew he was in trouble and campaigned hard. Hultgren on the other hand, if he had put in the slightest bit of a campaign would have held the seat.

  5. - NotRich - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:28 am:

    To the Honorable Mr Miller: 2 words.. LEE DANIELS..he drew the map and could only win the gavel once in a decade.. HIS MAP.. like I said, its the better political operation that gets you to 60.. drawing the map can get you to 66

  6. - DIstant watcher - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:29 am:

    My recollection is that the legislature deferred to the congressional delegation in some of these matters, like which member got mapped out when the state lost a seat. The most junior member usually got mapped out.

    And if Democrats drew the maps to create more opportunities for themselves, why’d it take until the fourth election for them to finally win big? These maps are stale; they’re more of a toss up now then they were when implemented.

  7. - Fav human - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:30 am:

    “and could only win the gavel once in a decade”

    At a time when his Senate counterpart held the Senate the entire decade. Electing a conservative senator in districts that his moderates lost…

  8. - City Zen - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:36 am:

    Wake me when Westchester has less than three congressional districts.

  9. - lake county democrat - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:41 am:

    If gerrymandering didn’t work, parties wouldn’t spend so much money fighting fair map efforts. And though fair maps in Illinois wouldn’t put the GOP in party, it might impact the Dems’ supermajority status. But that shouldn’t be the point: -gerrymandering is offensive on principle. Power to the People!

  10. - Hamlet's Ghost - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:45 am:

    I recall research posted here by a prof (PhD) from St. Louis suggesting that statistically, seat percentages gain 1.5% - 2% for every point above 50%

    55% of the vote total statewide “should” yield 57.5% to 60% of the seats.

    61% of the vote total “should” yield 66.5% to 72% of the seats.

    Also, uncontested seats for the party drawing the maps is not evidence of partisan gerrymandering, in fact it’s the opposite.

    If a district is so lopsided the GOP has no incentive to slate a candidate there are a whole lot of “wasted” Dem voters. Effective gerrymandering does not call for packing your own voters into uncontested districts.

    In PA, Philadelphia votes over 90% for the Dem US House while nearby suburbs elect the GOP candidates with totals in the mid 50s versus mid 40s for the Dem.

  11. - Not a Superstar - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:50 am:

    Wait—the Trib’s editorial board is engaging in whataboutism? I must repair to my fainting couch…

  12. - Rich Miller - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:51 am:

    ===it might impact the Dems’ supermajority status===

    Maybe, maybe not.

    What politicians fear most about fair maps is that they might have to move or their districts become unwinnable by someone like themselves. MJM’s region, for example, is a prime example of both.

  13. - Rich Miller - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 11:52 am:

    ===drew the map and could only win the gavel once in a decade===

    Mainly because he didn’t anticipate the massive African-American migration to the south suburbs.

  14. - NoGifts - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 12:06 pm:

    It’s c) all of the above. Gerrymander maps, make voting more difficult for some, make it illegal for others, and campaign on issues the remaining voters are interested in.

  15. - Streamwood Retiree - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 12:15 pm:

    =Democrats got 61% of the votes in U.S. House races but 72% of the seats=
    A fallacious argument. trib board needs to take remedial math.
    It is entirely possible with a fair map for Democrats to get 51% of the vote and 100% of the seats. This does not prove fairness or unfairness. It only shows that voter preferences are not evenly distributed across the state. Wow, what a surprise. I never knew that. (removing tongue from cheek)

  16. - Nick - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 12:17 pm:

    I would note that somewhat ironically the current map *was* meant to produce a 13-5 Dem margin in a good year. Just, originally it was expected Dems would hold on to the 12th district and possibly win the competitive 13th.

    Which does go to show just how limited some of these gerrymanders end up being when the political ground moves under them. Texas Republicans nearly had this happen to them when their heavy splitting of liberal Austin nearly lost them something like 3+ congressional districts in 2018.

  17. - Nick - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 12:44 pm:

    Also to Hamlet’s Ghost’s point it’s totally true that even with the most ‘fair’ of maps that the nature of first past the post winner take all elections can often mean increasingly lopsided results.

    And that maps which are ‘overly fair’ can actually produce more extreme results, like California where Republicans assumed non-partisan redistricting would be to their benefit.

  18. - Hamlet's Ghost - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 1:00 pm:

    Actually it can be rather tricky to draw a safe “majority-minority” district.

    The IL Dem wonks are going to have to expend a lot of brain power to draw at least a few safe GOP seats anywhere in the Chicago metro region.

    Even Wheaton, Geneva and Barrington aren’t safe R anymore.

    80 Dem seats in the IL House would both be embarrassing and difficult to manage.

  19. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 1:01 pm:

    Of course gerrymandering matters. Nobody is denying this. But Rich is absolutely right. And yes we should have fair maps. But let’s get real. We are not in the same league as NC or PA or MI or WI. In all those places there was a huge gap between seats and percentage of vote. That doesn’t exist in IL. There are plenty of reasons for fair maps beyond that one statistic so it would be nice if the Trib dealt with this in a more fact-based manner.

  20. - Nick - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 1:14 pm:

    In any case 2020 probably won’t make the Tribune very happy. The incentive seems clear to axe IL12 and basically create some sort of Champaign to Metro East seat which Dems should win easily.

    And it isn’t that difficult to come up with a map which makes every seat in Chicagoland have a Dem leaning PVI. Or at least strengthen both IL-6 and 14.

  21. - thechampaignlife - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 1:16 pm:

    We should be talking about adding seats to Congress. We have been stuck at 438 in the House for over 100 years. That makes for huge districts.

  22. - Hamlet's Ghost - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 1:31 pm:

    == We should be talking about adding seats to Congress. ==

    100%$ agree. From a Pew Research article in May 2018:

    ==The U.S. House of Representatives has one voting member for every 747,000 or so Americans. That’s by far the highest population-to-representative ratio among a peer group of industrialized democracies, and the highest it’s been in U.S. history. ==

    In Canada, the largest district for their House of Commons was 132,000 in 2015.

  23. - Chicagonk - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 1:44 pm:

    Madigan cares more about drawing maps for primary purposes than the general election.

  24. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 1:56 pm:

    To the Post,

    ===they might have to move or their districts become unwinnable by someone like themselves.===

    That’s the ball game, as the goal in redistricting is that one can stay in their own home and by virtue of the map they will have a better opportunity to keep it after it’s drawn.

    Draw someone where their district doesn’t reflect their voting record or policies, but they move 3 blocks, it’s their best bet, that’s not “great” for that legislator.

    The south suburbs and their own evolution eclipsed any map, and frankly, the GOP’s own recruitment during the 90s abd 2000 have seldom looked like a party trying to grow its own tent, rather the GOP tried and failed to make it a binary decision on things those districts voted differently on when selecting legislators standing on those issues.

    The smart congressional map here in Illinois will make the 6th and 14th far more competitive and looking deeper at the trends to gradually help.

    Make Shimkus’ district disappear, and make Lipinski’s district a “lefter-blue” district.

    Make Bustos’ district even less competitive for the GOP too.

    Sitting GOP Congress-folks would only need to let the new Congress Critter sitting in the lame duck district feel they have a shot in a primary, but draw options that keep the incumbents far happier.

    The 2022 election will be interesting to decisions of this map right after the drawing begins.

  25. - Leatherneck - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 2:00 pm:

    - Nick - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 1:14 pm:

    In any case 2020 probably won’t make the Tribune very happy. The incentive seems clear to axe IL12 and basically create some sort of Champaign to Metro East seat which Dems should win easily.

    And it isn’t that difficult to come up with a map which makes every seat in Chicagoland have a Dem leaning PVI. Or at least strengthen both IL-6 and 14.

    In his News-Gazette column yesterday, Jim Dey quoted Chapin Rose as speculating that Champaign-Urbana could end up in Bustos’ remapped 17th after 2020.

    IMO, this can be possible–the 17th remapped into an I-74 seat from the Quad Cities to C-U (and maybe all the way to Danville). With UIUC, ISU, Bradley Univ., plus Knox, Monmouth and Augustana colleges all within the district.

    Plus another college-heavy district in the remnants of the 12th/13th/15th(?) that could lump in at least SIUC, SIUE, UIS, EIU and maybe even WIU.

    I see Rockford (plus DeKalb and NIU) being shifted into the 14th to strengthen Underwood’s seat.

  26. - anon - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 2:18 pm:

    I would attribute Hultgren’s loss to Underwood’s strength as a candidate and Hultgren’s remarkable disinterest in holding office. I would not attribute the result in any measure to districting.

  27. - Thomas Paine - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 2:35 pm:

    === Mainly because he didn’t anticipate the massive African-American migration to the south suburbs. ===

    Translation: Republicans tried to pack black voters into as few districts as possible in 1992 and failed.

    “Fair Maps” is an attempt to codify in statute what Lee Daniels failed to do the first time: supress the influence of minority voters.

    There is a reason the GOP refused to get behind a version of Fair Maps that protected minority rights.

  28. - ZC - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 2:53 pm:

    The main concern I have is that we don’t associate “gerrymander” with “weird non compact looking districts.” You could draw a bunch of compact squares and rectangles over Chicago and for my money it’d be a massive gerrymander because you’re “packing” in Dems to a smaller number of seats.

    Free and fair elections = / = rectangles. We can’t measure gerrymandering using aesthetic criteria.

  29. - JIbba - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 3:15 pm:

    If you need about 750K people in a Congressional district, everything south of a line from Taylorville to EIU (excluding Madison and Monroe) could make one district. Sort of the limits of the Eastern Bloc.

  30. - Nick - Monday, Sep 16, 19 @ 7:56 pm:


    Hmm. It could work, but I don’t know how well.

    The basic premise seems the same regardless. The dems are going to come up with two downstate dem-leaning districts, and three which act as massive GOP vote sinks, leaving them to splice Chicagoland however necessary.

    The immediate issue which comes to mind with an I-74 Bustos seat, while being really strong for her, is that it seriously weakens the other Dem district downstate. You could come up with something reasonable which goes from Carbondale, through Metro East, to Springfield, and then Decatur. But that district is full of ancestral Dem voters who have been leaving the party. Probably won it in 2018, but it’s definitely a negative trend line.

    Of course, a lot will depend on who exactly is there come reapportionment. If Londrigan beats Davis that’ll complicate the situation, or if Underwood loses that potentially puts less pressure to come up with a competitive out-suburb naperville based seat for her.

  31. - Simple Simon - Tuesday, Sep 17, 19 @ 9:37 am:

    ==But that district is full of ancestral Dem voters===

    Exactly. Look at counties won by JB in 2018 downstate to illustrate the problem. Putting Champaign with Peoria/QC fortifies that district. However, that leaves Cairo to Madison to Springfield together, which might not go Democratic.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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