Another view: Don't blame GOP for House disparity

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 8A
Last Modified: Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 - 7:53 am

The Bee's editorial board has bought the Kool-Aid being served by a Princeton biology professor that the reason the Democrats don't control the U.S. House is Republican gerrymandering ("Redistricting reform – or lack of it – is a game changer"; Editorials, Feb. 10).

But the facts show this is not true. Democratic candidates received 1.4 million more votes for the House in 2012 but won 33 fewer seats. While 2011 gerrymandering in states where Republicans control the process was a factor, the main reason for this disparity is the Voting Rights Act that requires drawing heavily minority districts in states with large black and Latino populations. This has the effect of wasting huge numbers of Democratic votes in safe districts.

Secondly, Democrats now elect almost no white members of Congress outside liberal enclaves and the two coasts. For the first time, there are no Democrats in the Oklahoma and Arkansas delegations, and only one each in Kentucky and West Virginia. There are only seven white Democrats of the 27 representatives in Florida, and only three of 36 representatives in Texas. Loss of traditionally white Democratic seats cost them the House in 2010 and 2012.

The editorial cites Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin as states where GOP gerrymandering gave Republicans more seats than their share of the vote. True, but The Bee does not mention Illinois and Maryland, where Democratic gerrymanders took away five GOP House seats.

If you balance all the states, the Republican edge due to redistricting is probably half a dozen seats, not enough to explain the 33-seat Democratic deficit. And this is the first decade where Republicans controlled more states; I don't recall the editorial board crying many tears when Democrats controlled the line-drawing.

California is not on the list of bad states because a commission drew our lines. Democratic candidates won 62 percent of the House vote and got 38 of 53 seats, which the editorial calls "coinciding with the split of voters." But by my math, 38 of 53 seats is 72 percent, 10 percentage points above the vote split.

Is this the result of partisan gerrymandering? No. Republicans always elect fewer members than their share of the vote because GOP districts have more voters. Although districts must be equally populated, it does not mean equal numbers of voters, and many Democratic districts include non-citizens who are not voters.

The Princeton biology professor and the editorial board need a better understanding of all the factors coloring elections for the House of Representatives.

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