A possible subtitle for this post would be “A Tale of Two States,” those states being Pennsylvania and Virginia.
I’d like you to look at the maps of their congressional districts (Virginia, Pennsylvania – links open in new windows) and you may want to keep those windows open to look back at what is probably the clearest example of why we re-elect incumbent Representatives in the House.
First, let’s take a look at Pennsylvania. Notice that the five districts that went Democratic this time are clustered near major cities, and that the Democratic districts really don’t cover much in the way of area. Notice on the Secretary of State’s website that none of the races in the Democratic-leaning districts were really very close (in fact, they were very lopsided), resulting in the 5 Democratic Representatives (out of 18 total) being re-elected with solid majorities. The GOP winners won (generally) by much narrower margins. In PA, the Congressional districts are drawn by the State Legislature and approved by the Governor, while the Legislature districts are drawn by a commission balanced between Republicans and Democrats. If you wonder whether the redistricting process, consider that the total votes for Democratic U.S. House candidates in the 2012 PA election was 2,702,901, and the total votes for GOP U.S. House candidates was 2,626,851. So we have a state that’s almost evenly divided (Dem vs. GOP), but the House representation is 5 to 13.
Now on to Virginia.
First, the oddity that is the 3rd congressional district (the blot in the lower-right corner of the VA map linked above that looks like three little districts, but is actually all one district, is something that was put in place after the 2000 census. In Virginia, gerrymandering has been going on so long that it’s simply expected (and both sides cry foul at the other side doing it).
On to the stats. Virginia has 3 Democratic Representatives and 8 Republican ones, with 1,797,905 votes cast for Democratic candidates and 1,873,491 votes cast for Republican ones (aggregated from stats here). Given wailing and gnashing of teeth about Democratic gerrymandering in the link above, I’d say that the GOP is guilty of being more adept at the process.
Really, the only people who benefit from gerrymandering are the politicians themselves, since they’re choosing their voters. So remember, when you feel like bitching about “those elites in Washington who aren’t paying attention to us,” the reason they’re there is because of elites right next door who are deciding which elite you will vote to send to Washington, and in what group of voters your vote will be counted. Your local elections are what decide this, and you fail to participate in them at your peril. Also, I recommend much ranting and raving about the gerrymandering – it’s not cool when anyone does it, and I believe it’s at the root of how our two-party system has become so entrenched at the national level.