One of the most important stories of the 2012 election is in the graphic above.
Those are six of the most gerrymandered states in the country, states that President Obama won — often by considerable margins — yet which all sent primarily Republican delegations to the United States House, often because of maps that were intentionally draw to minimize Democratic voters. In the November 6, 2012 election, 59,214,910 Americans cast their ballot for a Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative. Just 57,622,827 cast a vote for a Republican House candidate. Yet, despite a Democratic advantage of more than 1.5 million votes, a combination of gerrymandering, urban concentration of Democratic voters, state boundaries benefiting Republicans, and similar factors enabled Republicans to win a solid majority of the seats in the House. Indeed, 234 Republicans and just 201 Democrats were elected in 2012, in a year when the voters preferred a Democratic House.
A new analysis by FairVote.org finds that a similar story played out in New Jersey in 2013, except this time Republicans were the victims of skewed legislative maps. According to FairVote.org’s statistics, Republican candidates for New Jersey Assembly last year garnered over 1.9 million votes while Democratic candidates received less than 1.8 million (voters in each of the Garden State’s 40 districts each get to select two state Assembly members and one state Senator). Despite this majority support for Republican candidates (as Republican Gov. Chris Christie was re-elected with more than 60 percent of the vote), Democrats won 60 percent of the Assembly seats.
Worse, this lopsided result occurred despite the fact that New Jersey took affirmative steps to insulate legislative map-drawing from the political process. The New Jersey Apportionment Commission, a ten-member commission, draws the maps for the state legislature. Each party appoints five members and the state’s Supreme Court Chief Justice appoints an eleventh member as a tie-breaking vote if necessary.
Devin McCarthy, a policy analyst for the group, told ThinkProgress that the New Jersey disparity was not unique among state legislators, citing Michigan and Wisconsin in 2012 as examples where the party that got the most votes did not win the most legislative seats — in both of those states, the maps elected Republicans even though the voters preferred Democrats. McCarthy also offers a solution, “if they switched to three seats per district and used a more proportional system,” he notes, “you’d get a representative of both parties from every district. You’d be much less likely to see the sort of geographic polarization and you’d also get a proportional outcome statewide.”
While that plan has its critics, who argue that proportional systems can mean less accountability for officials elected by a minority of the voters, the status quo means majority does not always rule.