As of Wednesday late afternoon, Think Progress added up all of the votes cast across the country for U.S. House candidates and found that more voters had voted for Dem candidates than Repub.
The difference was slight, about half a million votes out of more than 100 million cast. Some votes were still being counted. And Think Progress writer Ian Millhiser enumerated the vagaries that make it difficult to press the analysis too far.
But nonetheless, with 10 races still not called, the Repubs were sitting on a 233-192 advantage in the House heading into the next Congress. That’s 55 percent of the House seats for the party that apparently got slightly less than 50 percent of all the votes cast.
It would take more analysis to explain this, but a lot of it has to be attributable to the House district boundaries, which had just been redrawn in the aftermath of the 2010 census. Millhiser hit the partisan gerrymandering button pretty hard:
“ There is a simple explanation for how this happened: Republicans won several key state legislatures and governors’ mansions in the election cycle before redistricting, and they gerrymandered those states within an inch of their lives. President Obama won Pennsylvania by more than 5 points, but Democrats carried only 5 of the state’s 18 congressional seats.
I suspect Millhiser’s suspicions are well-founded. All three of those states also had U.S. Senate races, and the Democrat won all three. And all three were states in which the Repubs controlled both houses of the legislature and the governorship when the maps were redrawn in 2011.
It would take a bit more analysis to really prove the point. But even if it’s true, it’s not cheating, it’s how the system works. If one party controls both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office in a state, that party can draw a congressional district map that maximizes their chances of winning as many U.S. House races as possible (and the same for legislative districts).
Democrats controlled the redistricting process in Illinois, and sure enough, the Dems picked up three seats in 2012 compared to 2010.
In circumstances where control of the state government is divided (as was true of Minnesota in 2011), the parties can either work out a compromise or else the boundaries will be drawn by the federal courts. The court-drawn maps are generally less partisan.
By the way, when I say “it’s how the system works,” that doesn’t mean that this process is controlled by the Constitution. As I mentioned in one of the installments of the “Imperfect Union” series, The U.S. Constitution doesn’t even require that states be divided into single-member House districts. It merely requires that every ten years, after a new census, the number of House seats awarded to each state be recalculated based on changes in population. In the early years of the republic, there were many states that used systems other than single-member districts. As late as 1960, several states still had mixed systems in which there were House members who represented individual districts and others who represented the state at large.