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Despite gerrymandering, Nov. 6 House outcome reflects overall split in U.S. votes

photo of a single voting booth
REUTERS/Darren Hauck
The results of the 2018 elections for the U.S. House seem to have almost perfectly mirrored the division of the national popular vote between the two major parties.
Gerrymandering is one of the ugly realities of U.S. politics. And most recent coverage has suggested that Republicans were aggressively employing their control of the power to draw district boundaries in many states to give an advantage to their candidates in races for the U.S. House. The courts have pushed back, and some of the most blatant cases of attempted gerrymandering have been overturned. Personally, I favor pretty much any measure that is designed to minimize the power of the party in control to use that control to advantage itself in the drawing of the boundaries.

But, gerrymandering notwithstanding, the results of the 2018 elections for the U.S. House seem to have almost perfectly mirrored the division of the national popular vote between the two major parties.

In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats received 53.1 percent of the total popular vote in all 435 U.S. House elections combined, and ended up with 53.5 percent of the seats in the U.S. House. There are two seats in which counting and verifying is still occurring. Republicans are ahead in both, but by margins so small that the outcomes are not final.

Still, however those last two turn out, the overall results will suggest that gerrymandering failed to alter the most important outcome, namely that the party that got the most votes got the majority of the seats, and in numbers commensurate with the number of votes that party received nationwide.

In fact, I looked back at the five previous House elections and found that in all five cases, the party that got the most overall votes won the majority of the seats. Of course, I don’t mean to suggest that gerrymandering is benign or OK. It’s disgraceful. But I’m happy to learn that it hasn’t resulted in the “wrong” party controlling the people’s House, at least going back to 2008.

Comments (36)

  1. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 11/27/2018 - 09:16 am.

    Will we hear any complaining after the 2020 census when the other party does the exact same thing to try and rig future elections in their favor? We all know that the new party in power will be redrawing districts to favor themselves. But I doubt we will hear any complaining like we’ve been hearing for the last decade or so.

    • Submitted by Dave Eischens on 11/27/2018 - 10:29 am.

      Then maybe you can agree that H.R. 1 proposed by the incoming House majority is a good idea?

      “It would take away redistricting power from state legislatures and give it to independent commissions.”

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 11/27/2018 - 03:29 pm.

        Who decides the make up of such a commission ? If it’s packed by the party in power then it doesn’t fix anything. This bill doesn’t appear to fix anything. It’s just more partisanship. I never understood why anyone should want to see a President’s tax returns. It has no relevance on the job whatsoever. As for money in politics, for decades the unions were left untouched but now suddenly its bad when corporations are treated the same way? If this bill doesn’t treat unions the same as corporations then it only seeks to disadvantage one party.

        • Submitted by ian wade on 11/27/2018 - 05:36 pm.

          Really? Tax returns provide a snapshot into the financial positions and interests of the candidate. Who are they in business with? Who do they owe money to? How much do they give to charity? All questions that should be answered by those that seek a position of power such as POTUS.

        • Submitted by Tom Crain on 11/28/2018 - 09:10 am.

          There is very little personal information about a Pres candidate that should not be made public. Preferably voluntary, by law if nescessarry.

          The Maryland Senate approved a bill last Summer that would require candidates on a presidential ticket to release their tax returns in order to get on the state’s ballot. A fine idea and very likely to be constitutional.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/27/2018 - 12:35 pm.

      If Dems do any gerrymandering of the sort the GOP has done since 2010, you can bet there will be howling. Loud, red howling.

      I’m in favor of Minnesota adopting a non-partisan system, as long as Texas leads the way. Maybe Wisconsin, too

  2. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 11/27/2018 - 11:11 am.

    Gerrymandering – by democrats good!

    Gerrymandering – by the GOP – outrages – undemocratic – treason!

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/27/2018 - 11:41 am.

      Who said gerrymandering by Democrats was good? Is it just a reflexive assumption you make?

      Democrats in Maryland gerrymandered districts to work in their favor. A court challenge is now pending, and I hope it is successful.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 11/27/2018 - 03:07 pm.

        I don’t recall any outrage over Democrats using gerrymandering after the 1990 and 2000 census data was released. Both sides do it. But putting it in the hands of an unelected commission (btw who determines the make up or members of said commission?) can be even worse. It said commission ends up being hyper partisan you’ll have the same issue you have now if not worse. M

        The only way to remove the partisanship would be to use a grid system where the lines don’t deviate for anyone. But then you’d have to figure out how to fix population numbers per representative.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 11/27/2018 - 10:16 pm.

          There wasn’t outrage because the Democrats never did it to the extent the Republicans in some states have.

        • Submitted by Brian Simon on 11/28/2018 - 08:21 am.

          In how many states were each party in a position to gerrymander after each of those censuses?

          Can you cite any particularly aggregious examples?

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/28/2018 - 07:22 pm.

          The bottom line is parties losing the popular vote but winning elections.
          By that measure, Republicans have been far more blatant than Democrats.

  3. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 11/27/2018 - 11:30 am.

    In my opinion, Eric is too confident that all is well, nationally, when the national vote totals almost equates the percentage of House seats won by the two major parties. All is not well, until all states pass laws that at least take redistricting out of the hands of state legislators and put it in the hands of independent commissions.

    That is the growing trend, and most progressive and fair-minded states have already passed laws to establish redistricting commissions.

    Where’s Minnesota in this? Does our fair-voting state still have the archaic legislative system of majority spoils, in post-census divvying up of state political power? Taking such redistricting out of the hands of any legislative body is A Good Thing, and we should push for it.

    Then, we have to support laws nationally that would prevent the atrocious Republican actions in 2018 that attempted to deny the vote to specific populations that tend to vote Democratic: North Dakota’s terrible law about the a voter’s need for street addresses on Indian Reservations where they don’t exist; Kansas’s local election authority’s legal ability to place a voting station miles outside a city filled with Latino voters who tended not to have cars; Georgia’s breathtaking Republican scraping of the registered voters list, closings of voting places,and “holds” on hundreds of thousands of voter registration applications. Just to name a few GOP actions to deny people their right to vote.

    I would be totally embarrassed to be a Republican today, given the party’s apparent refusal to accept one of America’s basic values: the right of every citizen to vote.

  4. Submitted by Tim Smith on 11/27/2018 - 12:04 pm.

    Gerrymandering is just another of Dem’s long list of excuses. There is no gerrymandering in deep blue States? Sure there is.

    The bigger issue dems have is they are heavily concentrated in Urban areas and the farther you go from there the less votes they have. Look at the margins in Mcollum and Ohmar races compared to the burbs and out. The percentage of votes vs seats isn’t really relative just like in the Senate races.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/27/2018 - 12:16 pm.

      Why is it “gerrymandering” for cities to be kept intact in one district?

      If the Republicans are not competitive in Minneapolis or St. Paul, perhaps their policies are to blame.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 11/27/2018 - 02:58 pm.

        I don’t think it’s so much the policies as where people live. Large cities tend to have a lot more liberal leaning people living there. Republicans are likely simply outnumbered in those areas. It would be interesting to see the numbers of registered D’s and R’s per district. I don’t know if that’s publicly available info.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/27/2018 - 04:32 pm.

          There is no official party registration in Minnesota, but I believe that it would be public information in the states that do keep track of such things.

      • Submitted by Tim Smith on 11/27/2018 - 04:01 pm.

        I didnt say that was gerrymandering, I said it is where dem voters are usually concentrated, big cities.

        Please tell me what Republican could do or say get those in Minneapolis and St Paul proper to vote for them. Go left of the Bern?

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/27/2018 - 04:31 pm.

          “Please tell me what Republican could do or say get those in Minneapolis and St Paul proper to vote for them. Go left of the Bern?”

          They could start with dropping the anti-gay, anti-immigrant rhetoric. Disavowing white supremacists and other sundry bigots who have crawled out of the woodwork lately wouldn’t hurt their electoral chances any. The emphasis on divisive social issues is a real bad move, so maybe not making reflexive opposition to things like abortion or easy access to birth control a litmus test would be a good first step.

          See? It wouldn’t be hard. All it would take is a commitment to sanity.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 11/27/2018 - 01:29 pm.

      As I’m sure you know, the term “Gerrymander” evolved from spindly, reptile like district boundaries that followed no geographical logic.

      Look at our 8 MN districts and geographic logic is apparent. The opportunity to Gerrymander at the US Congress level is limited: look at the map and shifting the 6th with 4th and 5th voters (or vice versa) would be convoluted to the point of valid court challenges.

      The Minnesota R’s will just need to stick with voter suppression as a primary tactic…

      • Submitted by Gary Fredrickson on 11/27/2018 - 08:48 pm.

        Gerrymandering traditionally done by both parties sucks and any attempt to fix the problem should be applauded but the fix probably would have it’s own similar problems.
        Voter ID is something else altogether. How in the world can anyone claim voter ID would keep any LEGAL voter from voting? Do you really know anyone who could not legally vote if it meant you had to show an ID? I doubt it but some call it voter suppression. It would suppress votes alright but not legal ones. It would help prevent the kind of things that went on in Florida and Georgia.

        • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/28/2018 - 10:34 am.

          Oh man, are people still trotting out these tired old tropes?

          No one in my circle doesn’t have an ID, therefore everyone must. Believe it or not, not everyone has a comfortable middle class experience. If you haven;’t read of low income folks who have had to travel across state lines to get the underlying documents to get a state ID (birth certificate, etc), you really have dug far into this, and you should.

          And we certainly should stop what went on in Georgia and FLA. Voter suppression was rampant. Untrained people have no business comparing signatures, a process in which professionals need at least six samples to do, not one from today and one from ten years ago.

          Both Democrats and Republicans are moving beyond voter suppression, and expanding access to the ballot. It’s a process that scares the folks who worry about too many voters showing up. And the difference in results between 2016 and 2018 prove them out.

          • Submitted by Gary Fredrickson on 11/29/2018 - 09:35 pm.

            Frank, the only votes suppressed by ID are the ones that aren’t legal anyway. Legal citizens in every state, no matter how poor can get an ID before an election. There is plenty of time. We know the next one is in two years.
            Though I have never cheated myself, I know personally someone who has. I swore to never tell [before I was told about it] so I won’t but I know it is true. This was caused by the easy voting in Minnesota. All it takes is a lack of morals and vouching for someone. There is no cross district matching of names and without an ID or number virtually no way to get caught unless someone tells. I have also heard [second hand] about bus loads of college students voting twice, once in Wisconsin and again in Minnesota. It’s easy. You just need low morals. You are against an ID to vote. I call B.S. Someone wants to cheat.

            • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 12/03/2018 - 10:05 am.

              I’ll ignore the scurrilous and offensive suggestion that I am in favor of a system so that voters may cheat, which for some reason the mods have allowed.

              So the ID is free? Actually, no, it’s not. There is an expense for the underlying documents, such as birth certificates. Other barriers include the time to obtain the underlying documents, as well as the ID itself. Some rural Texans live as far as 170 miles from the location they need to visit for the “free” ID.

              For those that rely on public transportation, or are physically disabled, the barriers to obtaining the underlying documents and the “free” ID are higher. Some people must travel to their home state to get their birth certificate. Getting time away from work during office hours can exacerbate these hurdles. (One might think that is the point.)

              You might need a government photo ID to get your birth certificate. Without your birth certificate, you may not be able to get a photo ID. Clever how that works, no?

              Not all of us have comfortable middle class lives. Some had them and lost them, others never had them. There are people who live on the margins, working two and three jobs, just making it day to day. And they may not be thinking about voting in two years, not when they need to figure out, today, whether they should send their sick child to school so they don’t loose their job or a days wages, or to risk the job and stay home to care for a sick kid.

              Surely you are not among the elitists who who tell us that’s it’s OK if the wrong sort of people are voting? You know the types, “Well, if they can’t manage getting to the polls on election day and having all of the proper documentation, they don’t deserve to vote.” I say deplorables get to vote too.

              More than 21 million adult American citizens do not have a gubmint issued photo ID, and they get to vote too.

              As for bussing in voters, funny how there’s never any evidence of that, even with all of the video cameras out there these days. Let’s just think about this one. Say 50 people on a bus, maybe they make it to ten polling locations in a day. That’s only 500 votes. Are they impersonating already registered voters? Did someone previously gin up 50 new registrations, at each polling place? Are they all registering that day? I’m a registration judge, it takes a long time to register 50 voters. And it would definitely raise eye brows if they all showed up at once.

              No, this urban legend doesn’t pass the smell test.

              Voter impersonation is a felony. Let me know which politician you like so much that you’re willing to commit a felony. (I’ve not yet found one.) In addition, it’s a very inefficient way to throw an election.

  5. Submitted by B. Dahl on 11/27/2018 - 01:36 pm.

    I really have never understood why there is a congressional divide separating St. Paul and Minneapolis. The population of both cities warrants having one US Congress representative which would truly represent the common interests of Minnesota’s two largest cities. As it stands now to reach proportional representative numbers each district has to reach into the suburbs. Maybe if we loose one congress representative after the 2020 census this will be resolved.

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 11/27/2018 - 03:32 pm.

      I would guess it was done to try and capture 2 seats instead of one by offsetting more suburban Republicans with the many Democrats in those 2 cities. I sincerely doubt either city would vote majority Republican.

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/27/2018 - 04:12 pm.

        I would guess it was done because the two cities have traditionally been regarded as having separate political interests.

        Not everything is a liberal plot to thwart conservatives.

        • Submitted by B. Dahl on 11/27/2018 - 05:30 pm.

          Hmmm…both cities have for decades leaned left, more recently much further. I really don’t understand how you can make a comment about separate political interests in that the Democratic Party has represented both cities,again, for decades. Seems logical to me that this is one geographic area, deserving one representative.

          • Submitted by Tom Crain on 11/28/2018 - 09:26 am.

            RB Holbrook may be intending to use this – more common – meaning of ‘political’: of or relating to government, a government, or the conduct of government. In other words HR CDs should not be drawn up based on which party dominates the electorate like you seem to be suggesting, but instead on economic interests. The twin cities are in many ways in competition with each other due to geo proximity.

          • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 11/28/2018 - 07:27 pm.

            The Founders set a formula of one Representative per 30,000 citizens.
            The formula has changed, but the principle remains: representation is based on people, not geography.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 11/29/2018 - 08:53 am.

            So you would be okay with gerrymandering to ensure more representatives from the suburbs?

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/28/2018 - 07:30 am.

        I know that the past several times Congressional districts were re-drawn, the politicians failed to come to an agreement and it was done by judicial panels, not DFL politicians.

  6. Submitted by Greg Smith on 11/27/2018 - 05:04 pm.

    And pass me some.more coffee

  7. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 11/28/2018 - 07:43 am.

    What has not been mentioned, and is very much germane to the discussion, is that after the GOP success in legislative & governors’ elections in 2010, they were able to parley those majorities into unprecedented levels of gerrymandering due to the latest in computer technology. Never before had technology existed to precisely draw districts down to the block, which was frequently done.

    It is naive or disingenuous to ignore this and wonder why gerrymandering has become such a huge issue.

    And after the DFL wins the Senate in 2020 and signs off on post-census redistricting, I’ll be in favor of adopting a better system, as long as Texas goes first.

    It can’t be hard to adopt a better system, even if one party has legislative majorities and the governor’s office. The minority leaders in the House & Senate (or representatives chosen by them for a special commission) should be required to sign off on the new plan. Now if there were a party that would rather noting happen (say, a party that likes to shut down government in a hissy fit), then it can be kicked to a panel of retired judges, one each chosen by the Supreme Court Chief Justice, and the four majority and minority legislative caucus leaders.

  8. Submitted by Wesley Volkenant on 11/28/2018 - 12:19 pm.

    B Dahl – you raise an interesting re-districting question – why not combine Mpls &St. Paul into one district? That’s exactly what Republicans in Texas did – and are now getting push back from the Courts. When you lump all the primarily-minority-based communities into one district, you limit those individuals from opportunities in the majority-white districts.

    If you combined Minneapolis & St. Paul, would it be Somali-led, native-born African American-led, Hispanic-led or Southeast Asian (principally Hmong)-led? Minneapolis and St. Paul are not homogenous – one is the center of commerce and industry, the other is the center of state government.

    These two competing communities have always had separate districts, whether they were Democratic or Republican-represented. Go back to Walter Judd in the 1950s, as the last Republican Congressman in Minneapolis. Minneapolis was not always the progressive bastion it is today.

    So while McCollum and Ellison/Omar may each be liberal Democrats, they have far different constituencies that would be very under-represented in DC if combined into one.

    If we do lose a seat in Congress, I expect Mpls & St. Paul (and near suburbs) to be the center spokes for 4 and possibly, 5 larger districts that would leave one large southern & western outstate district and one primarily northern Minnesota district, with Twin Cities districts going north to Pine City and Brainerd, west to St. Cloud and Hutchinson, southwest to the Olivia area, south to St. Peter and southeast to Red Wing and maybe as far south as Zumbrota.

  9. Submitted by David Moseman on 11/28/2018 - 12:53 pm.

    Good work at the federal Level. What happened in MN? Redistricting will occur at the State level.

    Redistricting needs to produce competitive elections. Competitive
    elections means that new candidates and ideas will be voiced. Election turnout will be higher. People who have felt left out will not suddenly show up and elect another Trump. Thus, those elected will have to serve their electorate and the electorate will have a reason to remain involved.

    Thus, any bill for a redistricting commission should outline principles to be followed and a process of review.

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