In my first article on gerrymandering in Pennsylvania, introducing and explaining the concept, I focused on the issue of the rampant gerrymandering of Congressional districts in PA, and how using the tactics of “packing” and “cracking,” PA voters now have 5 Democratic and 13 Republican Congressmembers, despite the fact that even in the 2016 election, when President Trump carried PA with 48.6% of the popular vote, and Republican congressional candidates received 52.5% of the popular vote, Republicans won 13 (more than 72%) of all PA congressional seats. In fact, these statistics are somewhat misleading, because 2 Republican and 1 Democratic congressional candidate ran unopposed, so no opposition party votes were recorded in those districts (PA 3, 13 & 18). Those districts certainly must be considered “safe” districts” for the incumbents. Generally, a “safe district” is one in which the winner receives 67% or more of the votes cast for that office. Surveying the rest of the PA Congressional districts during the last three Congressional elections where the district lines have not been changed during this period, (2012, 2014, and 2016), the results are not really surprising. Nationwide, during the 2012 election, 90% of the incumbents running for office were re-elected, and in 2014, 95% of Congressional incumbents were re-elected (despite the 11% rating that Congress received in the polls), In 2016, when the White House changed hands, 97% of all Congressional incumbents were reelected.
In PA, for election year 2012, the last year there were contests for all 18 Congressional seats, the Republican candidates for Congress in PA won 49% of the total vote for Congressional Candidates, but they received more than 72% of the Congressional seats, 13 out of 18. How did this happen? In Districts 1, 2, 13,14, and 17, the winning Democrats received between 60.5% and 89% of the total votes cast in those districts, while the winning Republicans in the rest of the districts between 51.8% and 65.9% of the total votes cast in those districts.
In 2014, two of the districts had no general election contests, that is, there was no opponent on the ballot, District 14 (no Republican) and District 18 (No Democrat). Obviously, that resulted in at least some under-votes, that is, persons not voting for any Congressional candidate in that district, preferring to leave a blank on the ballot rather than vote for the unopposed candidate of the other party. It is troubling to think that more than 11% of the seats for Pennsylvania Congressional delegation were uncontested that year. In 2016, there were 3 unopposed candidates, 1 Democrat (District 13), and 2 Republicans, Districts 3 and 18, leaving more than 16% of PA Congressional district elections without a contest. Assuming this state of affairs resulted in more under-votes for the Democrats, they still collected 46% of the total vote for Congress, while securing less than 28% of the Congressional seats.
However, despite what appears to be an obvious advantage to the Republicans, why might they be willing to end the practice of gerrymandering in PA? The answer is: if you have a relatively “safe seat,” that is, one which the opposing party is unlikely to win in the next election, your party leaders have the whip hand over you. Assuming that most candidates run for office to do good for their constituents, even the ones who didn’t vote for them, if they refuse to toe the party leadership’s political line, that is, if they try to be independent and vote their consciences, they are likely to be “primaried,” that is, their own party recruiting and supporting a candidate who will do their bidding, and having them run against the incumbent in the next primary election. So, what happens is that local issues and concerns get ignored, and every election is more and more about national issues. The parties get more and more polarized as the Congressional representatives strictly follow their party leadership, and gridlock occurs in Washington.
How this situation came to be and what can or should be done about it is the subject of my next article.