Election Fixing: Gerrymandering turns elections for political party in power

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Martha Sloan of the Copper Country League of Women Voters gives a talk on gerrymandering at the Portage Lake District Library Wednesday.

HOUGHTON — Democratic and Republican votes in Michigan’s U.S. House of Representatives races were nearly an even match — 49.2 percent for Republicans and 49.1 percent for Democrats.

But that narrow vote advantage led to a decisive edge for Republicans, who picked up 63 House seats compared to the Democrats’ 47.

Michigan had one of the largest such gaps in the country, but it is not alone. Martha Sloan, a member of the Copper Country League of Women Voters, spoke about redistricting in Michigan and other states during a Wednesday presentation at the Portage Lake District Library.

Under the state constitution, district lines are redrawn every 10 years after the U.S. Census. In Michigan and 25 other states, the responsibility for drawing state and U.S. legislative districts is delegated to the state Legislature.

Sloan said the actual process is a complex task; she gets emails from a group that runs six-week workshops on drawing district lines for people with Ph.D.s in math.

“The Legislature’s really not so much drawing it. It’s authorizing some people who are very STEM-y to figure out the details,” she said.

Sometimes, that has led to the parties in political power after the census crafting lines for partisan gain, a practice called gerrymandering.

Sloan showed an even more skewed example from 1992, where congressional Democrats in Texas won 21 of 30 seats despite splitting the vote evenly with Republicans.

Other states have a range of setups, including commissions of politicians, independent commissions, and, in Iowa, a nonpartisan government agency.

In Arizona, Sloan’s favorite, four members are appointed by the House and Senate majority and minority leaders. The four commissioners must choose a fifth member who belongs to a third party.

After a court challenge, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote the Arizona commission is constitutional.

Other cases challenging existing lines have made it to the Supreme Court recently. The court ruled North Carolina had unconstitutionally shunted black voters into nine Senate districts and 19 House districts.

The court has also agreed to hear a case challenging the Wisconsin maps.

The League of Women Voters has backed an independent redistricting commission. It endorses the idea of a ballot campaign supported by a broad coalition reflecting the diversity of the state.