Guest Column: Arizona's nonpartisan redistricting creates fairer election outcomes

2012-11-21T00:00:00Z Guest Column: Arizona's nonpartisan redistricting creates fairer election outcomesElliott J. Weiss Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

As Arizona's election results become final, the benefits of nonpartisan redistricting become clear - at least if one believes that election results should reflect the will of the electorate. Compare what happened in Arizona's congressional elections with the results in three states that were heavily gerrymandered.

In Pennsylvania, 2,723,000 votes were cast for Democratic congressional candidates, while 2,652,000 were cast for Republicans. Had these votes been evenly divided among Pennsylvania's 18 congressional districts, each party would have won nine.

But instead, Democrats won only five seats, all in overwhelmingly Democratic congressional districts that they won with an average of 76.9 percent of the vote.

Republicans, who the Republican-dominated legislature distributed more evenly among the other thirteen districts, won all thirteen with a much lower average 59.3 percent of the votes cast.

The results in North Carolina were similarly skewed. Democrats received 50.9 percent of the votes cast statewide for congressional candidates, Republicans 49.1 percent. That suggests North Carolina's 13-seat congressional delegation should have split 7-6 in Democrats' favor. But Democratic voters were concentrated in three districts, where their candidates won with an average of 76.7 percent of the vote.

Republicans were distributed more evenly among nine districts, all of which they won, with a much lower average of 57.5 percent of the vote. Only one district was truly competitive, and in that one, the Democratic candidate appears to have prevailed by just over 500 votes. Thus, North Carolina's delegation will be Democrats 4, Republicans 9.

Likewise, gerrymandering in Ohio produced similarly biased results. Two candidates ran unopposed, one Democrat and one Republican.

Democratic candidates received 47.2 percent of the votes cast statewide in the 14 contested congressional elections, but won only three seats, capturing an average of 71.0 percent of the votes in these heavily Democratic districts.

Republicans won the remaining 11 with a much lower average of 61.5 percent of the votes cast. Had the two parties' votes been distributed evenly among the 14 contested districts, each party would have won seven and Ohio's delegation would be R - 8, D - 8. Instead it will be R -12, D - 4.

In sharp contrast, the results in Arizona's congressional races came much closer to reflecting the votes cast state-wide in this year's congressional elections. A total of about 1,929,000 votes were cast for major party candidates, 44.6 percent for Democrats and 55.4 percent for Republicans.

(I have included the 21,000 votes cast for the Libertarian candidates in the 7th District in the Republican total, as no Republican ran in that district.)

Divided evenly among Arizona's nine districts, that would suggest a 5-4 split, with Republicans in the majority. And that is almost how it turned out.

Had Martha McSally won, our delegation would be five Republicans and four Democrats, rather than the 5-4 Democratic majority we have.

In addition, in Arizona three of the nine districts were highly competitive, with a margin of victory less than 3.2 percent, while in North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania combined, only one race was that close and in only six of 47 districts was the margin of victory less than 10 percent.

To be sure, Arizona had its share of heavily partisan districts, with Democrats winning an average of 69.5 percent of the votes in two and Republicans winning an average of 65 percent in four.

But those results reflect natural geographic concentrations of partisan voters, not some effort by the party in control to ensure that its side prevails.

I, for one, prefer to live in a state with this nonpartisan system of creating competitive congressional districts than the highly partisan, unrepresentative systems they have in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Ohio.

Elliott J. Weiss, an attorney, is the Charles E. Ares professor emeritus at the University of Arizona College of Law.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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