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Does 2017 Congressional Class Suggest Redistricting Commission Failed?

Nicolas Raymond / Flickr
 

Nicolas Raymond / Flickr

Every incumbent Member of Congress who ran for re-election in California will return to Washington on Tuesday, except for one, a result which contradicts a key goal of supporters of the state’s congressional redistricting commission.

Proponents of the independent commission argued in 2008 that taking the power to draw district lines from the lawmakers who benefit from them would cut down on the number of “safe” districts, gerrymandered to protect incumbents. But this election, only San Jose Congressman Mike Honda lost—and to a fellow Democrat, Ro Khanna. No congressional seats switched parties.

UC San Diego political science professor Thad Kousser argues the commission has had an effect.

"There are more competitive districts than there were after the redistricting done by the Legislature in right after 2000," says Kousser.

Four incumbents won by slim margins, and by other metrics, California is less gerrymandered than other states.

Congressional Democrats gained about three-quarters of the seats, while garnering about two-thirds of the statewide vote.

Kousser says the discrepancy between votes and representation is relatively small, considering the advantage Democrats have.

"You’ll often see that when one party wins more than 50 percent of the vote, they get even more than that amount of seats, just because they have taken all of the battleground political territory in a state," Kousser says.

California's is a much smaller discrepancy than notoriously gerrymandered states, such as North Carolina, where a bit over half the vote won Republicans more than three-quarters of their seats, or Maryland, where Republicans have only one of the eight seats, despite winning about a third of the vote.

Still, using that statistic, California’s results don’t deviate a whole lot from the districts created prior to the commission.

In 2004, 55 percent of voters chose a Democratic Congressional candidate, but the party won 62 percent of the state's seats.

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