Sam Wang on “The Great Gerrymander of 2012”

Sam’s Wang’s statistical efforts got the 2012 Election vote prediction as correct as Nate Silver. Today he talks up his view of gerrymandering in the NY Times Op Ed. Key snippets:

“Normally we would expect more seats in Congress to go to the political party that receives more votes, but the last election confounded expectations. Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin. This is only the second such reversal since World War II.”

…start with the naïve standard that the party that wins more than half the votes should get at least half the seats. In November, five states failed to clear even this low bar: Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Now let’s do something more subtle. We can calculate each state’s appropriate seat breakdown — in other words, how a Congressional delegation would be constituted if its districts were not contorted to protect a political party or an incumbent…. Confounding conventional wisdom, partisan redistricting is not symmetrical between the political parties. By my seat-discrepancy criterion, 10 states are out of whack: the five I have mentioned, plus Virginia, Ohio, Florida, Illinois and Texas. Arizona was redistricted by an independent commission, Texas was a combination of Republican and federal court efforts, and Illinois was controlled by Democrats. Republicans designed the other seven maps. Both sides may do it, but one side does it more often.

“…To preserve majority rule and minority representation, redistricting must be brought into fairer balance. I propose two plans. First, let’s establish nonpartisan redistricting commissions in all 50 states….

Second, we need to adopt a statistically robust judicial standard for partisan gerrymandering. In the Supreme Court’s Vieth v. Jubelirer case, in 2004, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy voted against intervention in chicanery in Pennsylvania, but left the door open for future remedies elsewhere if a clear standard could be established….It’s up to us to take control of the process, slay the gerrymander, and put the people back in charge of what is, after all, our House.”

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