Michigan gerrymandering seriously impacts voting, according to new test

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - 9:51pm

The Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan.

The Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing, Michigan. Buy this photo
Carolyn Gearig/Daily

 

Although President Trump won the state by a narrow margin, GOP candidates in down-ballot races in Michigan won across the board, adding further to their large majority in the State Legislature. According to a new test conducted by Bridge Magazine, GOP candidates succeed in Michigan despite relatively equal support for both parties because of gerrymandered districts.

The test, titled the “efficiency gap,” calculates how many votes are “wasted” when a certain party draws district lines in their favor. Wasted votes are those cast for the candidate that didn’t win and those cast for the winning candidate beyond the number they needed to win.

The difference in wasted votes between the two parties divided by the total number of votes yields the advantage of a certain party as a percentage. The calculation assumes a party will pack its voters into as few seats as possible and dilute the opposing party across multiple districts.

According to the test, the efficiency gap found Michigan Republicans to be favored by 10.1 percent in the state House and 15.5 percent in Congress during the 2016 elections.

Nicholas Stephanopoulos, the University of Chicago law professor who created the efficiency gap standards, said in an interview with Bridge Magazine Michigan’s numbers are unusually high.

“It’s quite clear that Michigan is just as extreme an example as Wisconsin,” he said.

The efficiency gap has facilitated many of the arguments in Wisconsin’s redistricting case. A panel of three U.S. District Court judges in the Western District of Wisconsin found Republican-drawn districts were so skewed in their own favor they were deemed unconstitutional. The case, now on appeal to the Supreme Court, would be a significant decision, as the Supreme Court has avoided gerrymandering cases for lack of an objective standard in the past.

Yet for all the attention Wisconsin is gaining, according to Bridge Magazine, some observers say Michigan districts are even more gerrymandered.

In response, former Michigan Democratic Party chair Mark Brewer is preparing a federal lawsuit, similar to Wisconsin’s, that would challenge the state’s districts.

While Brewer said in an interview with MLive there is “good evidence” to support the claim of gerrymandered districts, Anna Heaton — spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Snyder — told MLive Snyder stands by the district map, which he signed into place in 2011.

"Gov. Snyder believes the districts are just as constitutional as he did when he signed the law six years ago," she said.

Redistricting is done every 10 years, following the U.S. Census. Districts must have about the same number of voters and, in accordance with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, represent minority voters fairly. In Michigan, the last two redistricting maps were drawn when Republicans controlled the legislature, and Brewer said at a meeting this is no coincidence.

"When you see a pattern that is now eight elections old and Republicans consistently outperforming, in terms of seats versus votes, there's something else going on," Brewer said. "It's not just a small out performance, it's very significant."

However, according to the Apol standards that regulate redistricting in Michigan, the state’s districts are not breaking any rules. As mandated, the districts are continuous and seem to follow county lines when possible.

Since Michigan’s districts do meet standards, Republican consultant Robert LaBrant said GOP success correlates with geographic factors, not illegal gerrymandering.

Democrats tend to live in urban areas, like Detroit and Lansing, creating a “political geography” that, LaBrant said to Bridge Magazine, has a large effect.

“As long as you are going to draw lines based on political subdivisions where you try to keep cities and townships intact, Democrats kind of self-packed, if you want to use the terms ‘packing’ and ‘cracking,’ ” LaBrant said.

State Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D–Ann Arbor) and the University of Michigan chapters of College Democrats and College Republicans did not respond to requests for comment.