Analysis: Texas gave House GOP biggest gerrymandering bump


Voting districts drawn by Texas' Republican-controlled Legislature helped the party win nearly four more U.S. House seats than it otherwise would have in the last election, which was more than any other state, an Associated Press analysis of the results of federal and state legislative races found.

Gerrymandering, in which the party in power alters the electoral maps to favor itself, helps explain why the GOP continues to be so dominant in Texas despite the rapid growth of the state's Hispanic population, which tends to back Democrats. The findings also underscore years of federal court rulings that have found Texas' electoral maps to be unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The AP scrutinized all 435 U.S. House races in November using an "efficiency gap" statistical method designed to calculate partisan advantage. It found that the GOP may have won as many as 22 additional congressional seats than expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country.

The AP's analysis was based on an "efficiency gap" formula developed by University of Chicago law professor Nick Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee, a researcher at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California. Their mathematical model was cited last fall as "corroborative evidence" by a federal appeals court panel that struck down Wisconsin's Assembly districts as an intentional partisan gerrymander in violation of Democratic voters' rights to representation. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal.

Stephanopoulos and McGhee computed efficiency gaps for four decades of congressional and state House races starting in 1972, concluding the pro-Republican maps enacted after the 2010 Census resulted in "the most extreme gerrymanders in modern history."

The efficiency gap formula compares the statewide average share of the vote a party receives in each district with the statewide percentage of seats it wins, taking into account a common political expectation: For each 1 percentage point gain in its statewide vote share, a party normally increases its seat share by 2 percentage points.

The AP used their method to calculate efficiency gaps for all states that held partisan House or Assembly elections for all of their districts in 2016. It showed that Texas provided the GOP with 3.7 extra House seats. The next closest pro-GOP states were Michigan, North Carolina and New York, which each gave the party at least two House seats that they otherwise would not have gotten.

Texas' high number of extra Republican House seats was partly the result of its sheer size. The state's 36 congressional districts are second only to the 53 in California, where a nonpartisan commission draws electoral maps.

Texas' 10.3 percent efficiency gap favoring Republicans was the 10th highest among the more than two dozen large states that comprise the vast majority of congressional seats, just behind the 10.7 percent Democratic advantage in Maryland.

Overall, Republicans won 25 U.S. House seats from Texas in November, including eight in which they ran unopposed. Democrats won 11 seats, including two in which they ran unopposed.

Rice University political science professor Mark Jones said Texas' Legislature has been effective at drawing congressional districts that Republicans win comfortably but often not overwhelmingly, while disproportionately packing liberal voters into districts that Democrats are favored to win anyway.

"Republicans have been most strategic in creating as many safe Republican districts as possible," Jones said.

He noted that all 11 Texas' congressional districts where racial minorities constitute a majority of voters elected Democrats to Congress. But liberal-minded Austin is the nation's largest city not to anchor a congressional district. Instead, it's diced into six districts that include swaths of conservative suburbs, helping ensure that all but one of the congressmen representing the state capital are Republican.

Hispanics accounted for two out of every three new Texas residents in the 2010 census. Hispanics generally vote Democratic, but a Texas Democrat hasn't won statewide office since 1994, the nation's longest losing streak.

The Legislature drew congressional districts based on the 2010 census, but they were never used because a federal court found they deliberately diluted the power of Hispanic voters. A three-judge panel redrew the maps used since, though they tracked many of the originals.

During years of subsequent legal battles, federal courts have repeatedly ruled against Texas maps, including in March when the state's congressional maps were declared unconstitutional and three districts' boundaries voided.

Kayleigh Lovvorn, a spokeswoman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, whose office is defending the state in the redistricting case, declined to comment about the AP's findings.

Voting districts aren't the only reason that Republicans continue to hold such sway over Texas politics, though. The Hispanic population is quickly growing, but it hasn't fully flexed its political muscle yet. Hispanic voter turnout in November was 40.5 percent. That's up from 38.8 in the previous presidential election, but well below the 47.6 percent turnout of Hispanics throughout the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

___

Follow Will Weissert on Twitter: https://twitter.com/apwillweissert


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Texas given 45 days to fix motor-voter violation; Paxton appeals
Texas given 45 days to fix motor-voter violation; Paxton appeals

A federal judge has given Texas officials 45 days to correct an online voter registration system that was found to violate federal law, rejecting state arguments that the ordered changes cannot be accomplished before Dec. 1. U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia said the tight deadline was justified because the November election is looming, state officials...
JUST IN: School bus, truck crash in Williamson County, sheriff says
JUST IN: School bus, truck crash in Williamson County, sheriff says

Williamson County sheriff’s deputies responded to a crash involving a school bus on RM 620 at Pearson Ranch Road on Monday afternoon. The crash happened around 2:28 p.m., officials said Authorities shut down northbound lanes of the road while they worked to clear the area of wreckage. No children were on the bus at the time of the crash, the...
UPDATE: Monkey gets loose at San Antonio airport, according to reports
UPDATE: Monkey gets loose at San Antonio airport, according to reports

Update, 4:49 p.m.: A San Antonio airport spokesperson says the monkey that escaped its crate at the San Antonio International Airport on Monday has been shot with a tranquilizer “and the incident is over,” according to WOAI reporter Matthew Seedorff. According to KSAT, the tranquilized primate, which some reports identified...
2 arrested in poker house robbery that left man injured, police say
2 arrested in poker house robbery that left man injured, police say

Two men were arrested for an armed robbery at a poker house in April that left a man wounded, Austin police said Monday. Jermaine Patrick Spirlark, 41, and Charles Clines-Martinez 24, were arrested for aggravated robbery, police said. Police said Spirlark demanded and took property from a man at Texas Card House, located in far Northwest Austin, on...
Officers in Southwest Austin shooting won’t face charges, DA says

SOUTHWEST AUSTIN DA: Officers in shooting won’t face charges Two Austin police officers who were involved in a shootout in March that left a man wounded in Southwest Austin were cleared of any wrongdoing by the Travis County District Attorney’s office on Monday. Officers Kevin Bittner and Dustin Turner were among several officers who responded...
More Stories