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Democrats taking back U.S. House is a significant victory for the ‘blue wave’

Electoral wins amid a stacked deck help restore a little balance; most voters reject Trump rhetoric

Beto O’Rourke might have gotten trumped by Lyin’ Ted Cruz in Texas, but winning the U.S. House is still huge for Democrats. Consider how much Republicans gerrymandered Congressional districts in the past decade, the suppression tactics by the GOP — especially in Georgia where the Republican governor candidate somehow was allowed to remain secretary of state and oversee his own race— Caravangate, and other forms of dirty tricks.

Then add how Democrats had to win in 23 districts held by Republicans to regain the House. The deck was stacked against Democrats, but voters still preferred them in the House races on Tuesday by roughly a combined 7.1 percentage points in votes that were tabulated and not discarded. That is a landslide by popular vote, but it doesn’t really translate to as many seats as it should due to Republican gerrymandering of House districts.

Take a look at this chart that shows this Republican Gerrymandering Effect:

U.S. House of Representatives elections

Year ……. Popular vote ….….. Seats

2008….. 53.2%D-42.6%R …. 257D-178R

2010….. 44.9%D-51.7%R …. 193D-242R

2012 ….. 48.8%D-47.6%R …. 201D-234R

2014 ….. 45.5%D-51.2%R …. 188D–247R

2016 ….. 48.0%D-49.1%R …. 194D-241R

2018 ….. 51.1%D-44.0%R …. 227D-208R*

*projected numbers

In 2008, Democrats won the popular vote in House races by a 10.6 percentage-point landslide and enjoyed a 257–178 edge in seats. Two years later, Republicans regained the House by 242–193, winning the popular vote by about 6 points. Then that’s when gerrymandered seats really helped Republicans retain positions that should have gone to Democrats.

In 2012, Democrats actually won the popular vote in House races by 1.2 percentage points, yet the GOP retained control. In a fair system, that would not occur.

Since 1950, the party that has won the most votes has taken more House seats every time except three — 2012, 1996, and 1952. Guess which party was unfairly gerrymandered out of positions each time. In the Senate, that has occurred to Democrats more often, but they have not been actual nationwide elections since senators’ terms run six years, not two.

Signs like this one cropped up outside Maryland polling sites in 2018. [Shay photo]

Only a “blue wave” similar to 2008 could have allowed Democrats to retake the House. That was what occurred on Tuesday. Like in the presidential election, Democrats have to win the popular vote in a landslide to actually take power since the system is stacked against them. If Republicans had won the popular vote four times in national elections since 1996 and not been allowed to take office, they would be advocating for changes — and probably more strongly than Democrats are doing. The system has benefited Republicans, but most of them act like they are the ones who have been cheated.

Besides winning the House, Democrats picked up more governor positions and state legislatures, which are important for the 2020 redistricting process. The bottom line is that Tuesday’s election will help restore some balance of power and force more compromises, though it probably will not make Trump tone down his divisive rhetoric. Republicans, who have only won the popular vote in one presidential election since 1988, still control the Senate, White House and Supreme Court. There should be more balance, but there’s not. That’s a systemic problem.

Possible solutions

Michigan took a big step to devising a solution when voters on Tuesday approved an anti-gerrymandering issue. The measure will create an independent commission of an equal number of Democrats, Republicans, and independents to draw new Congressional districts.

One reason that Democrats find themselves on the short end is that they did not do enough to secure the system when they had the chance. In 2009 and 2010, Democrats controlled both the White House and Congress. That was the time to pass measures to make Congressional gerrymandering more difficult and voting easier.

But Democrats chose to work with the Republican minority to address the Great Recession, mostly with a bailout of Wall Street and big auto companies. While that was understandable for a few months, by the time Democrats tried to focus on anything else, the Tea Party had taken a foothold on many Republicans. Filibusters and obstructions became the norm. The opportunity was wasted.

While it would have been difficult to eradicate the outdated Electoral College even with control of Congress and the presidency, Democrats could have lobbied for more states to join Maine and Nebraska, the only two states that grant electoral votes based on how the vote actually went. The system for allocating electoral votes is not mandated by the Constitution, but by the states themselves.

Some 11 states and Washington, D.C., with a combined 172 electoral votes passed laws allowing for the same vote allocation system as Maine and Nebraska, according to the nonprofit corporation National Popular Vote. If states totaling 98 more electoral votes also approved such a law, the changes would take effect.

States that have passed this, along with D.C., were California, Connecticut, New York, Illinois, New Jersey, Washington, Massachusetts, Maryland, Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

While defenders of the Electoral College say that protects smaller states from being dominated by larger ones, the system actually disenfranchises the more populous states like New York, California, Texas, and Florida. Governors are not elected in states according to how many counties they win; they are elected by popular votes in each state. The Electoral College represents an antiquated system that makes little sense today.

Maine voters also have adopted ranked choice voting in electing their governor, Congress representatives, and state legislators. Sometimes called “instant runoff voting” and “preferential voting,” voters rank candidates in order of choice. Their vote is initially counted for the first choices. If no candidate has more than half the votes, then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. The votes of those who first ranked the eliminated candidate are added to their next choice. This process continues until someone wins more than half of the votes.

Besides Maine, cities such as Santa Fe and San Francisco employ this system. The idea is one that would give voters more choices, as well as save money by eliminating runoff elections.

The Senate also disenfranchises voters, with citizens in large states having less access to senators than those in small states. And U.S. third parties have little representation unlike in many other countries where coalitions have to be forged.

Will that change anytime soon? Doubtful. But more has to change to make the political system more accountable.