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Analysis

Everybody Loves Redistricting Reform

State ballot measures to fix gerrymandering did strikingly well this year with both Democratic and Republican voters, our analysis shows

2018 was a banner year for redis­trict­ing reform, with voters in five states — Color­ado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah — putting limits on extreme partisan gerry­man­der­ing.

Not surpris­ingly, the reforms were espe­cially popu­lar among Demo­crats, who have been on the receiv­ing end of gerry­man­der­ing this decade. But the meas­ures also earned wide back­ing from Repub­lic­ans, winning with more than 60 percent support in four of the five states.

To under­stand how the meas­ures did among voters, we analyzed the approval rate in each county and compared support for reform with votes cast in a statewide partisan elec­tion. Our prelim­in­ary analysis makes it clear that these propos­als did strik­ingly well among Repub­lic­ans, far outper­form­ing candid­ates of either party in nearly every instance.

In other words, while the polit­ical class may still be divided along partisan lines about fixing gerry­man­der­ing, voters aren’t. The Amer­ican people are strongly in favor of efforts to reform how redis­trict­ing is conduc­ted in the states so that partisan lawmakers don’t have unfettered control of the process.

Ohio 

The strongest support this cycle for redis­trict­ing reform came in Ohio, where in May voters approved a consti­tu­tional amend­ment banning partisan gerry­man­der­ing with a whop­ping 75 percent of the vote. To be sure, the amend­ment, known as Issue 1, did better in districts held by Demo­crats. But as shown in the first chart below, it received major­ity support in all 88 of Ohio’s counties, and it won super­ma­jor­it­ies in every one of Ohio’s 16 congres­sional districts. 

Indeed, the meas­ure performed substan­tially better than Demo­crat Rob Cordray did running for governor this fall. Cordray won 46 percent of the statewide vote compared to Issue 1’s 75 percent. And Cordray’s aver­age level of support by county was 35 percent, compared to 69 percent for Issue 1.

Color­ado

Color­ado voters also enthu­si­ast­ic­ally suppor­ted two propos­als, Amend­ment Y and Amend­ment Z, that will create inde­pend­ent commis­sions to draw legis­lat­ive and congres­sional lines start­ing in 2021. Statewide, the amend­ments won more than 70 percent of the vote, far surpass­ing the 55 percent of the votes neces­sary for approval — and also signi­fic­antly outper­form­ing Demo­cratic gubernat­orial candid­ate Jared Polis. 

Indeed, the meas­ures failed to carry only two of 64 counties, both by the narrow­est of margins. On aver­age, the amend­ments won 65 percent of the county-level vote — 72 percent in counties that suppor­ted the Demo­cratic candid­ate for governor and 60 percent in counties carried by the Repub­lican candid­ate for governor. (See the chart below.)

Michigan

Redis­trict­ing reform was almost as popu­lar in Michigan. There, a citizen-led effort known as Proposal 18–2 to create an inde­pend­ent redis­trict­ing to draw both legis­lat­ive and congres­sional districts faced claims from Repub­lican offi­cials that it was a Demo­cratic power grab. Despite that, the meas­ure won more than 61 percent of the statewide vote and a major­ity of the vote in 66 of the state’s 84 counties.

Again, the proposal was more popu­lar in areas of the state that suppor­ted Demo­cratic statewide candid­ates than in ones that were won by Repub­lic­ans. But, as shown in the chart below, the meas­ure won in a major­ity of Repub­lican counties, includ­ing large ones like Ottawa County in the Grand Rapids metro­pol­itan area and St. Clair County in the Detroit metro­pol­itan area.

And again, the meas­ure easily outper­formed the Demo­cratic candid­ate for governor, Gretchen Whit­mer, who was elec­ted with 53 percent of the vote.

Missouri

In Missouri, a consti­tu­tional amend­ment to strengthen redis­trict­ing rules and create a state demo­grapher to draw maps, passed with 62 percent of the vote. It won 82 of the 116 counties in the state, includ­ing a major­ity of heav­ily Repub­lican counties.  

Notably, while Demo­crat Claire McCaskill won only about 31 percent of the vote on aver­age at the county level, the redis­trict­ing amend­ment won on aver­age 54 percent support. (See chart below.) 

Utah

Only in Utah did a ballot meas­ure to create an advis­ory commis­sion win by a less than over­whelm­ing margin in 2018. With some votes left to count, it appears the meas­ure, known as Propos­i­tion 4, will be passed with 50.3 percent of the vote; a margin of about 7,000 votes. 

But that narrow win is a bit decept­ive. Given how red Utah is, a win on any meas­ure is only possible with substan­tial support from Repub­lic­ans. Indeed, the meas­ure performed much better than Demo­cratic Senate candid­ate Jenny Wilson, who won only 30 percent of the statewide vote in losing to Mitt Romney. On aver­age at the county level, Wilson won 23 percent, while Propos­i­tion 4 won 42 percent — indic­at­ive of a sizable number of Romney/Propos­i­tion 4 voters. (See chart below.) 

(Image: Olivier Douli­ary/Getty)