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Analysis

How Did Democrats Flip the House? Fairer Maps

Commissions or courts, not partisan lawmakers, drew over 70 percent of the seats that went from the GOP to Dems Tuesday, a new Brennan Center analysis finds

November 12, 2018

Numer­ous factors explain how Demo­crats decis­ively took back a major­ity in the House of Repres­ent­at­ives last Tues­day. But one deserves partic­u­lar atten­tion: Nearly three in four of the seats Demo­crats flipped were in districts drawn by redis­trict­ing commis­sions or courts. Districts drawn through these fairer processes were far more compet­it­ive than those drawn by legis­latures in states where one party had sole control and could use it to gerry­mander.

We found that commis­sions or courts drew 44 percent of all districts nation­wide, but they drew 72 percent of the districts that Demo­crats flipped or are lead­ing in with votes still being coun­ted. 

By contrast, legis­latures in states where Repub­lic­ans enjoyed unified control drew 42 percent of districts nation­wide, but they drew just 23 percent of the districts Demo­crats flipped or are lead­ing in. (The percent­ages exclude states with only a single district).

Out of the nine Demo­cratic pickups on maps drawn by Repub­lic­ans, none were in North Caro­lina (although elec­tion contro­ver­sies may require another elec­tion in NC-09) and Ohio, and only two were in Michigan — the three states rated by the Bren­nan Center as being the most extremely gerry­mandered.

Delving more deeply into the analysis, the Bren­nan Center groups the 435 House seats into seven differ­ent categor­ies based on control of the map-draw­ing process. Our pre-elec­tion analysis revealed that courts, commis­sions, and split-control govern­ments were nearly four times more likely to draw super-compet­it­ive districts than lawmakers who had one-party control of state govern­ment. 

Seats in Virginia and Flor­ida, where congres­sional maps have been modi­fied by courts, were espe­cially pivotal Tues­day. In fact, Demo­crats did partic­u­larly well nation­wide in states with court-modi­fied maps, flip­ping a whop­ping 16 seats where courts either ordered redraws or stepped in after legis­lat­ive dead­lock. Repub­lic­ans also benefited from the fairer compet­i­tion created by courts, netting their only three pickups of the cycle in states with court-modi­fied maps.

Here’s the full break­down: 

Updated after the elec­tion on Decem­ber 7.

(Image: BCJ/Getty/Shut­ter­stock)