Dunkelman looked at 2002 and 2006, the last two years in which the House was elected and there was no presidential race on the ballot to drive up turnout. He estimated that in both years, 11 million more voters would have turned out if districts were drawn to be compact and competitive, rather than gerrymandered by parties for political advantage. He also estimated what the percentage increase in voter turnout would have been in each state. The state with the highest projected increase was Louisiana, with 59 percent. The rest of the report's "Dirty Dozen" were New York, 49 percent; West Virginia, 45; Virginia, 43; California, 38; North Carolina, 36; Alabama, 31.5; New Jersey, 30; Mississippi, 29.5; Georgia, 28; Hawaii, 27; and New Mexico, 25. His report cautions, "States vary in the method that use to draw district lines, and placement on this list should not be confused with a ranking of which states maintain systems most prone to creating non-competitive districts."
Dunkelman notes that in 2002, 91 percent of House members won their seat by 10 percent of the vote or more. In 2006, Democrats took over Congress but the 10-plus number was still 86 percent. "On average, 214,000 voters cast ballots in each of the 60 most competitive House races run in 2006," he writes. "In 60 of the least competitive elections, only 153,000 voters came out." That's 28 percent fewer.
"Gerrymandering has put a wedge between the will of the people and their voices in Washington," Dunkelman writes. "The result has been a drop-off in the number of Americans who choose to participate in their democracy. It need not be that way." He notes that Iowa and Washington use legislative staff and a bipartisan commission, respectively, to draw legislative and congressional districts.
"In only 12 states is the legislature denied ultimate power over its own redistricting," George Skelton of the Los Angeles Times writes in his state political column. "Just six states give congressional redistricting to another entity." This fall, California voters will have on their ballots an initiative from "nonpartisan good-government groups that got fed up waiting for the Legislature to reform redistricting," he notes.
The law would put legislative redistricting in the hands of a citizens' commission. The legislature would still draw congressional districts, because the advocates don't want opposition from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Skelton reports. But the state Democratic Party, which dominates the legislature, is against the proposal. "Gerrymandering is good for Democratic leaders, bad for democracy," Skelton writes. (Read more)