ANDERSON — Indiana House Republicans unfairly benefited from political gerrymandering in the 2016 election, according to an analysis of voting data released by the Associated Press today.
The nationwide study categorized the outcomes of all 435 U.S. House races and about 4,700 state House and Assembly seats, including Indiana’s 100 House seats and nine congressional races up for election last year.
The investigation used a new statistical method of calculating partisan advantage, developed by University of Chicago law professor Nick Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee, a researcher at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California, called the “efficiency gap.” The formula is designed to detect races where one party might have won or retained seats in the legislature through drawing district lines favorable to the party in power.
The methodology has been cited as “corroborative evidence” in a ruling that Wisconsin Republicans engaged in unconstitutional partisan gerrymandering for state Assembly districts.
According to the AP data, even though House Republicans averaged 57.6 percent of the vote in the 100 districts across Indiana in 2016, they won or retained 70 seats in the House of Representatives.
That’s about five more than political experts would expect. Political scientists would expect a party to receive 2 percent more seats for every 1 percent over 50 they get in votes. That would make for an expectation of about 65 percent, or 65 seats, going to Republicans in Indiana.
At the congressional level, Republicans earned 58.6 percent of the vote but won 77.8 percent of seats, more than 10 percent above expectations.
Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, said the AP data backs up claims that Republicans, who controlled both chambers of the legislature in 2010 when district maps were most recently redrawn, gained an advantage from the redistricting.
“With the current system, obviously the party in charge is drawing the maps to their advantage,” he said. “Do we want the members of the legislature drawing the maps to pick their constituents, or do we want the voters to pick their representatives?”
When gerrymandering so effectively boosts a majority party’s chances, it can dissuade opposition parties from even fielding a candidate. More than one-third of state House races were unopposed in 2016, including 18 Republican candidates and 16 Democratic races.
And that lack of competition in the fall pushes policy further off center, GiaQuinta argues, no matter which party benefits.
“You end up having these extreme ideas instead of those that are more central,” he said, because candidates only have to please their party’s voters.
A legislative study committee chaired by Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, looked to fix the issue ahead of the upcoming redistricting in 2021 by recommending a bipartisan independent commission be used to determine political lines.
The bill, House Bill 1014, was referred to the Committee on Elections and Apportionment in January but never received a vote.
“It’s become a little bit of a difficult sell with our larger majority because we have a lot of people who have not served in the minority,” Torr said.
Then-gubernatorial candidate Eric Holcomb told CNHI Indiana that he supported an independent commission in October 2016.
“We want to make sure we get it right,” he said at the time. “I’m glad so much thought has gone into it. I would be proud to state it was done on our watch.”
Torr argues gerrymandering, whether to build and keep political power or, as some in the minority party argue, to build competitive races, is damaging. Instead, he said a proposed independent commission should work to keep “communities of interest” together.
“I think it’s a balance but again, it’s also important to, at least in my mind, respect those boundary lines of the cities, towns and counties and school districts as much as possible,” he said.
Torr said he plans to reintroduce the bill in the next legislative session ahead of the upcoming redistricting.