The Top 10 Most Gerrymandered States In America
If the Supreme Court rules against gerrymandering this year, these congressional seats may be up for grabs.
Congress enjoys one of the worst approval ratings in America, hovering between 10–15% in any given year. Yet, again and again, incumbents sail through reelection with huge margins of victory. In 2016, only eight incumbents out of the 435 up for reelection lost their seats. And many won with enormous margins that captured 60–70% of the vote in seemingly lopsided campaign races. It’s a clear sign that democracy isn’t working in large sections of the country.
America’s electoral system has been rigged. Not by the Russians, but by good ole fashioned gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering has been around since 1812, when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry utilized the tactic to draw up skewed Senate districts that opponents complained resembled a “salamander’s forked tongue.” Since then, it’s been a favorite parlor trick in politics, especially among the GOP. Currently, 8 out of the 10 of the most gerrymandered districts in the United States favor Republicans. And in districts where politicians perceive that nearly 80% of their constituents favor a certain political party, there is little incentive to compromise, driving an increasingly stagnant and dysfunctional Congress.
And yet a new hope looms on the horizon. A recent decision by a federal court in the case of Whitford vs. Gill, ruled that gerrymandered districts in Wisconsin unfairly suppressed the vote. The Supreme Court has promised to hear the case on appeal, inciting speculation that a slew of gerrymandered districts suffering under one party rule may see relief in the near future. The Supreme Court struck down gerrymandering in North Carolina just last week, citing that the state unfairly used race as a criteria to draw lines in at least two districts.
We’ve taken a look at the states with the highest rates of gerrymandering, analyzing districts that score above the 80% mark for lack of compactness. A lack of compactness is a one standard for evaluating fairness since it usually indicates areas where the interests of a particular demographic are diluted by dividing those constituents up, or by condensing them into fewer districts so a party wins less seats overall. This method is called either “packing” or “cracking” depending on the method.
It results in the strange, skinny shaped, sprawling districts that you’ll see below that make up some of the worst culprits of gerrymandering in the nation. You’ll notice quite a few Southern states on this list, territory that the GOP has been engineering to their advantage for decades. We’ve listed each state along with an analysis of the districts and reps who may be in danger when battle lines are redrawn.
Top 10 Most Gerrymandered States
1. North Carolina
North Carolina’s strategy has been to cram minority voters into Districts 1 and 12, using a fine scalpel to cut out unfriendly urban areas block by block in Durham and Charlotte. A new map has already been recommended as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision and dramatically adjusts district boundaries. The following congressional reps may have a much tougher time getting reelected as a result.
District 2: George Holding (R)
District 8: Richard Hudson (R)
District 13: Ted Budd (R)
Yes, Dems dabble in gerrymandering too. Although apparently they fail to execute it as well or as often. Maryland’s broken districts provide an unfair advantage to liberals and if the map was adjusted according to more appropriate standards, the following reps might find themselves in the hot seat come next election.
District 2: Charles Albert “Dutch” Ruppersberger III (D)
District 3: John Sarbanes (D)
District 7: Elijah Cummings (D)
Pennsylvania has taken a different approach to gerrymandering, diluting the interests of major urban areas like Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Reading by dividing up those cities among other districts.
“The map might still favor Republicans somewhat, but not 13 to five. Probably two to three or maybe more congressional seats — that if you drew the maps more fairly — would be Democratic or competitive.” –Michael Li, Senior Counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program
The following districts are the most severely gerrymandered according to compactness score and could become competitive areas for Democrats if districts were drawn fairly.
District 6: Ryan Costello (R)
District 7: Pat Meehan (R)
District 16: Lloyd Smucker (R)
4. West Virginia
In West Virginia, less becomes more as the GOP has whittled down what used to be six different districts into three in the past few decades. And while greater than a third of West Virginia’s population cast a ballot for a Democrat in the last election, all of the state’s congressional representation remain Republican.
District 1: David McKinley (R)
District 2: Alex Mooney (R)
District 3: Evan Jenkins (R)
Like much of the South, Kentucky continues to suffer unequal representation as a result of gerrymandering. Nearly 35% of the vote statewide goes to Democrats, but only five out of six representatives are Republican. A strategy of continuing to cram growing urban populations into existing district boundaries has resulted in much of the lopsided representation. The following districts have large urban populations that have been cut out of other districts and attached to sprawling rural areas.
District 2: Brett Guthrie (R)
District 6: Andy Barr (R)
It was a big stretch, but Republicans figured out how to make Baton Rouge and New Orleans fit into one district so they could minimize those liberal votes and take the remaining districts. If the urban sprawl were divided up into separate districts as fair representation laws suggest they should be, Louisiana’s map would look pretty darn different. And these guys might be out of a job.
District 3: Clay Higgins (R)
District 6: Garret Graves (R)
Utah’s approach to keeping the state red draws and quarters the heavily progressive, liberal area of Salt Lake City and divides those votes up into surrounding rural districts. Despite the fact that a majority of Salt Lake City and the surrounding suburbs have more registered Democrats than Republicans, Utah has remained solidly red for decades thanks to gerrymandering. The following reps would be endangered by allowing districts in heavily populated urban areas to be drawn more fairly.
District 3: Jason Chaffetz (R)
District 4: Mia Love (R)
What’s a gerrymandering map without Texas? Despite huge, sprawling urban areas that are typically Democrat country, the Texas GOP maintains a stranglehold on a majority of the state. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court, stuck down three districts in southwestern Texas, citing an unfair impact on minorities. For instance, the 35th district, specifically noted in the court case, packed both San Antonio and Austin into one area that resembled a long, slithering snake. Here are the surrounding districts that’ll be affected by redrawing those contested lines.
District 23: William Hurd (R)
District 27: Blake Farenthold (R)
District 31: John Carter (R)
The great gerrymandering of the South marches on in Arkansas, where strange horseshoe shaped areas like District 3 balance out influential city voters by taking chunks out of deeply rural areas. Little Rock, home of Bill Clinton, is the seat of Southern democrats, yet the state retains a lockstep Republican majority in Congress.
District 1: Rick Crawford (R)
District 3: Steve Womack (R)
President Obama won this state in 2012, but you can hardly tell by the color of the district map, where the GOP enjoys a sweeping majority thanks to good old-fashioned gerrymandering.
“Districts were drawn to artificially favor or disfavor a party utilizing the tactics of packing and cracking. Although the total number of votes cast for each major party is consistently close in this battleground state, the party that drew the maps won 75% of the seats (12 of 16) even though they only got roughly 50–60% of the votes.”- Fair Districts Ohio, Ohio’s Gerrymandering Problem
Several districts would switch hands if the map fairly redistributed areas in a non-partisan way, including the following.
District 1: Steve Chabot (R)
District 5: Bob Latta (R)
Recently, Census Director John Thompson, unexpectedly resigned from his post, leaving proponents of fair districting efforts worried about the upcoming 2020 US Census. Rumors indicate funding issues may prevent the department from carrying out the census properly, effecting the legitimacy of the numbers gathered that are then used to draw future district lines.
“The statistical information collected by the Census Bureau is really the cornerstone of the democracy. This is the way that we sustain an informed citizenry. If we don’t have this information, we don’t know how well the government’s doing or how well society is doing.”– Dr. Robert M. Groves, former director of the Census Bureau
If, as many hope, the Supreme Court strikes down Wisconsin’s partisan efforts at gerrymandering, it could be just the beginning of the battle for equal representation in American politics.