Democrats Nudge the Ball on Gerrymandering

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Democrats hoped that the midterm election on Tuesday would put them in position to repair damage that Republicans inflicted on them by the way they drew congressional district lines after the 2010 census. To a limited extent, it did.

The biggest Democratic victory came in Michigan, where voters approved a bipartisan redistricting commission and selected a Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer. Another big win was in Wisconsin, where Democrat Tony Evers beat two-term incumbent Governor Scott Walker. Democrats failed, however, to win control of the Wisconsin state Senate.

They also suffered big losses in Ohio, where Republicans held on to the offices of governor, secretary of state, attorney general, auditor and treasurer. In Florida, Republicans kept control of the governor’s office and the state legislature.

After the 2010 census, Republicans ruthlessly and effectively used their control of statehouses to reshape congressional districts to give themselves big electoral advantages. This partisan gerrymandering was especially egregious in Ohio, North Carolina, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida, where judges forced some modifications.

The most dramatic illustration was Pennsylvania, where gerrymandering helped Republicans win 13 of the 18 congressional seats in a state where voters are closely divided by party. The state Supreme Court threw out the manipulated district map in January and drew new lines. After Tuesday’s election, the delegation is evenly divided.

Overall, Democrats picked up a net of seven additional governors’ offices, though redistricting isn’t an issue in some of those states. Democrats also elected a new Supreme Court judge in North Carolina, where extreme gerrymandering is in litigation.

A North Carolina redistricting case could go soon to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the 5-to-4 majority of Republican-appointed justices is unlikely to reverse Republican gains.

Democrats also had limited success electing secretaries of state, who have authority to impose the kind of voter-qualification requirements that are often used to suppress turnout among minority voters, who tend to support Democrats.

Michigan was a bright spot, while a painful loss came in Arizona, where the apparent Republican winner, Steve Gaynor, has advocated English-only ballots and voting information in a state with many Spanish speakers. The nation’s two most prominent vote-suppression advocates among secretaries of state recently left their posts to run for governor. In Georgia, Brian Kemp was victorious. In Kansas, Kris Kobach lost.

Floridians approved an initiative to expand voting rights by restoring the vote to citizens convicted of nonviolent crimes who have been paroled. The measure could add as many as one million voters to the rolls. The issue now is whether Republican legislators and a conservative new Republican governor will try to limit the new right.

Tuesday also was a good day for politicians facing criminal charges themselves. Two Republican congressmen who are under federal indictments, Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York, won re-election. In Texas, Attorney General Ken Paxton is under indictment for securities fraud. He easily won, too, leaving him in place as the state’s top law-enforcement official.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Albert R. Hunt is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He was the executive editor of Bloomberg News, before which he was a reporter, bureau chief and executive Washington editor at the Wall Street Journal.

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