Note: I was just going to do one post, but instead of making this one post a 2,000 word monstrosity, I’m going to break it into at least two posts instead. This post will cover (re)apportionment and the Census, while Part 2 will talk more about gerrymandering and other reasons why Democrats are underrepresented in Utah.
Gerrymandering in Utah is something that has been on my mind for a while, and I go back and forth on writing to actual put my thoughts down about it because I personally don’t think it is the reason why Democrats fail to get representation in our state, at least at the federal level. There may be a case to be made at the state level, but as I will cover in a bit, it may not be that big of a problem there either. Nevertheless, a certain political candidate seems to make it a big issue every time they open their mouth to talk about the uphill climb they will have while running against a Republican incumbent in a pretty solidly “red” Congressional District – Utah’s CD-3, currently represented by Jason Chaffetz. I hope this post can illustrate why gerrymandering is not as big a problem as they and other candidates seem to think.
First, a quick tutorial on gerrymandering:
The basic thought is that congressional districts should be drawn in a way that represents a fair sharing of the available seats within a location. For example, Utah has four congressional districts, and you would expect that each of these districts contain approximately the same amount of eligible voters. As of April 12th of this year, Utah has a total of 1,532,473 registered voters, so simple math would dictate that each congressional district will hold approximately 383,000 voters. Therefore, congressional lines should be drawn, hopefully using pre-existing borders like county lines or other geographic features like rivers or roads, so that there aren’t crazy shaped districts that don’t make any sense.
The issue with gerrymandering in Utah stems from the apportionment of an additional seat in the House of Representatives that Utah was lucky enough to receive after the 2010 U.S. census.* This happens every ten years; the Census Bureau counts all the folks in the United States and moves House seats around the country based on the purported movement of the people. This occurs because the House is locked at 435 members – and has been since the 1910 Census – because they didn’t want to keep growing the House of Representatives based on population growth. So while a Representative elected in 1910 represented approximately 200,000 people, a Representative after the 2010 Census represents approximately 700,000 people.
*Utah actually fought for an additional seat after the 2000 Census, requesting that LDS missionaries serving abroad be counted in their population numbers but were unable to make the Census change their mind. Fortunately for Utah, the population continued to grow at a rapid pace for some reason over the next 10 years (3rd fastest growing state behind Nevada and Arizona) and we earned our 4th seat without even including those missionaries in the count.
Reapportionment is not an exact science, but the Census factors in growth rate and other demographic factors to move seats around, but they also want each seat approximately equal to every other seat, which is why each seat currently represents around 700,000 people, with each state guaranteed at least one Representative. For example, California has just over 37 million people in the state, so it makes sense that they are allocated 53 seats in the House (37 million divided by ~700,000 = 52.5). After the 2010 Census, a total of 12 seats shifted around. Texas gained four seats, Florida gained two, and Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington picking up seats. All eight of these states were in the top 13 for population growth between 2000 and 2010. These seats had to come from somewhere, and the states that lost seats are across the “Rust Belt,” with New York, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania losing a combined six seats , with the remainder coming from other states that saw slowing population growth, including Louisiana, which is still feeling the affects of the mass migration resulting from Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
By the time of the next Census rolls around in 2020, the United States is projected to have around 334.5 million people (based on 2014 projections by the Census), meaning that each seat will represent nearly 770,000 citizens. Though it is hard to determine what the actual affect will at the state level, some predictions indicate that nine seats will be moved, with Texas gaining an additional three seats, Florida with two, and Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, and Oregon gaining another seat. The Rust Belt will most likely lose some more seats, but also slower growing states like Rhode Island and Alabama.
Why does this all matter? One of the ways that Utah could better represent the “minority” party is to gain another seat. If Utah managed to gain another seat, it might be easier to redraw the lines to better represent the minority political party in the state. Utah is, by some measures, the fastest growing state in the country right now, and if Utah’s growth continues at its current pace, it may grow big enough to gain another seat. Nevertheless, even if this was the case and Utah’s Congressional delegation grew by one, the earliest this would happen in 2022, and that’s still three elections away.
All that said, is gerrymandering that big of a problem in Utah? Should we – as Democrats – spend time and resources dedicated to overturning the current district lines in an attempt to potentially get a “blue” seat in Utah? Or do we focus on other issues, like making sure people aren’t running unopposed or focus on competitive districts at the state level that were within two or three percentage points? Do we focus on “get out the vote” efforts to ensure that the upcoming midterm election has a minimal reduction from the November 2016 election? The last two should be the focus instead of chasing lawsuits and hoping for a non-partisan solution to an issue that may not truly be an issue.
I think there is something else that can be done to make the argument for gerrymandering actually count, and I will cover it more in detail in my next post. Until then, if you want a preview of what I might be talking about, feel free to check out this thread posted on Twitter last month:
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Gerrymandering is an easy excuse when Dems don't win state-level elections, but it's not the only reason why Dems don't win</p>— Robert Eberhard (@GuruEbby) <a href=”https://twitter.com/GuruEbby/status/843618295567732736″>March 20, 2017</a></blockquote>