Gerrymandering Matters; SDGOP Fakes Fake News to Hide Interest in Redistricting

The SDGOP spin blog really overworked itself trying to portray local reporting on the advantage Republicans derive from gerrymandering as “fake news.” Three consecutive posts hyperventilated that that Sioux Falls paper was lying to us on behalf of the South Dakota Democratic Party when it reported the following facts and interpretation:

Nearly 2 in 5 votes cast in 2016 state House races went to Democratic candidates, but the party captured only 14 percent of seats in the chamber.

That’s the widest “efficiency gap” among any state, according to the analysis, which used the same mathematical formula cited last fall by a federal appeals court that struck down Wisconsin’s state Assembly districts as intentional partisan gerrymandering [Dana Ferguson, “Gerrymandering a Factor in South Dakota Democrats’ Woes,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.06.28].

The SDGOP spin blog claims that South Dakota Democrats fail to win legislative races in proportion to their numbers due to their weakness as a party, not due to where Republicans have drawn the district lines. Of course, amidst what the SDGOP spin blog brands “fake news”, Ferguson reports exactly that contention:

“It’s a fantasy for the AP to say the Republican victories can be attributed to gerrymandering,” Dan Lederman, chair of the South Dakota Republican Party, said. “That margin of victory isn’t due to gerrymandering, it’s because of weakness in the Democratic Party” [Feguson, 2017.06.28].

When the SDGOP shouts at us to pay no attention to its men behind the redistricting curtain, that’s a good sign we should pay attention. Why else do you think Republicans fought the anti-gerrymandering Amendment T so hard last year?

The SDGOP spin blog fans its smoke from two major fallacy pots:

First, gerrymandering and minority-party weakness are not mutually exclusive conditions. I can grant that the South Dakota Democratic Party is weak in voter registration, candidates, money, and organization and still acknowledge that gerrymandering doesn’t help Democratic fortunes, just as I can grant that my car has engine trouble but also complain about Republican punks popping my tires.

The original Associated Press analysis looks at Congressional and state legislative races nationwide and finds evidence of gerrymandering favoring Republicans. The report acknowledges that Republicans had several advantages in 2016: more incumbents, voters spread more widely across suburban and rural districts. And of course, Republicans were in a position to gerrymander in 2010 because they had won more legislative races. But far from offering “baseless supposition to blame that all on line-drawing” as one national Republican leader in the AP report, the AP analysis uses empirical data to show that Republican-drawn election maps have some positive influence on their election results.

Second, “fake news” is not any article one’s party leaders disagree with. Dana Ferguson and the Associated Press fake nothing in their reports. Ferguson and the AP cite facts, data, and experts. They cite interpretations from Republicans and Democrats. The only “fake news” appears to be the SDGOP spin blog’s effort to label this honest reporting “fake news” and then to peddle the preceding fallacy of the false dilemma, that we must choose between believing that gerrymandering matters or that South Dakota Democrats are weak.

Bob Mercer suggests that the main factor in Democratic success in legislative races is voter registration. I don’t have to label his blog post “fake news!” to defend the position that redistricting matters. I can acknowledge his data and analysis as true, encourage Democrats to work hard to register new voters, and still, with perfect consistency, say, “And by the way, when all those newly registered voters help us claim majorities in Pierre in 2021, let’s make sure we draw fair election boundaries and create an independent redistricting commission.”

3 Responses to Gerrymandering Matters; SDGOP Fakes Fake News to Hide Interest in Redistricting

  1. Porter Lansing

    >We’ve all read Danny Lederman’s assertion that Dem’s lose because we’ve given up NOT because of the widely agreed upon notion that the state is highly gerrymandered by GOP influences.
    >Well, that’s just BS!! Have you noticed how many less right wingers are willing to engage on Cory’s blog these days. Especially on Saturday. Where’d y’all go?
    >Defending “Don the Con” isn’t nearly as easy as attacking “Barack The Magic Negro” now is it righties?

  2. Or we’re just tired of the screed.

    According to the SOS, the GOP enjoys a 15% advantage in number of registered voters across the state vs. registered Democrats. The average voting advantage for the districts is 13% – so it’s a little below, but on par.

    Currently Democrats have 19% of seats, though they account for 30% of registered voters. What could explain the disconnect?

    – There is definitely some gerrymandering going on, but I contend it’s not as widespread as has been posited.

    – Due to geographic clustering and self selection, there are going to be districts which are safe for one party or the other. No matter how you draw districts, areas with high percentages of registered Democrats are going to reduce the # available to win elections in other districts. Rural counties such as Oglala Lakota, Todd, Day, Roberts, Bennett, Buffalo, etc. have baked-in higher densities of Democratic voters.

    – Some locations have very poor Democratic turnout. Pennington county saw just under 20% of Democrat/Independent/Other turnout, compared to 35% Republican voters, giving a healthy 5,000 Republican voter surplus for those districts. Bennett county, which has a Democratic lead, saw fewer raw registered Dem/Ind/Other show up than raw Republicans.

    HOWEVER, the strongest indicator that the reason the Democratic party doesn’t have more seats is due to weak candidates is born out once we look at the number of registered Dem + Independent voters.

    The urban districts of Minnehaha and Brown counties have more Dem + IND voters than Republicans. I grant that some independents will lean conservative, but argue they are the most likely to be captured by a strong Democratic candidate. In Pennington, only District 35 could be competitive once DEM + IND are combined. That speaks more to the West River conservative mentality than any actual gerrymandering, though (Republicans outnumber Dems 2:1 county wide).

    Due to geographic and voter turnout constraints, I don’t believe it’s possible to achieve parity with the actual % of registered Democrats in the state. The only way to solve for the former is to eliminate locality-based elections and create proportional-based statewide elections. The only way to solve for the latter is to increase access to voting locations AND sufficiently motivate people to vote.

  3. I like Wayne’s thorough analysis. It is worth noting, however, that the AP analysis already spotted parties with higher voter registration an extra few seats beyond straight proportionality. The AP analysis recognizes that a party with a 47-32 advantage will get more than 47% of seats. The AP analysis finds that SD Republicans are still claiming more seats than be explained by their registration superiority and that assumed advantage.

    I agree that gerrymandering is not the only thing or even the biggest thing. I acknowledge that we can still lose districts that are drawn in our favor, like District 27, if we don’t hustle for quality candidates, donors, and GOTV.

    But none of that changes the fact that gerrymandering affects election outcomes, is wrong, and should be eliminated in favor of having an independent body draw fair election maps.