It will be a good eight months before the U.S. Supreme Court decides the Wisconsin gerrymandering case. Democrats think they have found the magic formula suggested by swing vote Anthony Kennedy 13 years ago. They call it the “efficiency gap.”
But (of all sources!) an analysis by the New York Times pretty much debunks the whole concept.
Efficiency gap measures the number of wasted votes that do not contribute to winning a legislative seat. ‘Pack” all the Democrats into Madison, for instance, and “crack” other liberal strongholds among several districts so as to render them minorities.
Votes beyond the bare majority needed to win are wasted — that would be all but one of the 29,069 of the votes that Terese Berceau received in her westside Madison 77th district, for instance, where she was unopposed.
Also wasted are about 12,000 votes by which Republican Joel Kleefisch beat his Democratic opponent in his Oconomowoc-Watertown district (as well as all of the loser’s votes) because he only needed to win by one vote.
The Democrats’ experts settled on an arbitrary number — 7% — as being unacceptably “inefficient.”
The NY Times makes the point the Policy Werkes has been hammering: “Parties can naturally “pack” or “crack” themselves, simply because of how their voters are distributed geographically.”
The efficiency gap doesn’t distinguish between votes wasted by gerrymandering or by natural causes. … Democrats routinely win major cities with more than 80% of the vote. Nationally, virtually all of the seats with the most wasted votes in victory are Democratic-held urban districts. For the most part, they’re not gerrymandered at all.
The effect of all of these wasted Democratic votes in urban areas is considerable. It’s enough, for instance, to make a fair map in New York look like a partisan gerrymander. There, Hillary Clinton won more than 75 percent of the major party vote in 10 of the state’s 27 districts. But no gerrymandering was required as Mrs. Clinton won 81 percent of the major party vote in densely populated New York City.
What’s more, “The efficiency gap is very noisy. It can shift back and forth from cycle to cycle. That’s mainly because the efficiency gap emphasizes the difference between winning and losing a district. If you win by one vote, all of your opponents’ votes are wasted, and just one of yours; lose by one vote and the opposite is true.”
The irony, as we pointed out in “When you can’t win elections …” is this: if the goal is competitive legislative districts, mappers would have to draw squiggly lines that would make old Elbridge Gerry’s salamander district look neat and tidy. Such maps would trash accepted constitutional principles of compactness and municipal integrity.
If the court does rule against Wisconsin’s maps, the NY Times concludes, “Efficiency gap violations would spread to 18 of the 26 states with more than five congressional districts. The nonpartisan maps in Arizona and Minnesota, the bipartisan map in New Jersey, and, incredibly, the Democratic-drawn map in Illinois would all violate the 7% threshold in favor of the Republicans.”
For more number crunching with the NY Times’ Nate Cohn, check out Rural/Urban divide. Except in four states, rural voters went Trump.