We're taking a look at the impact of Republican gerrymanders on the 2016 congressional elections. Read why in our introductory post, and click here for the full series.
Washington uses a bipartisan redistricting commission instead of leaving it up to the legislature to draw the lines. While that might sound like a great way to prevent partisan gerrymandering, it often simply devolves into a gerrymander aimed at protecting incumbents from both parties, depriving voters of the chance to vote in truly competitive races. Since Team Red had just made major gains in the 2010 elections right before redistricting took place, protecting incumbents effectively helped Republicans compared to what a nonpartisan map might have done.
Indeed, this process was exactly what happened in Washington, where one of the two Democratic commission members defected to side with the two Republicans to pass the GOP’s preferred maps in exchange for giving a few Democratic incumbents their own choice of turf. In particular, Washington’s congressional map gerrymandered the Seattle metro area to protect 8th District Republican Rep. Dave Reichert, who had faced close calls in 2006 and 2010. As seen below, the redrawn district shed some key heavily Democratic suburban areas east of Seattle while it contained rural Republican-leaning turf east of the Cascades, causing Hillary Clinton to win it by just 48-45.
Our 8th District shed rural Pierce County and everything east of the Cascades, while it regained those highly educated suburbs due east of Seattle (see here for a larger version). Those changes would have caused it to back Clinton by a landslide 65-28 spread, making it practically impossible for a Republican to win.
While the 1st District would have shifted from 57-35 Clinton to just 47-45 Clinton, Democratic Rep. Rick Larsen likely would have narrowly still won another term in 2016. All five other Democratic districts would have remained secure for Team Blue, meaning that without Washington’s pro-Republican incumbent protection gerrymander, Democrats would have likely gained another seat in 2016.
This story has been updated.