TAMPA — Florida is third most “gerrymandered” among the most populous states, according to a study by an expert who has devised a way to measure the effects of stacking voting districts to benefit one party.
According to the statistical measurement devised by University of Chicago law professor Nicholas Stephanopoulos, Florida’s districting plan for congressional races gives Republicans an advantage of two to four seats in the state’s 27-member congressional delegation.
That’s third after Pennsylvania and Ohio in Stephanopoulos’ study, which looked at the 22 states with eight or more congressional districts.
Gerrymandering is a long-standing political practice, but the computer age has made it far more effective. Computers allow political operatives to measure the voting performance of a population down to precinct level and then find the optimum map for combining precincts into districts to elect members of one party.
The basic technique “packing and cracking” -- cramming as many opposing voters as possible into a single district, where their votes will be wasted on a lopsided win, while dispersing friendly voters among districts where they can create narrow majorities to elect several legislators.
There are few better examples than the Tampa area, where Democratic Rep. Kathy Castor routinely wins re-election by huge margins while Republicans hold the four districts surrounding hers. One of her congressional neighbors, Rep. David Jolly, R-St. Petersburg, won his seat in March by less than two percentage points; Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland, won his by seven points in 2010.
Stephanopoulos measures gerrymandering by calculating the “lost” votes for each party — votes for losing candidates plus votes over 50 percent for winning candidates — and how many seats those lost votes could have produced. The net total of lost seats for both parties is the “efficiency gap” in the district plan.
Florida’s delegation is currently 17 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Florida’s “efficiency gap” of two to four lost Democratic seats means a fair plan, by Stephanopoulos’ measure, would result in a delegation of 13-15 Republicans and 12-14 Democrats.
That would seem more consistent with a state that has voted almost 50-50 in the last four presidential elections and in the 2010 open-seat governor’s race.
Nationwide, gerrymandering spiked in 2012 with the new district plans following the 2010 Census, Stephanopoulos said in an email interview.
“The 2012 plans are more aggressive gerrymanders than their predecessors,” at least as far as their effect on election results, he said. Possible reasons why, he said, are “better redistricting technology, less fear of being overturned in litigation, and higher stakes at the congressional level, given how closely divided the U.S. House is.”