Are Democrats Really Prepared For The Total Failure Of Our “Democracy”?

All indications are that 2018 will be an enormous wave election for Democrats. And, yet, Democrats could win in 2018 by margins not seen in decades and still not gain any power in the federal government and make only slight inroads in state legislatures. A new study from the Brennan Center of Justice indicates that Democrats would have to win by a staggering 11% margin in order to win the 24 seats needed to take back control of the House of Representatives.

In a normal off-year election, a six point margin of victory usually nets about 27 seats. But the extreme partisan gerrymandering Republicans have engaged in since the 2010 census has nearly doubled the margin of victory needed to net that same number of seats. According to the report, a six point margin of victory would net a measly 13 seats. Even a ten point margin would only net 21 seats, three less than the number needed to win back the House. Democrats would have to win the 2018 elections by a massive eleven points, 55%-44%, in order to win control of the House and, even then, they would only have a four seat majority. This country has not seen that margin of victory in House races since 1982.

The reason for this, of course, is the extreme partisan gerrymandering that Republicans implemented after the 2010 census. In Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, and even Texas, Democratic opportunities for picking up seats is severely limited no matter what their margin of victory because of partisan gerrymandering. For example, in Ohio, Democrats are virtually guaranteed to win 4 of the 16 races, needing a minimum of only 26% of the vote to hold those seats. However, in order to gain just one more seat, Democrats would have win by a 10 point margin, meaning that winning 55% of the vote across the state would still net the Democrats less than one-third of the state’s Representatives in the House. A similar situation existed in Pennsylvania, where 50% of the statewide vote netted less than one third of the House seats, until the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down those gerrymandered voting districts as an unconstitutional violation of the state constitution.

At the state level, the most recent election in Virginia showed just how bad things are for Democrats in these states. There, Democrats won the state-wide vote by a full 11 points yet still netted only half of the seats in the House of Delegates and lost the chance to regain control of that body by a single seat on the basis of a coin flip in a tied election. In Wisconsin, after the post-2010 partisan gerrymandering, Democrats won 53% of the statewide vote and ended up with just 40% of the seats in the Wisconsin Assembly.

In Texas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, there are voters who have been voting in districts that have been ruled unconstitutional by one court or another in multiple elections this decade. Yet, the extreme gerrymanders continue in all those states due to drawn-out appeals in the court system or legislatures who effectively create maps with similar results after being forced by courts to redraw the districts. Beyond those delaying tactics, Republicans are essentially trying to “overturn” these courts’ rulings on their own. In Pennsylvania, there is a move to impeach the Supreme Court justices who voted that the state’s districts were unconstitutional. In Wisconsin, Governor Scott Walker has refused to hold special elections to fill open state seats and now, having been directed to do so by the courts, Republicans are openly defying that ruling and trying to get the legislature to rewrite the law that covers special elections.

At this point, I think most Republican leaders understand they can not win what most people recognize as free and fair elections. As the Trump candidacy in 2016 showed, even with a strong turnout of the GOP base, Clinton won the popular vote by millions, nearly three percentage points, and only won because of the undemocratic nature of the Electoral College. That realization leads to the massive efforts at voter suppression like voter ID, restricting early voting and the actual number of ballot stations, and, the most effective strategy, extreme partisan gerrymandering, making sure as many Democratic votes as possible are “wasted” or not able to even be cast. It is why the Mercer/Bannon/Cambridge Analytica/Russia strategy in the 2016 election was as much devoted to suppressing Clinton voters as it was to animating Trump voters. And it is what is behind the latest decision by the Trump administration to add the citizenship question to the Census, as well as underfunding its work, in a blatant attempt to make sure as many Democratic voters are not even counted for reapportionment purposes and perhaps providing a method for GOP state legislatures to draw even more gerrymandered districts based on citizenship as opposed to residence.

One of the most uplifting parts of the March for Our Lives and the movement behind it is the understanding these teens have of the interconnectedness of the fight against gun violence, the general social justice movement, and the importance of actually voting and winning elections. How many of these young voters will be thoroughly discouraged when they realize that the ideal of American democracy is a mirage, where winning a majority of the votes actually results in still having no political power, where a powerful minority will still rule, and that the system really is rigged. And that’s before we even talk about the filibuster in the Senate.

The reality is that there is very little standing in the way of that kind of undemocratic ]result in 2018. Democrats could win all the votes cast for House candidates by a 55%-45% margin and still be a minority. And, if Republicans hold both the House and the Senate this year, there is no reason to think their efforts to maintain power won’t become more extreme. That means more attempts of voting restrictions and, conceivably, depending on the results of the 2020 election and census, forgoing reapportionment entirely and postponing it until 2030, the precedence for which was set back in 1920. That reapportionment never happened for a variety of reasons including the fact that the 1920 census showed that urban voters had now become the majority. Similarly, the 2020 census will show that the US is moving ever close to a majority minority country, something that is expected to finally happen within the next 30 years.

If forgoing reapportionment seems like a radical idea that the would never happen, you haven’t been paying attention to the current Republican party. So was idea that a Supreme Court nominee would not even receive a hearing or that Congress would be unwilling to act as a President and his family basically run their businesses from inside White House, selling access and favors and refuse to defend the country from an attack by a foreign power. Right now, the only thing that would prevent the possible undemocratic result in 2018 from happening again in 2020 may be the Supreme Court, extremely partisan in its own makeup, which is expected to rule on the constitutionality of extreme partisan gerrymandering, possibly this term. But, as history has shown, relying on the Supreme Court is eventually a fool’s errand. Instead, Democrats should focus on getting an amendment to the state constitutions to require an independent redistricting commission on the ballot in every state possible. In addition, Democrats need to highlight the violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s principle of one person, one vote that currently occurs by limiting the number of seats in the House to 435, paving the way for the longer-term project of creating an expanded and more representative body.

The centrists in the punditocracy constantly complain about the hyper-partisanship of today’s political environment. Yet they somehow seem oblivious to the fact that extreme partisan gerrymandering and certain undemocratic structures of our electoral system actually feed that hyper-partisanship. It is not too hard to see that eliminating these barriers will create more evenly contested electoral districts and therefore less extreme and more centrist candidates. But maybe, in today’s environment, that fact can only be seen by the fresh eyes of politically active youth. Let’s hope so.

Originally published at on March 27, 2018.