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The Best Reporting on Redistricting Shenanigans (#MuckReads)

We’ve rounded up some of the best reporting on how the parties have tried to influence both congressional and state electoral maps — and, in most cases, gotten away with it — for political gain.

Republicans in the Virginia Senate made headlines Jan. 20 when they rammed through legislation that would concentrate the state’s Democratic voters into fewer districts.

The Virginia bill is the latest effort by both parties to turn redistricting to their advantage around the country. We’ve rounded up some of the best reporting on how the parties have tried to influence both congressional and state electoral maps — and, in most cases, gotten away with it — for political gain.

Republicans Seeking Electoral College Changes, The Washington Post, January 2013
Only two states — Maine and Nebraska — currently apportion their electoral votes by congressional district. But Republicans in Virginia, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania have recently proposed switching their states to a similar system. Each of those states “went for Obama in the past two elections but are controlled by Republicans at the state level.”

Va. Republicans’ Redistricting Draws Criticism, The Washington Post, January 2013
While Virginia state senator Henry Marsh was in Washington celebrating Obama’s inauguration, state senate Republicans were redrawing district lines to favor GOP candidates. Republican senators took the opportunity of Marsh’s absence to pass a bill, 20 to 19, that made “technical adjustments” to district boundaries. State Democrats are decrying Republicans’ political maneuver, accusing them of trying to “pack and crack” the influence of the state’s black voters.

How Maps Helped GOP Keep the House, The New York Times, December 2012
Democratic House candidates across the country won more than a million more votesthan Republicans ones, but the Republicans kept control of the chamber. How did they manage it? Republicans seized the upper hand in redistricting: “thanks to the gains they made in 2010 state-level elections, Republicans controlled the redistricting process in states with 40 percent of the seats in the House, Democrats controlled it in states with 10 percent of the seats, and the rest of the seats were drawn by courts, states with divided governments or commissions.”

So Few Swing Districts, So Little Compromise, Five Thirty Eight, December 2012
Why is it so difficult for members of the U.S. House to find compromise? Because most members come from “hyperpartisan” districts where they face no real threat of defeat. Nate Silver breaks down the decline of swing districts due in large part to redistricting (as well as less split-ticket voting).

How Dark Money Helped GOP Hold the House, ProPublica, December 2012
Republicans launched an effort in 2010 designed to help the party win statehouses — which control the redistricting process in most states — in the elections that fall. We detailed how dark money helped fund the GOP’s statehouse victory in North Carolina and subsequently helped pay for redistricting consultants, who worked out of the Republican party headquarters in Raleigh.

The League of Dangerous Mapmakers, The Atlantic, October 2012
Who are the cartographers behind the U.S.’s constantly shifting district maps? Journalist Robert Draper follows Republican National Committee redistricting consultant Tom Hofeller as he travels the country, advising legislators how to best designate districts to their advantage. Draper charts the history of redistricting, to show how what “was intended by the Framers solely to keep democracy’s electoral scales balanced…has become the most insidious practice in American politics.”

Redistricting, a Process Cloaked in Secrecy, Center for Public Integrity, November 2012
Though the Supreme Court has dictated how often states redraw district lines, how they do it is mostly up to them. The State Integrity Investigation rated each state on the transparency and potential for public input of their redistricting process. Roughly half didn’t make the grade:  “while 18 states received A’s; 24 received a D or an F.”

How Democrats Fooled California’s Redistricting Commission, ProPublica, December 2011
In an attempt to insulate redistricting from party politics, California created a citizens’ commission in 2010 to determine state districts. But Democratic strategists still found new ways to influence the process: from secretly enlisting local organizations to creating a sham community group to push for a map that favored Democratic candidates.

Welcome to America’s Most Gerrymandered District, The New Republic, November 2012
Democrats have been especially aggressive about redistricting in Maryland, where they dominate the state legislature. Maryland Democrats approved a new congressional map so tortured that a federal judge called the state’s Third Congressional District “reminiscent of a broken winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.” The redrawn maps helped Democrats capture seven of Maryland’s eight House seats, despite winning only 62 percentof the total votes cast in all the state’s House races.

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Christie Thompson

Christie Thompson was an intern at ProPublica. She studied journalism at Northwestern University, and has written for The Nation, The Chicago Reporter and

Theodoric Meyer

Theodoric Meyer is a former ProPublica reporting fellow. He was previously an intern at The New York Times and The Seattle Times.

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