Vote In The “Down-ballot” Races, & Here’s Why By Lorraine L. Hansen

Be Sure to Vote in the “Down-ballot”

Races, and Here’s Why

by Lorraine L. Hansen


All of us are concerned about the presidential election this year, but that is only one of the challenges we face.  If you remember how the Senate and House Districts were redistricted after the 2010 election, then you know how important down-ballot races are.  Because the United States conducts a census every ten years, this again is an important year.  Whoever controls the House and Senate here in New Hampshire gets to draw the districts which will be in place until the next census.  Unfortunately, votes may not be fairly apportioned, due to “gerrymandering”.  Let me explain.

             The term “gerrymander” came from the 1800’s when a Massachusetts politician, Elbridge Gerry, defined new state senate districts whereby he packed the Federalist party into a few districts to allow his own Democratic-Republican party to win the vote.  At the time,  a political cartoonist in the Boston Gazette showed the district to be strange new animal resembling a salamander called a Gerry-mander. The name stuck, and today refers to one party exercising unfair control over the other through creative redistricting.

 In the above chart, the first section shows a population of 50 voters.  The green group is in the majority with 60% of the voters and the magenta group represents 40%.  The following three sections give examples of how these voters can be divided into 5 districts of 10 voters each, each district receiving one seat in the house.  The goal of fair redistricting is to divide the voters into districts that will guarantee, to the extent possible, “one person, one vote”.

            Example 1 shows how one can divide 50 voters into 5 districts, each representing one seat, with fair representation.  The majority green group wins 3 of 5 districts and the magenta group wins 2.  This will give the magenta group 2 seats, or 40% and the green group 3 seats, or 60%.

                       In Example 2, the fifty voters are redistricted, or “gerrymandered” into 5 compact, but unfair districts.  Here, the majority green group steals 2 seats from the minority and wins all five districts rather than allowing the minority magenta group to have its fair 40% representation.

                       Example 3 illustrates how, through creative redistricting, or “gerrymandering”, a minority group can steal one seat and become over-represented in the legislature.  The resulting districts are neither compact nor fair, as the minority magenta group wins in 3 of the 5 districts by a narrow margin even though the green group won 60% of the vote.  This is accomplished by “packing” green group voters into districts voting green by a wide margin.  The result is what is referred to as “wasted votes”, those votes over and above the amount needed to win an election.  While the magenta group garnered only 40% of the vote, they are able, through gerrymandering, to pack 18 of the 30 green group voters into two districts, resulting in 14 wasted votes for the green group.  Then, by “cracking”, the remaining 12 green group voters are mixed into majority magenta districts.  This assures victory to the minority magenta group, who now control 3 of the 5 legislative seats, or 60% of the seats, even though they represent only 40% of the voters.

             In both the second a third examples, gerrymandering allows one group unfair control over the other, thereby eliminating the democratic concept of “one person, one vote”.

             In 2019, a bill was presented by the Democrats to elect a nonpartisan redistricting commission to ensure fair redistricting, but the bill, even with some bipartisan support, was vetoed by the Republican governor, Chris Sununu, who claimed there is no redistricting problem in NH. 

             However, an analysis of state senatorial elections by NHPR a few years ago indicated that since 1994, the Republicans generally have had an advantage.  In a neutral redistricting, each party would have the same amount of “wasted” votes, but the Republicans had fewer wasted votes in 8 of 11 elections from 1994 to 2016, with Democrats wasting 9% to 10% of their votes in the 2012 and 2014 elections respectively.  The study also indicates that this redistricting may have contributed to the more extreme positions of the parties.

             So, when you go to vote this election, please consider the effect of the down-ballot races, as your choice affects how much weight your vote will have in years to come.