Do Fair Districts Make a Difference? Some Preliminary Data

Do Fair Districts Make a Difference? Some Preliminary Data

I wrote yesterday about one amendment to Florida’s constitution that seems to have been deprived of its intended effect by the political maneuverings of our two major parties, some of their candidates, and some of their consultants. I noted then how surprised I am that our major political parties do not seem to hear such clear expressions of the voters’ desire to be heard.

The news, however, is not all bad when it comes to what we, the people of Florida, have sought to achieve through the process of constitutional amendment.

While more than a fifth of this year’s state legislative elections are artificially closed by write-in candidates, the other side of that coin is that there are many more contested elections this cycle than in previous cycles.

I’ll just tick off the numbers here. “Contested” races, in this analysis, are those where at least one candidate from each of the two major parties has qualified. I assembled my numbers by visiting the Florida Department of State, Division of Elections’ Candidate Tracking System website.

U.S. House of Representatives – 27 seats, 26 contested (96.3%)

State Senate – 40 seats, 17 contested (42.5%)

State House – 120 seats, 57 contested (47.5%)

Overall percentage of contested seats – 53.5%

Here’s what the numbers looked like two years ago, in 2014:

U.S. House of Representatives – 27 seats, 19 contested (70.4%)

State Senate – 20 seats (only half come up each cycle under normal conditions), 5 contested (25.0%)

State House – 120 seats, 50 contested (41.7%)

Overall percentage of contested seats – 44.3%

Looks like a lot more “contests’ with the Fair Districts-driven district maps than before them.

Of course, this may not be a fair comparison. This is an unusually chaotic mid-decade election. Normally, the new districts come into effect in the election following the census (so, in this decade, 2012). The Fair Districts Amendments, however, became the leverage to force our state legislators to re-examine and redraw both the congressional and state Senate maps, with ripple effects for state House races (as candidates moved up or down in response to new opportunities or challenges). Perhaps a more apt comparison would be to the election in 2012, when the first set of new district lines for this decade went into effect. Here’s what those numbers look like (and remember that the state House district map that went into effect in 2012 remains in effect; the successful court challenges were to the state Senate and U.S. House maps):

U.S House of Representatives – 27 seats, 21 contested (77.8%)

State Senate – 40 seats, 25 contested (62.5%)

State House – 120 seats, 49 contested (40.8%)

Overall percentage of contested seats – 50.8%

In every comparison but one, this (admittedly informal) analysis finds that the percentage of contested seats after the court-enforced Fair Districts standards guided the drawing of district lines is higher than it was before the full effect of these amendments was felt. That one exceptional case is the 2012 state Senate races, where three-fifths of the seats were contested, as compared to two-fifths this cycle.

Perhaps the most important comparison, however, might be to what things looked like in the previous decade. So here are the numbers for the 2002 cycle, the first election to take place after districts were redrawn in response to the 2000 census, and in the total absence of what are now known as the Fair Districts standards:

U.S. House of Representatives – 25 seats, 16 contested (64.0%)

State Senate – 40 seats, 14 contested (35.0%)

State House – 120 seats, 42 contested (35.0%)

Overall percentage of contested seats – 38.9%

In comparison to 2002, the 2016 election shows an increase of nearly 50% in contested congressional seats, roughly 20% in contested state Senate seats, and roughly 30% in contested state House seats.

This is a blunt analysis. Lots of variables that could influence the numbers are not being considered here.

Still, it looks like we might have gotten what we wanted. We, the citizens of Florida, amended our constitution with the hope of creating more competitive elections for state legislative and congressional seats. At least by the measures presented here, we have been successful.

 

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