I was invited to participate on a panel on gerrymandering by Joanne Richards of Common Ground for Texans because of my being a commissioner on Austin’s Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission. Harriett Harrow and I shared our experiences as members of the commission, and Frances McIntyre of the Austin Area League of Women Voters talked about the creation of the charter amendment that created Austin’s 10-1 plan for single-member districts. I also prepared an overview of electoral competition in Texas House, Texas Senate, and US House contests in 2016. The material that I provided the members of the group—who are as well informed about redistricting, articulate in the expression of their views, and passionate about redistricting as any group with which I’ve had the pleasure of discussing the advantages of an independent redistricting commission—is reproduced here.
Competitiveness of Legislative and Congressional Elections in Texas, 2016
In 2016, the competitiveness of legislative and congressional elections was similar to previous elections. There was only a modicum of competition.
In 2016, 98 contests were decided after the primary elections; 60 Republicans and 38 Democrats faced no major party opposition in the general election. In 52 districts, two major party candidates competed for election. Of the 52 contested elections, 7 were open-seat contests, in which there was no incumbent running for reelection. The remaining 45 included an incumbent. Among those contests, 32 incumbents seeking reelection were Republicans, and 13 were Democrats. Four Republican incumbents were defeated. None of the Democratic incumbents was defeated.
Of the 52 contests, Republicans won 35, and Democrats won 17. In the total vote cast in the 52 contested districts, Republican candidates won 54.5 percent of the vote, and Democratic candidates won 45.5 percent of the vote. Had the election been proportional rather than winner-take-all by district, the Republicans would have won 28 representatives, and the Democrats would have won 24 representatives, a loss of seven seats for the Republicans and a gain of seven seats for the Democrats.
Four contests were truly competitive. Three (HDs 107, 115, 117) of the four competitive contests involved Democratic challengers defeating Republican incumbents. The remaining competitive contest (HD 105) involved a Republican incumbent—Rodney Anderson—narrowly avoiding defeat in the closest contest—0.14 %—among the 52 contests.
The mean margin of victory in the 52 contests was 26.9 percent, and the median margin of victory was 21.1 percent.
In 2016, 16 districts held elections for the state senate, but in 12 of the 16 elections, there was no major party opposition. In the remaining 4 districts, incumbent members—2 Republicans and 2 Democrats—faced major party opposition.
Incumbents prevailed in all four contests. The Republican candidates in those 4 contests won 58.1 percent of the total vote cast, and Democratic candidates won 42.0 percent of the vote. Had the election been proportional, the results would have been identical to the results with winner-take-all contests—each political party won two contests.
There were no truly competitive elections for the Texas Senate in 2016.
The mean margin of victory in the 4 contests was 31.3 percent, and the median margin of victory was 32.1 percent.
US House of Representatives
In 2016, all 36 US House districts held contests. In 10 districts, there was only one major party candidate. In 25 districts, incumbents faced opposition from a candidate of the other major party. There was one open-seat contest, which was won by the Democratic Party candidate who replaced a Democrat in the US House.
Of the 25 contests involving incumbents, Republicans won 17 contests, and Democrats won 8. Of the total vote cast in the 26 contested districts, Republican candidates won 53.8 percent of the vote, and Democratic candidates won 46.2 percent of the vote. Had the election been proportional rather than winner-take-all by district, Republicans would have received 14 representatives, and Democrats would have won 12 representatives, a loss of three seats for Republicans and a gain of three seats for Democrats.
Only one district contest (CD 23) was truly competitive—Will Hurd defeated Pete Gallego by 1.40 percent of the vote.
The mean margin of victory in the 26 contests was 30.9 percent, and the median margin of victory was 25.4 percent.
Sources: Ballotpedia, Texas House of Representatives Elections, 2016, https://ballotpedia.org/Texas_House_of_Representatives_elections,_2016
Ballotpedia, Texas State Senate Elections, 2016, https://ballotpedia.org/Texas_State_Senate_elections,_2016
Ballotpedia, United States House of Representatives in Texas, 2016, https://ballotpedia.org/United_States_House_of_Representatives_elections_in_Texas,_2016
Secretary of State, Texas Historical Elections, Official Results, general election, 2016, http://elections.sos.state.tx.us/index.htm