Although the Virginia governorship was Tuesday’s marquee race, the Virginia House of Delegates produced the day’s most surprising result. Democratspicked up at least 15 seats and reduced a 66 to 34 Republican advantage to, at most, 51 to 49. A gerrymandered chamber thought to be safely Republican suddenly became a toss-up — and may yet flip to Democratic control after all the recounts are completed.
This unexpected outcome raises the question: Can gerrymandering really be such a problem if a party’s legislative edge can virtually disappear overnight? This question is especially important at present, as the Supreme Court mulls over Gill vs. Whitford, a potentially historic case about redistricting in Wisconsin.
The question also has a clear answer: Of course gerrymandering is deeply troublesome even if it can be overcome, at least temporarily, by a wave election….’
A final point is that not all maps are equally at risk if a Virginia-sized wave materializes. Take the Wisconsin state house plan at issue in Whitford. Its authors were not quite as greedy as those who drew the Virginia map. They were content for Republicans to win three-fifths (rather than two-thirds) of the seats in normal conditions. This somewhat less ambitious target let them sprinkle more Republican voters into each Republican district, yielding bigger margins and more leeway in the event of a Democratic groundswell.
Consequently, there are only three Wisconsin districts (out of 99) won by Clinton but represented by Republicans. If Wisconsin Democrats do as well in 2018 as their Virginia counterparts did in 2017, they will likely flip just four seats. For Democrats to win a majority of the Wisconsin Assembly, they would need a further five-point boost — a 100-year flood rather than an ordinary wave.