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Here’s what Nebraska might have looked like in 2016 without congressional gerrymandering

We’re taking a look at the impact of Republican gerrymanders on the 2016 congressional elections. Read why in our introductory post, and click here for the full series.

Nebraska is one of just two states alongside Maine that splits its Electoral College votes by congressional district. After President Obama won the Omaha-area 2nd District and Republican then-Rep. Lee Terry faced a close call with defeat in 2008, Republicans gerrymandered the district ahead of the 2012 elections to help retain their control over it. They removed suburban Bellevue and Offutt Air Force Base in eastern Sarpy County from the 2nd and replaced them with the more rural western edge of Sarpy County. As shown above, our nonpartisan proposal would restore those areas to the 2nd in keeping with the district’s almost entirely urban and suburban character (you can see the full map below).

Donald Trump carried the existing 2nd District by a modest 48.2 percent 46.0, while he won our hypothetical 2nd by an even slimmer 47.3 percent to 46.8 percent. Although that change in margin is quite modest, Nebraska’s 2nd has seen three close races this decade. This minimalist gerrymander could have nonetheless proved decisive in 2016, since Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford only lost re-election by 48.9 percent to 47.7 percent. Ashford might have overcome his 1.2 point deficit against Republican Rep.-elect Don Bacon without gerrymandering, since our nonpartisan 2nd District was 1.7 percent more Democratic by presidential margin.

This difference is close enough that it’s simply too difficult to say with much certainty who might have won the 2nd in 2016 under our nonpartisan map. Nonetheless, it’s quite possible that Nebraska Democrats might have won one seat without gerrymandering instead of losing all three. Fortunately, Nebraska is one of a handful of states where it’s feasible for Democrats to try to create an independent redistricting commission through a ballot initiative, which states like California have already done. This anti-gerrymandering reform would be especially important for the 2020s, since there would be little to stop Republicans from simply splitting Omaha in two to turn the 2nd District safely Republican.

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