Dan Walters

By Dan Walters
12/15/2014 12:08 AM

More than a half-dozen of California’s Democratic congressional members had a scare in last month’s election, barely winning re-election against unexpectedly strong Republican challenges.

Their close calls were the product of two factors.

One was a record low-turnout election, with scarcely 42 percent of the state’s registered voters casting ballots. It proved again an old axiom that low turnouts help Republicans.

The second factor was that congressional districts were redrawn by an independent commission after the 2010 census, rather than by the Legislature or the courts.

The commission’s remapping – by design or happenstance is uncertain – helped Democrats pick up congressional seats in California in the high-turnout 2012 presidential election by creating more districts potentially winnable by the party.

But in doing so, the new maps necessarily narrowed the lopsided registration margins that many Democratic congressional members had previously enjoyed when a Legislature dominated by Democrats drew the lines.

Those narrower registration margins came into play this year with the lower voter turnout, producing uncomfortably close outcomes for some Democrats.

They can look ahead to easier re-elections in 2016, a presidential election year in which turnout is likely to be at least 50 percent higher. And a pending U.S. Supreme Court case might alter the lines enough to lock in their seats even if turnout falls again in 2018.

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