Redistricting: Part 2

Sam Reeves, MVC Writer

By casting the shackles of their principles, the Democrats have made considerable gains throughout the 2021/2022 redistricting cycle, so far resulting in an increase in 11 majority-Democrat seats. The current majority in the House of Representatives is only 10 seats wide. When I last wrote about redistricting, this trend was only beginning to take shape. 

The reduction in competitive seats nationwide is still taking place. The 2010 maps had about 40 seats that could be classified as “competitive,” the 2020 maps have 33 seats fitting the same criteria. A reduction in competitive seats does not give one party a distinct advantage over the other, but it concentrates the stakes of elections into fewer races. 

In state and local elections, there is a tactic called “nationalizing the race,” which is exactly what it sounds like, taking a local race and drawing the entire country’s attention to it. A candidate will nationalize a race in an attempt to raise money and morale from out-of-state party loyalists. Many Senate races saw this tactic employed in 2020, sometimes successfully, like in the case of freshman Georgia Senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, others not so lucky, such as Amy McGrath. Fewer competitive seats in the new maps means fewer battlegrounds in each election, which will likely result in more national attention being concentrated on fewer seats. 

Paradoxically, the 2021-2031 congressional map will be one of the fairest maps in many decades. Both parties deciding to gerrymander widely makes the playing field even again, even if it currently looks like the Democrats are running away with it. The aggregate density of blue states gives Democrats an intrinsic advantage in the House of Representatives, so they have still snagged majorities under intense disadvantages caused by one-sided gerrymandering. With those disadvantages removed, or at least accounted for, the electoral advantage becomes much more apparent. 

This does not mean Democrats can no longer lose elections. Many districts in gerrymandered blue states only give Democrats a 6 to 10 point advantage, a margin which could reasonably be won by a Republican in a year where Republicans do well nationally, which they likely will in 2022. For a historical example of this scenario happening to Republicans, look at the results of the 2018 elections in Iowa.

Courts have also been remarkably proactive in mandating fair maps in swing states. One thing to keep in mind about court-drawn maps is they often expire within a few election cycles, at which point redistricting is sent once again to the legislature. Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wiconsin, Ohio, and Maryland have all seen highly consequential court cases, in several cases complete court redraws. In Pennsylvania, the legislature and governor were in a stalemate and passed a deadline, so the PA Supreme Court picked a map drawn by a political scientist at Stanford. 

 I referenced a North Carolina court case in the last article I wrote, and I made a mistake in assuming that the North Carolina Supreme Court would not take up the case challenging the Republican gerrymandered map. The GOP-majority NC Supreme Court struck down the legislature’s 10R-3D-1C map, and instated its own 7R-6D-1C map until after the 2022 elections, when the state legislature gets another chance to draw maps. 

Ohio also saw a court challenge, with results pending. The Ohio Supreme Court ruled that the legislature’s original Republican gerrymander was unconstitutional, so then the redistricting commission, which did not draw the first map for reasons that I will not get into, drew a map almost exactly the same as the legislature’s. 

A “redistricting commission” is a general name for a body outside the legislature that draws maps for them, with the general goal of drawing fairer maps. Not all states have commissions, and not all commissions are created equal. Politics begets politics, and commissions still put out gerrymanders. The Ohio commission’s gerrymandered map is technically law right now, but whether or not it survives the due onslaught of court challenges is anyone’s guess. 

One of the most vicious gerrymanders this cycle, New York’s 4R-20D-2C map had a conflict-heavy route to ratification. New York has a relatively powerful redistricting commission, but their maps do need approval from the Governor Kathy Hochul. She decided the commission’s maps were not good enough, so her office drew their own maps, dubbed “the Hochulmander,” and vetoed every single map the commission sent for weeks, until eventually a deadline was passed and redistricting duty was sent back to the state legislature. The unified state legislature then passed the Hochulmander in a matter of hours, and so far it has survived court challenge, though its future in the courts is impossible to predict. This New York map alone will flip 4 Republican seats, giving Democrats 3 new safe districts, with one district in New York being taken away by Census apportionment. 

Florida is the last major state to redistrict, and with no end in sight. There are no approved maps in Florida. Florida’s legislature and governor cannot agree on a map, despite being entirely aligned. A special joint legislative session to resolve the issue has been scheduled for April 19-22, but it is unclear if the session will be able to resolve the disagreements that have lead to this stalemate. I think the likeliest outcome is that the deadline will be passed and the FL Supreme Court will end up drawing or picking the map, similar to the situation in Pennsylvania. In fact, plans to make this outcome reality are already being put into motion, and whether or not they are successful is the choice of the courts alone. 

The fate of the court-challenged maps is not clear, and it is unlikely a definitive answer will ever be reached. These dogfights could go on to 2031 and beyond.