While anti-partisan gerrymandering legislation languishes in a Senate gridlocked by Republicans and the filibuster, both parties on the state level are actively mapping out how best to craft congressional districts to give them easy wins.
Unfortunately for Democrats, Republicans control many more of the states’ redistricting processes, a byproduct of years of laser-like focus on sub-national races and successful gerrymanders of decades past.
Redistricting experts have warned for months that, barring intervention to block maps that swoop and curl and dive to give Republicans the edge, the GOP can almost certainly retake the House of Representatives through gerrymandering alone. Democrats currently have a slim five-seat majority in the chamber.
It’s not as bad as it could be: in some surprisingly good news for Democrats, as maps have been finished and approved, the landscape is less bleak, by some measurements, than analysts expected. Some seats with a mild blue tilt may be fairly easy for Republicans to retake if the national atmosphere remains grim, and Democrats’ embrace of nonpartisan redistricting reform stripped them of some weapons. But still — it’s no longer clear that Republicans will be able to accrue a massive majority in the House by gerrymandering alone.
Republicans, though, still retain the clear gerrymandering edge. Here’s where they’re using it to its fullest advantage.
Big Power Grabs
In some states, Republicans are being maximally aggressive.
The state’s new congressional map, passed along party lines in November, seeks to make an eight-Republican-seats-to-five-Democratic-seats split an even more dramatic 11 Republicans to three Democrats. Keep in mind, this is not a lopsidedly Republican state — then-President Donald Trump won it by just 1.3 percent in 2020.
The map is accordingly already snarled up in court, with plaintiffs arguing that it’s an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. In a potentially good sign for Democrats, the state Supreme Court (on which Democrats have a slim four-to-three majority) has already pushed the state’s primary back two months to provide time to litigate the maps.
So the maximally aggressive map may be ultimately tossed. But that doesn’t signal a complete reprieve for Democrats. The eight-five map the state has now, as unbalanced as it may seem, is actually a scaled-back product of a court-mandated redraw after a previous map was found to be gerrymandered in favor of Republicans.
Both the state Senate and House have proposed a bevy of new maps. The House maps are much more aggressive, with one potentially netting Republicans up to 19 seats to Democrats’ nine. The current state delegation in the House is 16 Republicans to 11 Democrats. Florida picked up a new congressional district in the 2020 census.
Florida Republicans are essentially having an internal debate about how unbalanced a map the state Supreme Court will let them get away with. The answer, probably, is: quite. The seven-member court is stacked with six ultra-conservatives who have shown little respect for the precedents set by more progressive courts of years past when it hems in their political agenda.
Floridians approved ballot amendments in 2010 to prohibit partisan gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts. But don’t count on a little thing like a state constitutional amendment standing in the way of this partisan operation.
While Texas’ new map doesn’t result in a huge net gain for Republicans — probably one to two seats — it’s building off an extremely lopsided map already at 25 Republicans seats to 11 Democratic ones. Democrats actually managed to flip two of those in elections, in part because the explosive demographic change in Texas rendered the old map less effective as the decade progressed.
That meteoric growth of Texas’ racial and ethnic minority communities is also what netted Texas two new House seats from this census — but you wouldn’t know it from the new map. It so brazenly dilutes minority voting power that the Biden administration has already sued in federal court, its only redistricting lawsuit so far this year. The Roberts court, however, has shown hostility toward such suits.
The map also makes current Republican incumbents much safer, the GOP legislators looking to fend off competition and further entrench their power.
A seat here and there starts to add up.
Wisconsin Republicans’ baseless dominance of a state President Joe Biden carried in 2020 looks likely to continue. The map is in the hands of the state Supreme Court, with its slim four to three conservative majority, which has essentially already handed Republicans the win. The court announced in late November that it would make minimal changes to the current maps. In a sign of his lack of options, Gov. Tony Evers (D) has signed on to a map that would give the battleground state a likely delegation of six Republicans and two Democrats.
Ohio Republicans basically ignored the state’s new apparatus to craft bipartisan maps, passing one unilaterally with no Democratic support. Under the state’s new redistricting law, that means the map is valid for just two elections — only bipartisan maps can stand for the whole decade. That probably won’t matter, since the state is only trending redder, providing Republicans with opportunities to draw an even more severe map in a few years.
The new map would turn the current delegation of 12 Republicans and four Democrats to 13 Republicans and two Democrats, eliminating a blue seat after the state lost a district in the census. It’ll have to survive the state Supreme Court, though, after being slapped with three lawsuits, including one from Eric Holder’s redistricting group. While the court has a four to three Republican majority, the swing vote is Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor who has expressed anti-gerrymandering views in the past.
Montana got one new seat in the 2020 census, which the state’s redistricting commission crafted with a strong Republican lean. The one Republican that comprises the state’s congressional delegation will likely become two.
While Georgia is another state where people of color have accounted for all of its population growth, Republicans have tried to dilute Black voters to entrench their power. The map, which is awaiting Gov. Brian Kemp’s (R) signature, would likely shift one Democratic seat to the Republican column, giving Republicans nine likely seats and Democrats five. As a consequence, Rep. Lucy McBath (D) has abandoned her now extremely Republican district and will challenge Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D) next door. Lawsuits have been promised as soon as Kemp signs the map into law.
States to Watch
Elsewhere, Democrats may lose seats at the hands of independent commissions. The commissions were once championed by Democrats and some Republican reformers alike as a fair way to end the redistricting race to the bottom. But since blue states more often followed through, Democrats have faced allegations of unilateral disarmament.
Maps in Michigan and Virginia could ultimately be friendlier to Republicans than they would have been if Democrats had maintained partisan control. The citizens’ commission in California produced a map that’s good for Democrats, but that likely pales in comparison to what Democrats would do if they had unfettered control. The independent commission in Colorado made the state’s new seat highly competitive with a slight Republican lean, much to the chagrin of Democrats who have dominated in recent cycles.
Democrats also took a calculated risk in Nevada, diluting the one very blue district to give another two slight Democratic leans. The problem? In a Republican wave, all four seats could now go red.
Question marks hover around Pennsylvania, where there is a split between the Republican legislature and Democratic governor. The map will almost certainly end up in the hands of the Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court.
Arizona’s independent commission has finalized a map that could net Republicans two seats, as the process heads towards a close.
And, in some rare good news for Democrats, they do have a few chances to recoup their losses. New York is the best one, where they may net four seats and eliminate an additional Republican one. In Illinois, they may add one seat to the Democratic column and eliminate a Republican one. They are also likely to pick up Oregon’s newly created seat and to flip a district in New Mexico.