Terry H. Schwadron
Oct. 12, 2021
We’re seeing early results of the partisan campaigns of both parties to redraw Congressional districts in their favor. It’s a quick dive into the poorly lit backroom of politics that can have a lasting effect on the results.
For those hoping that a decennial Census might help inform voting districts that more fairly match changing racial and ethnic population growth, the news already looks futile. For those hoping for some rational, fair, independent attempt to straighten the curious lines of individual districts, the early developments are not promising.
Instead, the building forecast is for more entrenched political party interests at the expense of the opponent party, more districts being hardened against competition, and fewer swing districts.
From these still-early signals, regardless of majority outcomes in the House and Senate, therefore, we can expect that the opinions and stubbornness that many find unreasonable about matters of policy are going to grow generational roots and become sharper over time.
The Five Thirty-Eight political site, which is monitoring the reapportionment process closely, suggests that of the four states to have finalized new congressional district maps, Democrats may temporarily have gained two seats nationally, but the trends show Republicans gaining in many more as the process proceeds.
An analysis by The Washington Post suggests that the big winner so far is Incumbency and party control. Most of the emerging redistricting maps are aimed at strengthening and defending the current status. A report in The New York Times shows how in Texas, Republican mapmakers have blunted the demographic growth of communities of color to make an already politically red state even redder.
The rules over gerrymandering — the purposeful redrawing of election districts to include or exclude by race or even political affiliation — has been struck down by the Supreme Court in multiple instances. Yet the process that appoints partisans to do the reapportionment work in most states continue to do exactly that, sometimes dressing it up in fancier arguments, but with distinctly partisan and racial goals in mind.
Oregon, Maine, Nebraska, and Indiana have finished their maps, with Colorado, Arkansas, Arizona, Texas, Michigan, and Utah filing proposals. It was Oregon that favored Democrats, but those in Arizona and Texas, with bigger numbers outwardly favoring Republicans. Indiana shows little change, and an advisory committee proposal for New York that would eliminate four of the state’s five Republican districts headed for a court challenge for sure.
In Iowa, the state senate already has voted to reject the first proposed map drawn by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.
If you want to play the redistricting game, the Five Thirty-Eight folks have offered a tracker.
By ensuring that most the effort is spent on preserving the current officeholders, the outlook is for sharper partisan elbows, less compromise by both sides in the House, said The Post. The Texas proposal would redraw 12 competitive congressional districts to one, the Oregon map would change two swing districts into a stronger base for Democrats. In one district in Indiana, the lines would change an area that Donald Trump won by 2 percentage points to one where he, on average, won by 6 points.
The signs are for a decade of yet more deeply entrenched partisanship. If the seat is safer, its congress member is likely to be more outspoken towards whatever the party extreme is pushing.
We should note that of the country’s 435 congressional districts, Trump or Joe Biden won just 50 of them by five or less percentage points. Those swing districts could be reduced by at least a third after redistricting, experts estimate, making national House majorities dependent on a small number of local elections.
For Republicans, the emerging strategy seems to be containing Black or Brown districts in a way that smacks of segregation and moving the lines to make winning margins higher. It seems the same for Democrats, though the possible universe of left-leaning swing districts to target is fewer.
Groups like FairVote, a nonpartisan voting rights advocacy organization, are noting that partisanship is, er, trumping any attempt to widen independent voices.
When combined with a continuing Big Lie campaign about non-existent voter fraud, state laws to restrict voting access in Republican-led states, addition of state powers to overturn opponent wins and require endless recounts, gerrymandering stands out as a powerful tool for Republicans to strengthen their hand. In doing so, it is not all Republicans, but the MAGA-Trump wing that is coming to dominate Republican primary elections.
Again, the safer the district, the louder the voice of extremes — for the Right in this instance.
Before 2011, the Post noted, at least six congressional districts in Ohio had swung back and forth between Democrats and Republicans. With new district maps in place that favored Republicans, Democrats won in four of 18 districts, and have not flipped since. In the new Census, Ohio stands to lose one more House seat, and the chances already are that it will be a Democratic district that will go.
Indeed, the Brennan Center for Justice produced a 2017 analysis of election results that shows the maps adopted for 2012 gave Republicans nationally a net benefit of 16 to 17 seats because of partisan gerrymandering.
If we were truly concerned about “election integrity,” we would be coming up with fairer district mapping.