Gerrymandering 2022: Republicans in control of drawing 187 House districts v. 75 drawn by Democrats
Every 10 years the U.S. conducts a census, or count, of the entire population. The resulting population data are used for numerous purposes, two of which are particularly important to our political future: apportionment and congressional redistricting.
Apportionment: The process of dividing up the House’s 435 seats among the 50 states according to population, as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (House “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State”). Each state is entitled to one representative. Seats 51 through 435 are assigned by calculating a “priority value,” which is the population of each state divided by the geometric mean of its current and next seats. Assuming the Census was accurate, this ensures the seats are distributed proportionally based on state population size.
- The exact mathematical method to allocate representatives to states based on population count is beyond the scope of this post. More details can be found here.
The 2020 Census reapportionment resulted in seven states losing one House seat: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Five states gained a House seat: Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon. Texas gained two House seats.
Redistricting: After the Census and apportionment are conducted, states create or redesign districts – geographic areas – within which residents vote to elect their representatives. Redistricting is conducted to account for (1) gains or losses of House seats and (2) changes in population. In 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that the populations of House districts must be equal “as nearly as practicable” to ensure that “one person’s vote in a congressional election is to be worth as much as another’s.” Another aspect of federal law in drawing districts relates to minority representation. This can be a complicated issue involving multiple factors, but most essentially boil down to: don’t draw boundaries that dilute the vote of minorities.
- Further reading: “A Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting,” Brennan Center (PDF)
Supreme Court Cases
There are two Supreme Court rulings that are important to understand, as well:
Partisan gerrymandering, or the drawing of districts to favor one political party over another, is not covered by federal law according to the Supreme Court’s 2019 ruling in Rucho v. Common Cause (PDF). Chief Justice Roberts sided with the conservatives in a 5-4 decision stating that the Framers gave “no suggestion that the federal courts had a role to play” in electoral districting problems. Roberts continued, “To hold that legislators cannot take their partisan interests into account when drawing district lines would essentially countermand the Framers’ decision to entrust districting to political entities.”
Justice Kagan penned the dissent on behalf of the liberal justices, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The partisan gerrymanders in these cases deprived citizens of the most fundamental of their constitutional rights: the rights to participate equally in the political process, to join with others to advance political beliefs, and to choose their political representatives. In so doing, the partisan gerrymanders here debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people.
The second, more well-known, ruling is 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder, which declared Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act unconstitutional (PDF). This section required localities with a history of racial discrimination in voting and election procedures to obtain preclearance with the federal government before enacting changes in election laws. Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by Justices Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, held that Congress cannot subject states to preclearance based on past discrimination:
The Fifteenth Amendment commands that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of race or color, and it gives Congress the power to enforce that command. The Amendment is not designed to punish for the past; its purpose is to ensure a better future. To serve that purpose, Congress—if it is to divide the States—must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions. It cannot rely simply on the past… Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissent, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan:
Given a record replete with examples of denial or abridgment of a paramount federal right, the Court should have left the matter where it belongs: in Congress’ bailiwick. Instead, the Court strikes §4(b)’s coverage provision because, in its view, the provision is not based on “current conditions.” It discounts, however, that one such condition was the preclearance remedy in place in the covered jurisdictions, a remedy Congress designed both to catch discrimination before it causes harm, and to guard against return to old ways. Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.
Prior to Shelby v. Holder, nine states were required to seek preclearance before changing voting and election laws: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, South Carolina, and Virginia. Preclearance also applied to parts of Florida, California, Michigan, New Hampshire, New York, South Dakota, and a large portion of North Carolina.
- This 2006 quote from former Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA, 2005-2017) aged like milk: “Congress is declaring from on high that states with voting problems 40 years ago can simply never be forgiven, that Georgians must eternally wear the scarlet letter because of the actions of their grandparents and great-grandparents. We have repented and we have reformed.”
Republicans Have an Edge
Republicans have a massive edge to redistricting this cycle, controlling the process in 20 of the 35 states where the legislature is responsible for drawing/choosing district boundaries. These include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana, Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. In terms of districts, this comes out to 187 House districts drawn by Republican legislators compared to 75 drawn by Democratic legislators.
Democrats control the process in 11 of 35 states where the legislature is responsible for drawing/choosing district boundaries: Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Virginia. Four of the 35 states have a redistricting process controlled by a divided government: Louisiana, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.
The remaining states have non-political commissions that draw district boundaries or only have one congressional district (ie the entire state). 173 districts fall under this category.
Saying the quiet part out loud
Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-TX), former White House physician who reportedly drank alcohol, took Ambien, and made sexual comments while on duty, admitted last month that Republicans plan on taking control of the House of Representatives through redistricting:
“We have redistricting coming up and the Republicans control most of that process in most of the states around the country. That alone should get us the majority back.” Clip
Texas is one of the states most vulnerable to Republican gerrymandering this redistricting cycle, given the party controls the entire process and the area has seen fast growth and demographic change. An increase in minority populations is seen as a high-risk factor for gerrymandering because a more racially and politically diverse electorate threatens the entrenched status quo. The white conservatives in power may be motivated to draw unfair congressional boundaries in order to stay in power.
Jackson is not the only Republican boasting of their power to cheat to win.
Earlier this year, New Hampshire’s Republican state party chair Stephen Stepanek promised the state committee that he’ll gerrymander districts to flip at least one of the state’s two Democratic seats to GOP control:
“We control redistricting. I can stand here today and guarantee you that we will send a conservative Republican to Washington as a congressperson in 2022.”
Last year, Kansas’s then-Senate President Susan Wagle made a similar promise to gerrymander her state’s only Democratic lawmaker out of existence: “I guarantee you that we can draw four Republican congressional maps.” In a separate video, Wagle revealed the calculus behind keeping state-level Republican control:
“My Senate seat that Renee Erickson is running in right now, it’s pro-Biden, it’s moved to the left,” Wagle says in the video. “And during redistricting I need to give her some more Republican neighborhoods in order to make sure she stays elected.”
Keep in mind that Republicans only need to flip five seats to take control of the House. There are seven new seats to be created: one each in Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon, and two in Texas. Republicans control the redistricting process in Florida, North Carolina, and Texas. Therefore, the GOP can create four seats that are virtually ensured to remain in their control. Assuming the party doesn’t lose any of their current seats, that’d put Republicans just one seat away from the majority.
And such calculus doesn’t count the impact of gerrymandering existing House districts. All told, Republicans could add anywhere from six to 13 seats through the redistricting process in Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, and Texas alone.
- Further reading: We have already seen the impacts of partisan redistricting over the past decade. For example, in the 2016 election, Republicans won as many as 22 extra seats in the House over what would have been expected based on the average vote share in congressional districts across the country.
Population data takeaways:
The total population of the United States on April 1, 2020, was 331.4 million, an increase of 22.7 million from 2010. Last decade’s 7.4% increase was lower than the previous decade’s 9.7% increase and was, in fact, the lowest since the 1930s.
The population of U.S. metro areas grew by 9% from 2010 to 2020.
- Five counties (metro areas in parentheses) gained at least 300,000 people during that period: Harris County, Texas (Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land); Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix-Mesa-Chandler); King County, Washington (Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue); Clark County, Nevada (Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise); and Tarrant County, Texas (Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington).
The share of the white population fell from 63.7% in 2010 to 57.8% in 2020, the lowest on record. The White alone population decreased by 8.6% since 2010.
The Multiracial population was measured at 9 million people in 2010 and is now 33.8 million people in 2020, a 276% increase.
The Hispanic or Latino population grew 23%, while the population that was not of Hispanic or Latino origin grew 4.3% since 2010.
The adult population grew faster than the nation as a whole.
How to get involved
The following states offer the opportunity for public comment and testimony: AZ, CO, IA, MI, MO, NE, NY, OH, OR, and UT
The following states require that their authority’s meetings, business, and materials pertinent to the redistricting process be open to the public or, at least, accessible to interested citizens: AK, AZ, CA, CO, HI, IA, ID, IL, MD, ME, MI, MO, MT, NE, NJ, NY, OH, OR, PA, UT, VT, and WA
Some states require that their redistricting authority accept and consider maps drawn and submitted by members of the public: CO, ID, MI, MO, NY, NJ, OH, and UT
The following states have a procedure for voters to directly petition their state’s supreme court to review a redistricting plan: AK, AR, CA, CT, HI, ID, MA, MD, ME, OK, OR, PA, and VT
You may notice FL, NC, and TX are not on the above lists. Consolidating party control over the process, and insulating lawmakers from accusations of gerrymandering, requires locking the public out of the system. In these states, court cases will most likely determine the constitutionality of the district boundaries.
Look up your state’s redistricting websites
Look up your state’s redistricting deadlines (scroll down for list)