Each decade, the federal government completes a census cycle to determine the distribution of the 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives. Faster growing states will gain seats, while slower-growing or declining states will lose seats. Afterward, the onus falls on state governments to redraw their Congressional Districts, and, with the 2022 midterm elections approaching, states are just wrapping up.
Ideally, adjusting or redrawing seats should accurately represent growth and decline in particular areas of each state; using Pennsylvania as an example, the State Supreme Court merged two central Pennsylvania districts–the 9th and the 12th–to reflect the stagnation of rural Pennsylvania (and Pennsylvania’s loss of one House seat), while largely maintaining the shapes of the districts around densely populated Philadelphia and its suburbs. Each state’s congressional districts should also reflect its voting pattern; in a swing state with eighteen districts, for example, it makes no sense to have thirteen districts that favor one party.
Gerrymandering, state legislatures redrawing Congressional Districts to favor their interests, is all but too common
However, this is where the redistricting process turns ugly. State legislatures draw the new maps, which the governor approves or vetoes afterward. Certain laws must be followed (such as Section 2 the Voting Rights Act preventing dilution of minority voters, and the Constitution preventing districts with disproportionate populations), but, when one party controls all three branches of the state legislature, partisanship often comes into play. Gerrymandering, state legislatures redrawing Congressional Districts to favor their interests, is all but too common; after an ugly 2010 redistricting cycle involving heavy gerrymandering, 2022 is looking to be no different.
Following the most recent census, Texas gained two congressional districts on account of massive population growth in the urban areas of Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and Houston; minority communities have accounted for 95% of this growth in areas that traditionally favor Democrats. The Republican-controlled Texas state legislature did draw a new, heavily-Democratic majority-minority district centered in Austin. Their new Houston-based district, however, is much uglier, connecting portions of center-city Houston with its more conservative suburbs, creating a majority-white, heavily-Republican district. Despite the aforementioned growth, minority communities only got one Congressional district in Texas.
Texas has long been one of the most gerrymandered states, and this redistricting cycle only reinforced that.
In redrawing their existing districts, Texas Republicans employed defensive gerrymanders. Certain suburban communities around Dallas and Houston have moved away from the GOP, allowing Democrats to flip two previously Republican seats in 2018. Texas Republicans redrew these two seats to include more urban areas—essentially a concession—allowing them to shore up other potentially vulnerable suburban Republican incumbents. Texas has long been one of the most gerrymandered states, and this redistricting cycle only reinforced that. Despite 46 percent of Texas’s electorate voting Democratic in 2020, Texas will have, at most, fourteen Democratic seats out of thirty-eight total.
On the flip side, New York State Democrats redrew their maps in an aggressive gerrymander, attempting to oust incumbent Republican seats, resulting in ugly districts winding through New York City boroughs to flip a Staten Island seat blue. Of the two Long Island seats, one was drawn into a Republican vote sink to make the other one Democratic. Simultaneously, they altered upstate New York districts to shore up Democratic incumbents. 38 percent of New York State voters voted Republican in 2020, yet the new map would only net them four seats out of 26.
Ultimately, Texas and New York represent two sides of the same coin: partisan gerrymanders that make elections less competitive. Under the new maps of Texas and New York, there are only two competitive districts in each state, with Texas’s competitive districts favoring Republicans and New York’s favoring Democrats.
The Cook Political Report indicates there are only 68 Competitive Districts for the 2022 midterms, a massive decrease from the 2010 midterm elections.
Similar efforts have happened in other states, with state legislatures drawing districts favoring their party instead of districts that represent their electorate. Competitive districts have disappeared all across the country; The Cook Political Report indicates there are only 68 Competitive Districts for the 2022 midterms, a massive decrease from the 2010 midterm elections. Factor in incumbency advantage, political climate, and demographic shifts, that number shrinks even further.
On account of a 2019 Supreme Court ruling, federal legislation preventing gerrymandering is unlikely for the foreseeable future. Still, there are other potential solutions. Colorado, Virginia, and California have adopted Independent Redistricting Commissions intended to take partisanship out of play. Some State Supreme Courts also have the power to redraw and veto gerrymanders; the North Carolina Supreme Court overturned a gerrymander and replaced it with their own, fairly drawn map.
We may not live in a gerrymandered district now, but that may not be the case in the future.
Regardless, we all should be concerned about the partisanship involved in redistricting. While Pennsylvania’s map is fair, it only came about on account of a deadlock between the Republican state legislature and Democratic governor; both parties could not agree on district boundaries, eventually relinquishing control of the process to the State Supreme Court. We may not live in a gerrymandered district now, but that may not be the case in the future.