2022 Gerrymandering Threat: Democracy Not Even Mostly Dead!



Some good news for Democrats hoping to hold on to the House of Representatives in the 2022 midterms: The much-feared threat that Republican-run states would gerrymander their way to an easy takeover of the House doesn't seem to have materialized, at least not according to an analysis out this week from the Cook Political Report.

Cook's redistricting dude David Wasserman writes that, in something of a surprise, the two-thirds of states that have completed redistricting or have maps waiting to be certified actually have a slightly higher number of congressional districts that are favorable to Democrats than the previous decade's maps, at least based on voting data from the 2020 election. (Those 34 states include the six that only have one congressional seat.) Here's Wasserman's breakdown:

[In] the completed states, Biden would have carried 161 of 293 districts over Donald Trump in 2020, an uptick from 157 of 292 districts in those states under the current lines (nationwide, Biden carried 224 of 435 seats). And if Democrats were to aggressively gerrymander New York or courts strike down GOP-drawn maps in North Carolina and/or Ohio, the outlook would get even better for Democrats.

However, the partisan distribution of seats before/after redistricting is only one way to gauge the process. Because Democrats currently possess the lion's share of marginal seats, estimating the practical effect of new lines in 2022 still points towards a wash or a slight GOP gain.

That's still a lot better than the easy takeover of Congress by gerrymandering that Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) bragged about in June when he said, "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."


So what happened to the big Republican gerrymandering steal? It's still plenty outrageous, as in Ohio, where Republicans have about a 54 percent to 46 percent voting advantage in actual state elections, but the Republican-dominated legislature (already benefitting from gerrymandering after the 2010 Census) drew maps that give Republicans an advantage in 80 percent of the new congressional districts.

Wasserman notes that Georgia and North Carolina have also gone wild with drawing heavily gerrymandered maps that have drawn court challenges. But as he explained to the Washington Post's Greg Sargent (have a paywall-free linky!), a lot of GOP-controlled states didn't go all-in on adding new seats and eliminating districts that currently lean Democratic — not out of the goodness of Republicans' hearts, but because they decided instead to add to their partisan advantage in districts that already lean Republican, to offset increasing population shifts that would be likely to favor Democrats. (Hello, Texas, we see you.) Wasserman explained,

So Republicans are playing keepaway. A number of their own districts have become more vulnerable over the past 10 years. They’ve had no choice but to focus on shoring those districts up.

Keep in mind that in Texas, where there are currently 23 Republicans and 13 Democrats, nine of the 23 Republican-held seats are seats where Biden won more than 47 percent of the vote.

Basically, instead of using their control of state legislatures to increase their party's' representation in Congress, Republicans have decided to push back on changing demographics to make safe seats even safer.

Now, it's still a rotten, corrupt process that rigs the system; Wasserman notes that if states like Texas or Georgia and the lot had used nonpartisan redistricting processes, the maps would be far more competitive. But instead of using gerrymanders to fence in more territory where they'd have a slight advantage, a lot of Republicans have gerrymandered instead to build higher walls around the incumbents they already have. (Yes I stole that wall metaphor from Sargent, and also Republicans do seem obsessed with walls anyway.)

Sargent also suggests that in such now even-more-heavily Republican districts, candidates may feel "more free to embrace MAGA obsessions and under less pressure to appeal to middle-of-the-road and independent voters," but Wasserman said that the move probably has more to do with just carving out safe GOP seats regardless of the ideology of the Republicans in them. That said, he added, "But the effect of that is districts that are ideological cul-de-sacs where most Republican candidates will be playing to the MAGA base only."

So hooray, we'll have even more Marjories Taylor Green, but they may not have as much numerical strength in Congress. They'll just be harder to vote our for the next decade, GROSS.

While the good news here is that the new electoral maps ought to give Democrats at least a fighting chance at holding on to the House, that won't matter in itself if Joe Biden's poll numbers remain low (like for instance if there's yet another goddamned coronavirus variant), if GOP efforts to keep people from voting succeed, or if the insane gerrymanders in Ohio, North Carolina, Georgia, or Texas aren't struck down in court. Also too, Florida hasn't yet redistricted, and there's little reason to think Florida won't go full manatee-shit crazy, since that's the state motto.

So yes, as long as Republicans keep gerrymandering, New York should absolutely create more Democratic districts, so there's a better chance of eventually fixing this goddamn mess. And Illinois, why did your redistricting plan have to go and slice the hell out of Marie Newman's district? Can we call that perfidy? We shall!

Hey, we bet passing some version of Build Back Better and the Freedom to Vote Act would help too, just a crazy idea.

But let us be glad and rejoice, a little, since at least now holding the House is only a steep hill, not a cliff.

[Cook Political Report / WaPo / Politico]

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