The election is over, and there is one thing on every election nerd’s mind as the new year begins: redistricting. The census was conducted over the course of last year, despite hurdles, and counts will come out within months. Following the counts, states will gain and lose seats according to their populations, and it is up to state legislatures (mostly) to draw new plans. And of course, a new decade of redistricting means a new decade of gerrymandering.
With such a big focus on redistricting this year, I thought it warranted a new Elections Daily series on the topic. This is a place where readers can go to hear the latest redistricting news, and some of my input and speculation regarding potential maps. As somebody with a few years of experience in map drawing, I may also offer some of my own maps. You can consider this a redistricting newsletter of sorts.
So without further ado, welcome to the first installment of many in “Between the Lines”.
Redistricting in the News
When will we see the final counts?
Although the 2020 census was conducted without major issues, the COVID-19 pandemic has drastically slowed down the process. After conducting the census, the Census Bureau releases two sets of data. Apportionment data, delivered to the President, contains the total populations of each state as well as how many of the 435 House seats each will be apportioned. Redistricting data, delivered to the states, will provide population by census block, required to draw plans preserving equal population.
The original timeline had the bureau releasing these two sets of data on December 31, 2020 and April 1, 2021. But because of issues, the Bureau has delayed the release of apportionment data by four months. Ehe release of redistricting data will possibly be delayed by even longer. This will be certain to shake things up. Some have even speculated that there will be no redistricting at all this cycle, and that it would not occur until before the 2024 elections. However, I have very little reason to believe this is true, at least for congressional redistricting.
Several states have deadlines for submitting plans, which will almost certainly conflict with the dates above. Specifically, Indiana, Maine, Nevada, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas have deadlines before the July 31 date that the census have said is the earliest the redistricting data is due to be released. These states have backup plans, varying from a partisan commission in Indiana and Texas to a non-partisan commission in Oklahoma. While overall more chaotic, I expect some fairness to come out of these delays, regarding the plans.
The booming populations
To kick things off, I want to look at the states gaining seats. After the 2022 election we will have members representing districts that have never existed before. These will include, for example, North Carolina’s 14th district, and Oregon’s 6th district, and many more. The question is where in the state these districts might be, and who might represent them.
At the end of 2020, the Census Bureau released population estimates, showing seven states gaining seats. These seven are: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas. There has been some uncertainty over the years about how many seats Florida and Texas would gain, but I remain confident that they will gain 2 and 3 seats, respectively, as the census estimates show. The only uncertainty that remains is whether Montana will get a second seat.
The main story in Arizona is arguably not its tenth seat, but its independent redistricting commission. As Elections Daily editor-in-chief Eric Cunningham has discussed at length, the commission has its flaws. But not all is lost. This decade, the commission unanimously chose Erika Neuberg as the independent chair and tie-breaking vote. While Neuberg has advocated for American-Israeli relations, she is mostly non-partisan, and has donated to candidates from both parties. She has also committed to compromise in the commission, and will view all criteria with importance.
So with that in mind, how will the commission drawn the map? In my opinion, the most likely outcome is a split in the 9th district, represented by Democrat Greg Stanton, with some possible changes to the neighboring 6th district. The comission drew the current 9th district from northern Phoenix to Tempe, to make otherwise Republican-leaning areas competitive. The district is now Safe Democratic, so there is no reason for it to be that shape anymore. It would make more sense to draw two districts to fit the communities better. In this case Stanton will continue to represent northern Phoenix, and a Chandler and Mesa district will elect a new member. Possible candidates include Sean Bowie and Jennifer Jermaine for Democrats, and J.D. Mesnard and Jeff Weninger for Republicans.
Above is a potential plan I drew, courtesy of Dave’s Redistricting App. Aside from fixing Maricopa County, it also moves suburban parts of Pinal County from the rural 4th district to the similarly suburban 5th district, which addresses concerns from the old map. It also provides high levels of competitiveness; 5/10 districts voted for both Kyrsten Sinema and Doug Ducey in 2018.
In 2018, several states voted for measures that established independent redistricting commissions, and Colorado was one of them. Voters overwhelmingly approved Amendments Y and Z, covering congressional and state legislative redistricting. This establishes a 12-person commission, evenly divided between Democrats, independents and Republicans, and requires 2/3 of members to approve a plan.
If I were to guess, I’d say not much changes. The current map has few flaws and generally reflects the partisan balance of the state well. But the state is gaining an eighth district, so some area of the state will have to undergo changes. One area where the current map falls short is in minority representation. Specifically, there is a large Hispanic population in parts of Denver and its northern suburbs west of the South Platte River, which are currently split between the 1st and 7th districts. If this part were all in one district, there may be a majority-minority district in Colorado that would be likely to elect a Hispanic Democrat. People may suggest former State House Speaker Crisanta Duran, although she recently moved to New York. State Senator Serena Gonzales-Guttierez would be a possible alternative. Progressives may get behind Julie Gonzales, a DSA member.
Another aspect worth mentioning is that the amendment promotes competitiveness. So it will be worth watching whether districts such as the 3rd and 6th districts become more winnable for Democrats and Republicans, respectively. Democrat Jason Crow has proven to be a strong incumbent and may resist a more competitive environment. Lauren Boebert, on the other hand, probably shouldn’t be so confident.
With states as big as Florida, it is often difficult to tell what effects redistricting will have. Florida will go from 27 to 29 seats, and its two new seats could be almost anywhere. There are many ways of drawing a 29-district plan of Florida, so I’m not going to bother speculating.
What I’m more interested in is potential legal challenges. In 2010 voters passed two constitutional amendments which made the legislature adhere to certain guidleines when drawing new plans. Despite this, the legislature conducted redistricting with heavy influence from Republican operatives. The result was one of the most brutal gerrymanders anywhere in the country. In 2016 the Florida Supreme Court struck down the map, and drew their own one in its place.
So what changes going into the next decade? The main change is that the Florida Supreme Court has gone from 4-3 Republican to 7-0 Republican. Just one member who voted for the original decision is still on the court. If Florida Republicans decide to draw another gerrymander, the other six will have to decide whether to follow the constitution and precedent, or ignore them completely and turn a blind eye to the gerrymanders. My instinct is that they won’t go that far, but I’m aware of how naïve that sounds.
If a fair map is drawn it’s hard to imagine any new districts where Democrats could be elected, although that may change, depending on the shifts in the state. But if they get a gerrymander through, Florida Republicans may move to protect all 16 of their incumbents, and elect two more in new districts, possibly more if they draw any Democrats out. Democrats Stephanie Murphy and Charlie Crist may have the most to lose.
After the 1990 census, Montana lost a seat, becoming the latest state to have one at-large district. But because of sporadic population growth, many projections have the state regaining its second district. In a way this is the easiest to predict, because the state is so small, and because incumbent Representative Matt Rosendale lives in Glendive, in the far eastern part of the state. This indicates that there’s almost certain to be an open, less Republican district in the western part of the state.
The state has a redistricting commission, albeit a deeply flawed one. Similar to Arizona, the commission has two members of either party, and an independent chair. If members can’t agree on a chair, the liberal-leaning state Supreme Court picks one. In this case, the Supreme Court picked Maylinn Smith as the chair for this decade. Smith has committed to a fair process, but state Republicans have raised concerns that the commission will draw a map favoring Democrats.
Because it’s such an easy state to draw, I made a few maps. The first prioritizes geography and compactness, with the boundary tracing the Rocky Mountains with precision, but both districts are reliably Republican. The second map splits no counties, and puts the western district slightly more in reach for Democrats. Additionally, it keeps the tourism-oriented cities of Kalispell, Missoula and Bozeman together. The third map is drawn explicitly to favor Democrats, with the western district being Trump+7.3 and Bullock+16.4 in 2016.
Potential Democratic candidates for the eastern district are two-time at-large nominee Kathleen Williams and Whitney Williams, former candidate for Governor. Potential Republican candidates include Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen and State Auditor and former Senate candidate Troy Downing.
In a state which has been the subject of much gerrymandering debate and litigation, the process here wil lbe one to watch. Preceding the 2020 elections, the State Supreme Court struck down the congressional map as unconstitutional, and ordered a new map. As a result, the state’s congressional delegation went from a 10-3 split favoring Republicans to an 8-5 split.
The outcome this decade is unknown. For one, legislative Republicans have hinted at transparency, and the Supreme Court ruling may discourage them from gerrymandering. On the other hand, they have full control of the legislature, with the Governor having no veto power. Additionally, they have a narrower minority on the Supreme Court, which includes a very powerful Republican Chief Justice. If I were a betting man, I’d say a 9-5 split is the most likely, and Republicans draw themselves a new suburban Raleigh seat. Former Representative George Holding may run, despite living in urban Raleigh it may be unlikely. Republicans may want Erin Paré, who flipped a Biden-won State House district in 2020, to run. Paré may prove to be a good fit for the suburban and exurban community.
If Democrats have any bargaining power, they may be able to create some competitive districts. My 8th district is majority-minority, heavily Democratic ancestrally, and every statewide Democrat won it in 2016. However, it has shifted heavily to the right, and Biden may have lost it. These shifts look good for Republicans, who may eventually be able to win the seat downballot. Additionally, this map fixes the unnecessary suburban-rural-mountain splits in the 5th, 10th and 11th districts from the current map.
The 1st, 8th, 11th and 14th districts could all be potentially competitive sometime this decade, which may fulfill Democrats’ wishes.
As one of the few states with apparent complete Democratic control over redistricting, national Democrats were hopeful about Oregon. However, Oregon has laws which set guidelines on redistricting, and the maps are likely to be drawn by a panel of judges due to the deadline mentioned earlier in the article. The requirements are contiguity, preserving communities of interest, partisan fairness, connection by transport links and preservation of geographical boundaries.
The last two are, in my view, the most interesting. They both create a respectable standard for fairness and heavily limit how the districts can be drawn. For example, the area east of the Cascades must be completely kept within the 2nd district, represented by Republican Cliff Bentz. Furthermore, most the state’s population lives in the Willamette Valley, which the I-5 runs down. Because of the transport link requirement, districts cannot be stretched out too much.
Because of the guidelines, Oregon gaining a seat doesn’t bode well for Democrats. In 2011, the Democratic legislature stuck to all the guidelines, but it was still favorable for Democrats. Despite having two potentially competitive districts, Democrats held a 4-1 advantage fairly easily for the whole decade. This decade, they may not get so lucky. The 4th district is all but forced to lose Corvallis, and the 5th may lose Portland suburbs. In the map above, the 5th is a Trump 2016-Biden 2020 district, while the 4th is decidedly Republican leaning. Kurt Schrader lives in my 6th district, so may be relatively safe, but opens up the competitive 5th district. Peter DeFazio, however, faced his first competitive race in his 34-year career in 2020. His opponent, Alek Skarlatos, may run again, and DeFazio would arguably be an underdog in a redder district against Skarlatos.
Last but (if we’re talking about number of seats gained) definitely not least is Texas. Texas is likely to gain three seats with reapportionment, and just as with Florida, it’s hard to tell where the new districts will be. But because of full Republican control in the state, this is perhaps where the biggest threat of Republican gerrymandering lies.
After the 2010 census, Texas Republicans drew a map to give themselves a 25-11 advantage, with one competitive seat (the 23rd). Ten years later, they hold the 23rd but have lost two suburban districts, the 7th and 32nd. However the map has come very close to backfiring, with several districts around Austin and the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex having competitive races, and this is something Republicans will want to avoid in future.
Unless I’m proven wrong, the case scenario for Republicans is a 26-13 split. In this scenario all Democratic incumbents but one (including Fletcher and Allred), along with a new Austin Democrat, will get vote sinks. The one Democrat they’ll want to draw out will be Vicente Gonzalez of the 15th district. Gonzalez’s district took a hard turn to the right in 2020, and he almost lost re-election as a result. Such a map would protect all 23 Republican incumbents, and there would be three more. Possible Republicans added to the delegation are 2020 candidates Monica De La Cruz-Hernandez and Wesley Hunt. In Austin, if Lloyd Doggett doesn’t run for the new seat, two 2020 candidates for the 10th district (Pritesh Gandhi and Mike Siegel) may run.
Gerrymandering seems like the path forward for Republicans, but they will need to be cautious. They’ll need to account for the possibility of a backfire. If Republicans are not careful enough, Democrats may capture the House majority through suburban growth in Texas.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first installment of this new series. I aim to give detailed analyses on the redistricting conversation, and provide as much expertise as I can. Next installment I’ll be looking at the flipside, namely the districts losing seats, and which members will feel the impact. I will be rolling this series out slowly at first but will speed up as maps start being drawn. I hope you enjoy the rest, because there is a lot to cover. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment, email me, or send me a direct message on Twitter.