It’s a new month, and we’re drawing closer to the eventual redrawing of the lines. In weeks, we will be seeing population counts for the states, letting us know how many representatives each will have. Nothing’s certain yet, but we have a general idea of which states will be gaining representation, and which will be losing. Welcome to this week’s installment of ‘Between the Lines’, where I will discuss the states losing seats.
Redistricting in the News
A repeat of 1932?
The news on redistricting in the last two weeks has been relatively muted. I have been keeping up with the process of redistricting in several states, and a case out of Minnesota got my attention. The details of the case have supported speculation that legislatures will prepare to go ahead with the redistricting process in lieu of the release of data in September. It also confirmed that in Minnesota, the courts will draw the maps if the legislature fails to do so.
But there was one statement from a Minnesota attorney that caught my eye. The statement said that, if Minnesota loses a seat and doesn’t have a map in place, they would have to elect all of their representatives statewide. If true, this would be the case for any state losing seats that fails to pass a plan in time. Other states in the same situation would have to stick to their current plans, adding at-large seats where necessary.
However, it’s not 1932 anymore. In 1967, Congress effectively banned the use of multi-member districts. I don’t know of any other precedent dictating what happens in the case of failing to pass plans in time for the elections. But I stand by my prediction that federal courts would intervene and draw their own maps in that case.
Exodus in the Midwest…and California
The so-called “Rust Belt” has decreased or remained stagnant in population for decades, and this decade is no different. Of the nine states predicted to lose seats, seven are in the Midwest or Great Lakes area. These seven are Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The other two are Rhode Island and California. It is uncertain whether Minnesota will lose its eighth district, or whether New York will lose just one seat as opposed to two. Alabama may also be on the chopping block and go down to just six seats. Some have even suggested that an undercount in Illnois may cause them to lose two seats.
In this article, I’ll be going over all ten states that may lose a seat, and what that would mean for them.
Almost every projection leading up to the census had Alabama losing a congressional district. That’s why it was such a surprise when the census estimates had the state staying at seven. However this outcome is far from certain, and there are many paths for Alabama to drop a seat.
If the state does end up with six districts, one member will bite the bullet. There is one Democratic member of the House in Alabama, but the Voting Rights Act protects her majority-black seat. Therefore, despite Republican control of redistricting, the departing member will be a Republican. The seat most likely to be eliminated, it seems, is the second district in the southeastern part of the state. If the legislature drew Barry Moore, the incumbent, out of his district, he would have to run against Mike Rogers or fellow freshman Jerry Carl in an incumbent-versus-incumbent primary.
One possible legal question that remains is whether a recreation of Alabama’s seventh district would constitute a racial gerrymander. In 2016 federal courts struck down three similar districts, two in North Carolina, one in Virginia. Some might argue that the seventh district meets the same criteria. Such a ruling would neccesitate a district where African Americans could still elect their candidate of choice, but doesn’t “pack” black voters in the same way. This may put a Birmingham based district at risk of flipping at some point, even if they crack the metropolitan area as shown above.
Ever since it gained statehood, California has not once lost a seat in Congress. It has gone from just two representatives to a staggering 53. So it was a surprise to many when projections estimated that the state would lose a district. California isn’t attracting as many people as it used to, and thus the trend is reversing.
As with any big state, it is difficult to tell which incumbents a new plan will affect. It’s vital to note that California has an independent redistricting commission with no vested interest in protecting incumbents. In 2012, California elected a total of 14 freshman representatives due to a frenzy of members retiring, losing and being drawn out after representing districts hand-drawn for them. We may expect a similar case of the commission drawing several incumbents into districts with each other. There are several paths the commission may take, so watch this space.
Observers see Illnois as one of the top opportunities for Democrats to gerrymander. While it’s a blue state, Republicans have increased their strength downstate, which Democrats may want to erode. Protecting their 12 incumbents in Chicago and the collar counties is easy, but downstate will be more of a challenge. The conventional wisdom is that they would protect 17th district incumbent Cheri Bustos and make the 13th district, represented by Rodney Davis, Democratic-leaning. But it’s a lot easier said than done. Bustos’s seat is now Republican leaning, and it would be difficult to make it much more Democratic. As for Rodney Davis, the easiest way to make it Democratic leaning is to add East St. Louis to it, but even doing that wouldn’t make it more than a few points more Democratic-leaning. The 13th or 17th would have to be extremely contorted in order to make either Safe Democratic.
Fortunately for Republicans and the cause of fair maps, Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker has threatened to veto “any unfair map presented to [him]”. Incoming Speaker Chris Welch has made a similar commitment to fairness. The situation is further complicated by the fact that if the legislature doesn’t pass a plan on time, a commission, comprised of Democrats, Republicans and a randomly chosen tiebreaker from either party, is tasked with drawing the maps. This eventuality is probable, due to the legislature’s short sessions, and the short time frame to draw the maps.
Despite census delays, Michigan have been diligently carrying on with business as usual. The newly-established Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission runs redistricting in the state. From the few meetings I’ve attended I’ve picked up the impression that commissioners are keen to conduct a fair process with public input. There has been some worry over the commission’s decision to choose Election Data Services to draw the maps. John Kimball, the president of Election Data Services, has been described as the “Picasso of gerrymandering”. But all this tells me is that Kimball is an experienced map-drawer, and the company has no inherent interest to draw unfair maps.
What would a fair map look like? Well it’s difficult to tell, since Michigan is, in my opinion, a tough state to draw. The most likely representative to go is perhaps dismantle the current fourth district. Moolenaar represents the seat, a decentralised district which contains Midland, Lansing suburbs, and college towns. The comission may have the instinct to take it apart. Moolenaar lives in Midland, which may join the Democratic leaning fifth district with the rest of the so-called Tri-Cities. Another representative who may be on the chopping block is Democrat Elissa Slotkin. Slotkin lives in the redder part of her swing district, but may move to the Lansing metro to run there.
Like Alabama, Minnesota isn’t certain to lose a seat, but if it does, it may be very impactful. Since Republicans narrowly held control of the State Senate after November and then gained two new caucus members shortly afterwords by party switching, there remains divided control over the legislative process. If Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on new plans, the responsibility of drawing them will likely end up in the courts. The same happened last decade, and the end result was a fair map, so this is what we can expect out of the plans for the next decade.
If Minnesota stays at eight seats, the courts may draw a ‘least change’ map, like they did after 2010. This means that districts would stay largely the same, and every incumbent can run for re-election in their district. But if it loses a district, one district will be eliminated. The most likely to go would be the sixth district, represented by Republican Tom Emmer. Depending on how the map turns out, Emmer would then have to face either Michelle Fischbach or Pete Stauber in a primary, or Democrat Dean Phillips in a general election, or retire altogether. Losing a district would thus benefit Democrats, although it may make Phillips or Angie Craig more vulnerable.
Another option would be for the legislature to combine Minneapolis and Saint Paul, putting Betty McCollum and Ilhan Omar in the same district. This may serve as a compromise, since one of the most controversial Democratic members would be in danger of losing. But it would merge two very dissimilar areas, and voters would be quick to disapprove of this configuration.
Once the biggest state in the country, New York has gone from 45 seats in the 1940s to 27 now. The trend of losing seats will continue, and it seems that the state will have either 25 or 26 districts.
In 2014, voters approved a constitutional amendment giving a bipartisan commission the power to draw potential maps. However the amendment gives the legislature the power to amend the commission’s maps if they fail to pass three times. This commission has two Independent members, although observers say that the ones picked are partisans in all but name. Thus the commission has a functional 5-5 split, so a deadlock is possible.
The question remains: could the Democratic-controlled legislature gerrymander the plans? In theory, but it’s tougher than people may think. State law currently limits the legislature from making drastic amendments to the commission’s plans. They can only change 2% of the population in each district, which all but strips the amendment power from the legislature. But this rule only exists in statute, and the legislature can repeal it in an instant.
The members vulnerable to being drawn out will depend on how many districts the state will lose. If it loses two, as the census estimates predict, upstate New York will almost certainly lose a seat. I’d predict Claudia Tenney is in the most danger. Another vulnerable area will be Long Island, where either Queens or Nassau County may lose a seat. If only one seat is lost statewide, a more urban seat may get squeezed out instead. I could see an incumbent-versus-incumbent matchup between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ritchie Torres; such a race could get national attention.
Several gerrymanders this decade have been struck down, and of those that remain, Ohio is widely considered the worst. Despite being a fairly close state until recently, the 12-4 Republican advantage in Ohio has stayed rock-solid throughout the decade. But while some may think the next maps will be similar, a partial remedy is in place that may prevent that.
In 2018, voters passed a constitutional amendment revamping the redistricting process. This process requires bipartisan support to begin with, either in the legislature or a backup commission, to pass a plan. If they fail to do this, the legislature can pass a plan with a simple majority, but it would only be in place for four years. The new rules also heavily limit the splitting of counties and municipalities.
Some have suggested that Republicans draw a gerrymander which favors them by as much as 13-2. In theory it’s possible, since the state has become much redder since 2012. But redrawing the maps after 2024 is in nobody’s best interests, so the legislature could avoid this with a compromise. In any modestly fair map Republican Steve Chabot, who represents a district which cracks Cincinnati, would be a sitting duck. Troy Balderson may be in a similar situation. And Tim Ryan, who represents a Democratic vote sink which Joe Biden won by just three points, would be a goner in any scenario. Some suggest that this is why he has made moves toward a Senate run.
The map shown above is possibly the best case scenario for fair map advocates, and for Democrats. It is an 8-7 divide by 2016 and 2020 results, and is full to the brim with competitive districts. It would reshuffle multiple incumbents, and put a lot of races in the spotlight.
The redrawing of Pennsylvania’s congressional lines in 2018 was one of the most interesting events of that cycle. In just a few weeks Pennsylvania went from having one of the most unfair maps to one of the fairest. Republicans’ 13-5 divide turned into an even 9-9 split, if you include special election victories that year.
The map was drawn by state courts, since the Republican-dominated state legislature and Democratic governor failed to reach an agreement. It seems that the same situation will repeat itself this year. In April 2020, Pennsylvania native Joe Szymanski wrote about the redistricting situation in his state, which covers the likely outcome, and which incumbents may be affected. I’d encourace that you give it a read for more information.
Democrats blew their long shot chances of taking either chamber of the legislature, so there’s still split control. As a result of the state dropping down from 18 to 17 seats, one member will have to go. But there are two open statewide races, one for Senate and one for governor, which may be inviting to the affected member. I agree with Joe in that G.T. Thompson and Conor Lamb may be the most vulnerable members, but there are many possibilities. Members such as Chrissy Houlahan and Matt Cartwright may get tougher districts and may instead want to run statewide.
Probably one of the most fascinating House races to watch in 2022 will be in the union’s least expansive state. While it has two congressional districts now, it seems they will merge as Rhode Island drops to one at-large seat. This sets up a possible primary between David Cicilline and James Langevin, who represent the state’s two districts. Cicilline is openly gay, is in the party’s left flank, and has held various leadership positions in the House. Langevin is more of an establishment candidate, and is the first quadriplegic member of Congress. If they go up against each other, the race will be hotly contested. Cicilline had some minor scandals and low approval ratings from his time as Providence mayor, but has since renewed himself as a progressive champion in Congress. Langevin, on the other hand, may be a better fit for the state, and has won statewide before.
Things get more complicated when we add the race for Governor to the mix. Many thought that Jim Langevin would run for Governor to replace the term-limited incumbent Gina Raimondo. However, it’s not an open seat anymore. Raimondo is now in Biden’s cabinet, and her successor, Dan McKee, is running for a full term. But McKee is hardly a field clearer himself. He is a conservative Democrat and barely won re-election for Lieutenant Governor in his 2018 primary. There may be an appetite for a left-wing challenger, and Cicilline might fit that role better than Langevin. Other possible candidates would be Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, and former Secretary of State Matt Brown.
Coal Country has been bleeding population for decades, and West Virginia is right in its heart. As a result, it’s very likely that it will lose one of its districts. And there is one representative who is at a clear disadvantage: Republican Alex Mooney of the second district.
The configuration is not difficult to predict. The first and third districts (wiith the latter becoming the second) will keep all or most of their current territory, and the current second will be split between the two. Carol Miller will have little to no serious competition, while David McKinley and Alex Mooney will probably end up in the same district. McKinley won’t have any real trouble beating Mooney, who is known for carpetbagging; Mooney was previously a Maryland state senator and chair of the state party. This alone makes him vulnerable, and his only real hope would be for McKinley to retire.
The urbanization of the United States continues, and the industrial areas are feeling the effects the most. Several seats will fall, and some incumbents will feel the effects more than others. But until we know more, the speculation continues. It may be some time before the next installment of this series comes out, but be sure to keep your eye out for it, because there is still a lot to talk about.
Thanks for reading as usual. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment, email me, or send me a direct message on Twitter.