Will redistricting give Republicans an advantage?

The Republican advantage moving into the midterm elections, and many cycles beyond, is coming into focus now that more than a dozen states have finished drafting new congressional maps for the next decade.

However, the GOP's advantage isn't entirely due to efforts to reclaim seats presently held by Democratic legislators or to eliminate blue districts.
Texas Redistricting
FILE - In this May 30, 2013 file photo, Texas state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa looks at maps on display prior to a Senate Redistricting committee hearing, in Austin, Texas. The first efforts by the Obama administration to restore protections under the newly hollowed Voting Rights Act begin Monday in Texas over allegations that Republicans intentionally discriminated against minorities when drawing new election maps. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, File)
Eric Gay

Rather, Republicans in some states are looking to pad their margins in districts where competition for control, in previous years, was fierce.

“A lot of what we’re seeing happening is not so much flipping Democratic-held districts into Republican-held districts. There’s a little of that, obviously,” David Hopkins, a political science professor at Boston College, told the Washington Examiner. “What we’re seeing much more commonly is the shoring up of vulnerable Republican districts and turning them into much safer Republican districts.”

To restore the majority they lost in 2018, House Republicans will need to gain at least five seats in 2022. Except for the six states with populations so low that they have just one congressman, practically every state is now faced with the prospect of drawing congressional boundaries that will define politics for the next ten years.

Some states are depending on bipartisan committees to decide where the boundaries will be drawn, generally based on the most current census data. Others are resorting to their legislatures' elected officials to draft the maps, providing Republicans an advantage in the process because they control more state legislatures and governorships than Democrats.This would empower Republicans in red states to draw maps that will better protect GOP incumbents in future elections, when the party's prospects may be even worse than they are in 2022.

The new Texas map, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law late last month, is an example of this.

Despite the fact that Texas gained two House seats as a result of population increase over the last decade, the map only produces one additional reliably Republican district.

Texas’s current congressional delegation is made up of 23 Republican congressmen and 13 Democratic congressmen. Under the new map, Texas will have 24 solid or likely Republican districts, 13 solid or likely Democratic districts, and one competitive district, according to FiveThirtyEight .

But Republicans gave their House members comfortable margins in some of the most competitive districts they hold.

Rep. Beth Van Duyne, a Republican from Texas' 24th District, won by fewer than 2 points in 2020. Previously, the district included a vast swath of suburban areas between Dallas and Fort Worth.

Van Duyne's district has a 22-point Republican lead under the revised plan, with lines twisting through bluer sections of Dallas-Fort Worth.

According to David Daley, a senior fellow at the nonpartisan election organization FairVote, the redistricting process has so far shown that there will be fewer swing districts in elections over the next decade.

“Republicans have really effectively taken the districts where they were vulnerable to a blue wave in red states and made them uncompetitive moving forward,” Daley told the Washington Examiner.

Because of the aim of restricting prospects for losses in the years ahead, certain new Republican-drawn maps might make red states even redder heading into the 2018 elections.

The state of Utah, for example, is now represented entirely by Republicans in Congress.

Last year, though, Rep. Burgess Owen narrowly defeated first-term Democratic Rep. Ben McAdams in Utah's 4th District, which the GOP won by less than a point.

Under the new map, Utah's 4th District is now the state's most reliably red, with a Republican edge of 31 points.However, certain Republican attempts to draft advantageous maps are already being criticized.

The Republican-controlled state legislature in North Carolina approved a plan that would add two safe GOP seats while removing two safe Democratic districts.

Under the revised map, North Carolina's 2nd District, which is presently controlled by Democratic Rep. G.K. Butterfield, would become extremely competitive. Butterfield is set to announce his retirement this week, according to reports.

Butterfield’s district was previously majority minority, but the Legislature redrew it to be majority white.

The NAACP of North Carolina and other groups have filed lawsuits against the drafting of the map, alleging partisan and racial gerrymandering.

Daley cited a Supreme Court case, Rucho v. Common Cause, that in 2019 made complaints about gerrymandering on the basis of partisanship much more difficult to argue in court.

“The arguments that we’re going to see are going to be racial gerrymander arguments,” Daley said of coming challenges to GOP maps.

However, lawmakers in North Carolina and other states are likely to argue that their redistricting decisions were based on Democratic voter concentrations rather than minority voter concentrations, posing a "fascinating question" that will be answered during the fight over new maps, according to Daley.

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