These are the 2020 state races to watch for determining how redistricting plays out after the census

These are the 2020 state races to watch for determining how redistricting plays out after the census
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, photo via Screengrab.

Next month's elections are the last that will take place before states are required to redraw their congressional and state legislative districts to reflect population changes in the 2020 census. That makes them critical in the fight against gerrymandering. Below, we'll look at key elections for governor, state legislature, and ballot measures in the states that could change who's in charge of the redistricting process for the coming decade, and be sure to bookmark the spreadsheet version of this info since we'll update it as results come in.

As things stand, Republicans would get to draw three to four times as many congressional districts as Democrats if nothing changes in 2020, and the picture is similar for state legislative maps. But Democrats are well-positioned to flip a number of key races that would break GOP's control over redistricting in important swing states like Texas, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania and help level the playing field.

Note that seat counts for state legislative chambers count third parties or independents with the major party they lean toward if any, and totals are based on the last party that held any vacant seats.

ARIZONA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (17 R, 13 D)
  • State House: Republican (31 R, 29 D)

Arizona has had an independent redistricting commission in place since 2000, but there's a significant risk that the Supreme Court will strike down all commissions that were passed by citizen-initiated ballot measures, especially if Judge Amy Coney Barrett joins the court. Republicans control the governorship, but Democrats have an excellent shot at flipping one or both chambers this year.

That would lead to a divided government in case the commission gets struck down, meaning that, barring a bipartisan compromise, new maps would likely be drawn by the courts, which habitually favor nonpartisan districts. Republicans in the legislature have also repeatedly sought to undermine the commission, so ending the GOP's control of state government would help insulate the panel.

CONNECTICUT

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Democratic (22 D, 14 R)
  • State House: Democratic (91 D, 60 R)

Connecticut requires supermajorities to pass new maps, so Democrats would need to win two-thirds of all seats in the legislature to gain control over redistricting. It's a reach, but isn't totally implausible with Donald Trump weighing down the GOP ticket. If Democrats don't do so, it would take bipartisan support to drew new lines, otherwise the courts would get involved.

FLORIDA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (23 R, 17 D; half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican (73 R, 47 D)

Florida voters passed two ballot initiatives in 2010 to try to ban gerrymandering, but the state Supreme Court has taken a lurch far to the right after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis won in 2018 and is unlikely to enforce the amendments to curb GOP gerrymandering. However, if Democrats pull off an upset and flip either chamber, they could force a deadlock, requiring a court to step in to craft new maps in the absence of the two parties working out a deal.

GEORGIA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (35 R, 21 D)
  • State House: Republican (106 R, 74 D)

Georgia Democrats would have to flip the state House to break the GOP's full control of state government, but that's a daunting task since the chamber is already heavily gerrymandered to benefit the GOP and the state Senate is even worse. However, a Democratic House majority can't be ruled out if 2020 turns into a true blue tsunami in the Atlanta suburbs. If that happens, redistricting would get handed to the courts unless both sides negotiate an agreement.

IOWA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (32 R, 18 D; half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican (53 R, 47 D)

A nonpartisan agency has for decades proposed maps to the Iowa legislature, which has always adopted them. However, if Republicans remain in power following the November elections, next year would be the first time in several decades under this system that one party has unified control over state government, which would allow the GOP to simply reject the agency's proposals and implement their own gerrymanders. But Democrats have a realistic chance of capturing the state House next month. In that case, lawmakers would be likely to once again accept the agency's maps.

KANSAS

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (29 R, 11 D)
  • State House: Republican (84 R, 41 D)

Democrats need to flip just a single state House seat or three state Senate seats to break the GOP's nominally veto-proof majorities. That would allow them uphold Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's vetoes, including of a possible gerrymander that the Republican Senate leader was recently caught on tape vowing to fight for. Republicans have been running well behind their normal showing in Kansas polling this year, so Democrats may even be favored to break the GOP's supermajorities. If that happens, redistricting would be very likely to fall to the courts.

MICHIGAN

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (22 R, 16 D)
  • State House: Republican (58 R, 52 D)

Like Arizona, Michigan also has an independent redistricting commission, but while it's new for the 2020 cycle, it too could get invalidated by the Supreme Court. Even if it survives, though, litigation over the eventual maps the commission produces is likely, which is why it's critical for Democrats that they flip the state Supreme Court next month. If Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack and attorney Elizabeth Welch prevail in these nominally nonpartisan elections, Democrats would turn the GOP's 4-3 advantage into a 4-3 majority of their own.

Michigan Democrats also have a good chance to overcome one of the most persistent GOP gerrymanders in the nation and finally regain the state House (the state Senate is not up until 2022).

MINNESOTA

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (35 R, 32 D)
  • State House: Democratic (75 D, 59 R)

Democrats have an excellent opportunity to flip the two net seats needed to regain control of the state Senate while holding onto their newly won state House majority, which would give one party full control over redistricting in Minnesota for the first time in the modern era. That could make it one of the rare states that Democrats could gerrymander, although as we saw in Virginia earlier this year (see our item on the state below), there's no guarantee they'd do so, especially since some of the party's candidates this year are running on a platform of redistricting reform.

MISSOURI

  • Governor: Republican
  • State Senate: Republican (24 R, 10 D; half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican (116 R, 47 D)

Missouri voters passed an initiative in 2018 to reform the existing bipartisan legislative redistricting commission by adding a nonpartisan expert to propose maps to lawmakers using an explicit partisan fairness formula, but Republicans have placed a deceptive measure called Amendment 3 on the ballot that would gut this reform. To keep this commission in place under the revised rules, voters will have to defeat the GOP's amendment.

Congressional redistricting, meanwhile, is still handled by the legislature and governor. To block a GOP gerrymander, Democrat Nicole Galloway would have to pull off an upset victory against Republican Gov. Mike Parson. Democrats would also have to overcome hostile districts to break the GOP's veto-proof two-thirds majority in at least one chamber of the legislature. Should both of these things happen, a court-drawn congressional map would be likely.

NEBRASKA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (30 R, 19 D; half of seats up)

Republicans control Nebraska's unicameral and nominally nonpartisan legislature, but they lack the two-thirds supermajority needed to overcome a filibuster of any new gerrymanders unless they gain three seats, an unlikely outcome with the districts that were last up in Trump's 2016 romp. The GOP could also eliminate the filibuster with a simple majority, but it's far from clear that enough Republican lawmakers are willing to make that move. If the status quo prevails, new maps would be handled by the courts.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

  • Governor: Republican
  • State Senate: Democratic (14 D, 10 R)
  • State House: Democratic (234 D, 166 R)

The most likely outcome according to the polls is that Democrats retain their legislative majorities in New Hampshire while Republican Gov. Chris Sununu wins another term and maintains the ability to veto Democratic-drawn districts. However, it's possible that Sununu could still lose to Democrat Dan Feltes if the bottom truly falls out for the GOP, which would allow Democrats to pass their own maps.

NEW JERSEY

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2021)
  • State Senate: Democratic (25 D, 15 R; up in 2021)
  • State House: Democratic (52 D, 28 R; up in 2021)

New Jersey's Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and the heavily Democratic legislature don't face the voters again until 2021, after legislative redistricting is supposed to take place. However, if Democratic legislators get their way, redistricting would be pushed back to the 2023 election cycle if voters pass Question 3 and the census doesn't provide the data lawmakers need by Feb. 15. Delaying redistricting two more years would further disadvantage the state's growing Asian and Latino populations, likely to the benefit of white Democratic incumbents in primaries.

No matter which year New Jersey conducts its redistricting, the process will see two bipartisan commissions (one for Congress and one for the legislature) appointed by a combination of legislative leaders and state party leaders calling the shots, so Democrats won't have the chance to adopt extreme partisan maps regardless of how 2020 turns out.

NEW YORK

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Democratic (40 D, 23 R)
  • State Assembly: Democratic (107 D, 43 R)

New York has a bipartisan redistricting commission appointed by lawmakers, but legislators could override the commission's recommendations and pass maps to their own liking if they have a two-thirds supermajority. Democrats are just two seats shy of the two-thirds mark in the state Senate and are likely to maintain their supermajority in the Assembly.

However, many Democratic lawmakers in New York have often been all too happy to ignore their party's broader interests if it means getting a seat that's safe from a primary challenger. It's therefore unclear whether Democrats would even be able to pass aggressive partisan gerrymanders even if they were to win supermajorities.

NORTH CAROLINA

  • Governor: Democratic
  • State Senate: Republican (29 R, 21 D)
  • State House: Republican (65 R, 55 D)

North Carolina has seen the worst and most pervasive Republican gerrymandering of any state in modern history, and those battles are likely to continue if Republicans keep control of the legislature this year, since Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is unable to veto most redistricting bills. However, Democrats have a chance to solidify their 6-1 majority on the state Supreme Court and could even sweep the court if they win all three seats up this year.

State courts curtailed the GOP's gerrymanders last year, but while those court rulings curbed the worst excesses of Republican gerrymandering, they didn't entirely eliminate the problem, and judicial review is not guaranteed to succeed again given the increasingly radical proceduralism by the U.S. Supreme Court. Fortunately, Democrats have a very real chance to flip the state House and possibly even the state Senate this year despite the flawed maps.

OHIO

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (24 R, 9 D; half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican (61 R, 38 D)

Ohio's legislature is almost hopelessly gerrymandered by Republicans, but if Democrats Jennifer Brunner and John O'Donnell oust both GOP incumbents up for election to the state Supreme Court, Democrats would gain a 4-3 majority on the bench. Such a majority could mean the difference between actually enforcing the protections added to Ohio's constitution in a 2018 bipartisan deal to reform congressional redistricting, or whether those provisions remain toothless, as Republicans intended them to be.

OREGON

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Democratic (18 D, 12 R; half of seats up)
  • State House: Democratic (38 D, 22 R)

In 2019, Oregon Republicans repeatedly fled the state to deny Democrats the two-thirds legislative supermajority needed for a quorum to conduct any business, successfully defeating a Democratic bill to enact climate protections. They're likely to repeat that move with redistricting next year if GOP state Sen. Kim Thatcher beats Democratic state Sen. Shemia Fagan for the open secretary of state's office, because if lawmakers don't pass new legislative districts by July 1, 2021, the secretary of state takes over the process,

Consequently, the secretary of state's office could be winner-take-all for either party, since Democrats have a firm grip on the legislative majority. If, however, the GOP once more succeeds at quorum-busting, a court would draw the congressional map barring a compromise. Democrats, though, have an uphill shot at gaining two-thirds control of the legislature outright if they gain two seats in each chamber, which would give them complete control over redistricting regardless of the secretary of state race.

PENNSYLVANIA

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (29 R, 21 D; half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican (110 R, 93 D)

Like North Carolina, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court has a Democratic majority that, in 2018, issued a ruling striking down the GOP's congressional gerrymander. However, there's no guarantee that the court would draw another fair map after 2020 even if Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf once again blocks Republican legislators from passing an extreme gerrymander, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court interferes. Democrats have a plausible chance at flipping the state House next month and long-shot odds of flipping the state Senate. Even if they flip only one chamber, however, breaking the GOP's hold on the legislature could strengthen Democrats' hand in court or in negotiations on a compromise.

Since the state Supreme Court determines the majority tiebreaker on the bipartisan commission used for legislative redistricting, a Republican effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would effectively gerrymander the court could be even more consequential. The GOP passed their amendment earlier this year and would need to pass it again after 2020 before voters weigh in via a 2021 referendum, but a Democratic state House could stop that power grab dead in its tracks.

TEXAS

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (19 R, 12 D; half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican (83 R, 67 D)

The most important state for Republican congressional gerrymandering is Texas, and thanks to a gerrymander that overreached earlier this decade and failed to anticipate how Donald Trump would repulse once-reliable GOP voters, Democrats have a legitimately good chance of taking a majority in the state House. Indeed, Democrat Beto O'Rourke won a majority of seats in 2018 despite losing 51-48 overall to Ted Cruz.

A Democratic majority would break the GOP's full hold over congressional redistricting, likely prompting a court to draw the map, although Republicans would still retain control over legislative redistricting regardless thanks to a "backup commission" dominated by GOP officeholders. Nonetheless, a nonpartisan congressional map could mean several more Democratic seats (and greater Latino representation) following the 2022 elections, and could potentially determine control of the U.S. House that year.

While 2020's elections won't stop Republican gerrymandering at the legislative level, they could lay the groundwork for doing so in just a few years. That's because four of the nine seats on Texas' all-Republican Supreme Court are up this November, and if Democrats flip at least a few of those seats, they could take over the court as soon as the 2022 or 2024 elections and curb gerrymandering, as courts have done elsewhere in recent years.

VERMONT

  • Governor: Republican
  • State Senate: Democratic (24 D/I, 6 R)
  • State House: Democratic (107 D/I, 43 R)

Democrats and their third-party allies hold the two-thirds supermajorities needed to override popular Republican Gov. Phil Scott's vetoes and gerrymander the legislature (Vermont only has a single statewide congressional district), but it's far from a given that they would even do so given the state's penchant for rejecting the sharpest sort of partisan politics common just about everywhere else. After 2010, the Democratic-dominated state government passed new maps with wide GOP support, so something similar could happen in after 2020 in the likely event Scott wins re-election.

VIRGINIA

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2021)
  • State Senate: Democratic (21 D, 19 R; up in 2023)
  • State House: Democratic (55 D, 45 R; up in 2021)

In a groundbreaking move, the new Democratic majority in Virginia's legislature agreed to hold votes earlier this year on a GOP-backed reform to enact a bipartisan redistricting commission. The amendment was a compromise that passed with widespread Democratic support in the state Senate but almost unanimous Democratic opposition in the state House. While the measure is not without its own flaws, it should help ensure that Virginia districts that are by and large nonpartisan following the 2020 census if it passes. The amendment is likely to pass, but not without a fight by some Democratic-aligned groups.

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