The election was a disaster for redistricting — ensuring extended GOP minority rule

The election was a disaster for redistricting — ensuring extended GOP minority rule
Stephen Wolf

Election night delivered nothing short of an unmitigated catastrophe for Democrats—and democracy—heading into the coming redistricting cycle. Before the 2020 elections, Republicans would have been able to draw three to four times as many congressional districts as Democrats. But instead of leveling the playing field, Tuesday saw the GOP's edge expand to potentially four or five times as many districts as Democrats, as shown in the map at the top of this post (see here for a larger version).

That disparity is similar to the lopsided aftermath of the 2010 elections, when Republicans won the power to redraw five times as many House districts as Democrats. That allowed the GOP to craft a majority of all districts in the House while Democrats wound up responsible for just one-tenth. That huge advantage helped Republicans win the House in 2012 despite the fact that Democratic candidates won more votes. The same story played out in several legislatures in key swing states multiple times over the last decade.

A repeat of GOP minority rule is now a strong risk for 2022 and beyond, both in the House and in the states, since control of legislative redistricting will also heavily favor Republicans, as shown on the map below.

Click to enlarge

Three states have legislative chambers with majorities in doubt as of Thursday morning: The Arizona Senate and House, Minnesota Senate, and Pennsylvania Senate and House. The GOP currently leads for all three states. Additionally, Democrats could gain a two-thirds supermajority in New York's state Senate once mail ballots are counted after Nov. 6. We are tracking each key state and will update this post as races get called in the coming days.

Beyond these four states, the future of redistricting is highly contingent upon the Supreme Court's new far-right majority, which could both further undermine the Voting Rights Act and strip away checks on GOP state legislatures. We also don't know to what degree Trump has corrupted the accuracy of the census in a way that could disproportionately hurt Democrats.

We'll delve into the results in all the important states, and their implications for the coming decade, just below. We'll also address the threat of the Supreme Court and a tainted census in an article to follow. You can also explore our guide to the rules that govern which party (if any) controls redistricting state by state.

ARIZONA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican—uncalled
  • State House: Republican—uncalled

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 with Amy Coney Barrett now on the court. Republicans control the governorship, and while Democrats had high hopes of flipping the legislature, the GOP currently leads in key uncalled races as of Thursday.

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 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 from further attack.

CONNECTICUT

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Democratic hold
  • State House: Democratic hold

Democrats failed to gain the two-thirds supermajorities that they would have needed under the state constitution to gain control over redistricting, leaving bipartisan control in place, though it's not clear whether they would have pursued the opportunity even had they reached that threshold.

FLORIDA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold
  • State House: Republican hold

Republicans remain in control in Florida after Democrats failed to flip either chamber. 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. It's therefore unlikely to enforce the amendments to curb GOP gerrymandering.

GEORGIA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold
  • State House: Republican hold

Republicans maintained full control over redistricting after Democrats failed to flip the gerrymandered state House or Senate, even though the presidential race is neck and neck.

IOWA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican hold

Since the 1980s, a nonpartisan agency has proposed maps to the Iowa legislature, which has always adopted them. However, since Democrats failed to flip the state House to break the GOP's full control, next year will be the first time in several decades under this system that one party has unified control over state government.

That would allow the GOP to simply reject the agency's proposals and implement their own gerrymanders, or even repeal the statute that created the agency. The only possible deterrent is fear of a public backlash, but as we've seen in so many states, gerrymandering is the very thing that can protect incumbents from anger over gerrymandering.

KANSAS

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican supermajority hold
  • State House: Republican supermajority hold

Democrats needed to flip just a single state House seat or three state Senate seats to break the GOP's veto-proof majorities, but they failed to do either. Consequently, Republicans will be able to override Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly's vetoes, including of the very congressional gerrymander that the Republican Senate leader was recently caught on tape vowing to fight for.

MICHIGAN

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State House: Republican hold

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 that Democrats gained a 4-3 majority on the state Supreme Court. However, the court's power to block gerrymandering is also threatened by the U.S. Supreme Court, just as the commission is, and even Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's veto power could be as well.

Michigan Democrats failed to retake the gerrymandered state House even though it's very possible that, once again, their candidates will have won more votes. If that comes to pass, it would mark the fourth of five elections over the last decade when the same thing has happened, offering the starkest example of how GOP gerrymandering has replaced democracy with entrenched minority rule.

MINNESOTA

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold—uncalled
  • State House: Democratic hold

It appears that Democrats have failed to gain full control in Minnesota, falling just short in the state Senate, though final tallies have not yet been announced. While the state currently has nonpartisan maps drawn by a court and is poised to again after 2020, racial segregation in the Minneapolis area creates a "geography penalty" that harms Democrats, which means even ostensibly nonpartisan maps have the effect of functioning like GOP gerrymanders. Case in point: Hillary Clinton and Democratic candidates won more votes statewide than Trump and Republicans in 2016 but failed to win a majority of seats in the state Senate. That seems to have happened once more to Senate Democrats this year.

MISSOURI

  • Governor: Republican hold
  • State Senate: Republican supermajority hold (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican supermajority hold

Missouri voters passed an initiative in 2018 to reform the state's existing bipartisan legislative redistricting commission by requiring new maps be drawn that explicitly take partisan fairness into account, which would negate the geographic penalty against Democrats caused by white-flight racial segregation. However, Republicans successfully deceived voters into passing a disingenuous amendment this year that guts this reform by making the fairness requirement toothless. Congressional redistricting, meanwhile, is still handled by the legislature and governor, both of which remained firmly in GOP hands.

NEBRASKA

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold, no supermajority gained (half of seats up)

Republicans control Nebraska's unicameral and nominally nonpartisan legislature, but they just narrowly failed to gain the the two-thirds supermajority needed to overcome a filibuster of any new gerrymanders. 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 due to their internal divisions. Therefore, if the status quo prevails and Democrats sustain a filibuster, new maps would be handled by the courts.

NEW HAMPSHIRE

  • Governor: Republican hold
  • State Senate: Republican flip
  • State House: Republican flip

Republicans unexpectedly regained their gerrymandered majorities to obtain full control over redistricting for the second decade in a row in New Hampshire. It's possible that Republicans will have once again won majorities despite Democrats winning more votes once outstanding mail votes are finalized.

NEW JERSEY

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2021)
  • State Senate: Democratic (up in 2021)
  • State House: Democratic (up in 2021)

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, voters approved Question 3, which Democrats hope will push back redistricting (only for the legislature) to the 2023 elections if 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 intended to be 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. Democrats therefore won't have the chance to adopt extreme partisan maps, though either party has a chance at seeing somewhat favorable districts enacted depending on what proposal each tiebreaker picks.

NEW YORK

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Democratic—uncalled supermajority
  • State Assembly: Democratic supermajority hold

New York has a new bipartisan redistricting commission appointed by lawmakers, but Democrats could override the commission's recommendations and pass maps to their own liking if they win a two-thirds supermajority. It's unclear whether the GOP's gerrymander will further collapse and let Democrats hit that threshold in the state Senate once absentee ballots are counted. (Democrats hold a more secure supermajority in the Democratically gerrymandered 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 insulates them from a potential primary challenge. It's therefore unclear whether Democrats would be able to pass aggressive partisan gerrymanders even if they were to win supermajorities.

NORTH CAROLINA

  • Governor: Democratic hold
  • State Senate: Republican hold
  • State House: Republican hold
  • State Supreme Court: Democratic hold (three seats up)

North Carolina has seen the worst and most pervasive Republican gerrymandering of any state in modern history, and the battles over redistricting are set to continue after Republicans unexpectedly gained seats by ousting several Democratic legislators to maintain their majorities. And even though Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper won reelection, he is unable to veto most key redistricting bills.

Making matters worse, Republicans ousted at least one Democratic incumbent on the state Supreme Court and lead in two uncalled races where absentee and provisional ballots will decide whether Democrats majority stays at 6-1 or narrows to 5-2 or even 4-3. The size of Democrats' majority is important because it means the GOP could regain control of the court as soon as 2022 if they sweep every seat up this year. That opportunity could be delayed until 2024 if Democrats hang on in the two unsettled races.

State courts curtailed the GOP's gerrymanders last year, but while those rulings curbed the worst excesses of Republican gerrymandering, they didn't entirely eliminate the problem. Furthermore, state-level judicial review is not guaranteed to succeed again given the increasingly radical stances taken by the U.S. Supreme Court.

OHIO

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican hold
  • State Supreme Court: Republican hold (two seats up)

Ohio's legislature was hopelessly gerrymandered by Republicans this past decade, but while Democrat Jennifer Brunner flipped a seat on the state Supreme Court, fellow Democrat John O'Donnell failed to oust a second GOP incumbent, leaving the GOP with a narrower 4-3 majority. Such a majority will likely mean the court won't enforce the protections added by the GOP in bad faith to Ohio's constitution in 2018 in an ostensibly bipartisan compromise to reform congressional redistricting, leaving Republicans free to gerrymander while falsely claiming they curbed the legislature's power to do so.

OREGON

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Democratic hold—uncalled supermajority (half of seats up)
  • State House: Democratic hold but failure to gain two-thirds supermajority

Over the last two years, Oregon Republicans repeatedly fled the state to deny Democrats the two-thirds legislative supermajority needed to conduct any business under Oregon's unusual quorum rules, successfully defeating a Democratic bill to enact climate protections. They may try that move to stop Democrats from controlling congressional redistricting next year, since Democrats failed to gain a two-thirds supermajority in the state House. If the GOP once more succeeds at quorum-busting, a court would likely draw the congressional map.

However, Democratic state Sen. Shemia Fagan flipped the open secretary of state's office held by Republicans, meaning that if lawmakers don't pass new legislative districts by July 1, 2021, the secretary of state takes over that process. Had Fagan not prevailed, a GOP walkout would have handed legislative redistricting to a Republican secretary of state.

PENNSYLVANIA

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican—uncalled but likely hold (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican—uncalled but likely hold

While many mail ballots that lean heavily Democratic are yet to be counted, Democrats are unlikely to win either chamber even if they win more votes—which is precisely what happened in 2018 and 2012. 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, even if Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf once again blocks Republican legislators from passing an extreme gerrymander, the state Supreme Court may not get the opportunity to draw a fair map of its own, especially if the U.S. Supreme Court interferes.

However, because the state Supreme Court determines the majority tiebreaker on the bipartisan commission used for legislative redistricting, Democrats are poised to control that process after two decades of Republicans running the show. A Republican effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would effectively gerrymander the court could be even more consequential, though. 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. A Democratic state House could stop that power grab dead in its tracks if absentee ballots help Democrats pull off an upset to win control this year.

TEXAS

  • Governor: Republican (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican hold (four seats up)

The most important state for Republican congressional gerrymandering is Texas, and Democrats failed to make significant gains needed to flip the state House to break the GOP's control, even though the GOP's gerrymander showed major cracks in 2018 when Democrat Beto O'Rourke won a majority of seats despite losing 51-48 overall to Ted Cruz.

Democrats also failed to lay the groundwork for striking down gerrymanders later this decade after Republicans swept all four seats up this year to maintain their 9-0 state Supreme Court majority. While Democrats could in theory gain control over the court as soon as 2024 (at least three seats are up every two years depending on vacancies), Texas may simply not be blue enough for that to be realistic by then.

VERMONT

  • Governor: Republican hold
  • State Senate: Democratic supermajority hold
  • State House: Democratic supermajority lost

Democrats and their third-party Progressive allies lost their two-thirds supermajority in the state House needed to override Republican Gov. Phil Scott's vetoes and gerrymander the legislature (Vermont only has a single statewide congressional district). Independents now hold the balance of power for veto overrides in the state House (the GOP failed to break the Democratic-Progressive state Senate supermajority).

However, it's far from a given that Democrats could have even overridden a veto anyway given the state's penchant for rejecting the sharpest sort of partisan politics common just about everywhere else. After 2010, the Democratically dominated state government passed new maps with wide GOP support, so something similar could happen after 2020.

VIRGINIA

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2021)
  • State Senate: Democratic (up in 2023)
  • State House: Democratic (up in 2021)

Virginia voters have approved the creation of a bipartisan redistricting commission after the new Democratic majority in Virginia's legislature agreed to hold a vote 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 Virginia districts are by and large nonpartisan following the 2020 census if it passes. Democrats, however, were divided in their support and opposition for the ballot measure. While its passage should help ensure fair maps for Virginia in isolation, particularly for legislative maps, it means Democrats lose a counterweight at the national level to GOP congressional gerrymandering elsewhere.

WISCONSIN

  • Governor: Democratic (up in 2022)
  • State Senate: Republican hold, no supermajority (half of seats up)
  • State House: Republican hold, no supermajority

Democrats blocked Republicans from gaining the two-thirds supermajorities needed in the badly gerrymandered legislature to override Democratic Gov. Tony Evers' vetoes, meaning an Evers veto would send redistricting to court instead of letting the GOP gerrymander.

However, a more uncertain but plausible risk is that the partisan 4-3 conservative majority on Wisconsin's Supreme Court will overturn a 1965 precedent and let Republicans pass a new gerrymander by stripping Evers of his veto power, potentially making the size of the GOP's majorities irrelevant since they still will control both chambers.

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