Why gerrymandered congressional maps give Republicans a baked-in advantage to regain control

‘The path back to a majority for Democrats if they lose in 2022 has to run through states like Texas, and they’re just taking that off the table’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Monday 15 November 2021 16:36 EST

Related video: Republican congressman says gerrymandering should help GOP take back House

Republicans are set to take at least five seats in 2022 thanks to redistricting, with maps that are more gerrymandered than ever since the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights act.

Districts are being redrawn this year following the 2020 census and the congressional maps that will be used in next year’s midterm elections are starting to see the light of day.

A quarter of the maps have been revealed and state lawmakers are working more aggressively than ever before to give their party an edge.

Gerrymandering is performed by both Republicans and Democrats, but the GOP is considered to be particularly prolific in their partisan mapmaking, The New York Times reported.

The new maps are likely to further increase polarisation as members of Congress become ever more reliant on their base voters.

Republicans control 61 state-level legislative chambers while Democrats control 37, and power is shared between the parties in one chamber.

The GOP’s advantage in the process of updating the maps and the languishing approval ratings of President Joe Biden gives the Republicans a position almost impossible to overcome in the 2022 race for House control and the next decade of House elections.

“The floor for Republicans has been raised,” the chair of the House Republicans’ campaign committee, Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, told The New York Times. “Our incumbents actually are getting stronger districts.”

Currently, the Democrats control 221 seats in the House, while the Republicans control 213.

Twelve states have finished the process of redrawing their congressional maps, and Republicans have gained ground in districts in Iowa, North Carolina, Texas and Montana. Democrats have lost the upper hand in seats in North Carolina and Iowa.

The GOP has added five seats that they expect to hold on to while Democrats have lost one seat, and Republicans only need to take five Democratic seats to take back the chamber in 2022.

The number of competitive House districts have decreased for years and was down to 61 out of the 435 seats in the chamber in The Times’ 2020 tally.

Texas is one of the states where the difference following redistricting is expected to be the largest. In 2020, 14 districts in the state had presidential results with a margin of fewer than 10 points. Following this year’s gerrymandering, that number is expected to go down to three.

State lawmakers control the mapping process in most states, and try to use it to cement their dominance. Republicans are in control of the process in states with 187 seats in congress, while Democrats are in charge of 75 seats. The remaining seats are in states where an outside panel draw up the new maps or in areas where the parties have to agree on the new maps or allow for a court to be the adjudicator.

While gerrymandering can take many forms, the most often used strategies are called “cracking” and “packing”. When cracking a map, the voters of the opposing party is spread out over several districts to minimise their power. When packing a map, the opponent’s voters are packed into as few districts as possible, giving them large majorities in those areas but diminishing their ability to win other seats.

Lawsuits related to new maps have been filed in Oregon, Alabama, North Carolina, and Texas.

North Carolina has been forced by the courts to redraw their maps twice since 2011 because of clearly partisan gerrymandering. The new maps go back to looking very similar to those previously rejected. It hands an advantage to the Republicans in 10 out of 14 districts in a state that former President Donald Trump won by just 1.3 percentage points.

Republicans say they haven’t taken the race of voters into account because they didn’t look at demographics.

“To pretend to be race-neutral and then draw these districts that are so harmful to Black voters flies in the face of why we even have federal law,” Allison Riggs, of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, told The Times. “The process is so broken.” The coalition is suing the state.

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