DANIEL VAUGHAN: The two parties draw battle lines in the gerrymandering fight

The ink has barely dried on the 2020 election, but both parties are already gearing up for a fight over where the battle lines will be drawn for the next decade.

The beginning of every decade marks when America finishes off its census and then uses that information to redraw House district lines for the next 10 years. And if the 2020 election was brutal for down-ballot Democrats, the future looks even worse right now.

The reason for that comes down to some fundamental political math problems for Democrats. According to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, “Republicans are set to control the redistricting of 188 congressional seats — or 43 percent of the entire House of Representatives. By contrast, Democrats will control the redistricting of, at most, 73 seats, or 17 percent.”

That’s because Republicans didn’t just score big wins on the House or Senate level in 2020. They also won state legislative chambers. According to a two-part analysis from Sean Trende, the chief elections analyst at RealClearPolitics, if most of these states only engage in modest redistricting, Republicans would be expected to pick up the House majority in the next cycle thanks to this alone.

How important is this power? By way of example, North Carolina Democrats spent 10 years fighting their loss of power and capacity to redistrict North Carolina.

The fight over redistricting led Democrats to break every political norm in the state to keep control — and have it all blow up in their face with Republicans narrowing Democratic power across the board. Republicans won the race for chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, a position Democrats had used to prevent Republicans from exercising redistricting powers.

Buried at the end of a report on that North Carolina judicial race, the Associated Press concedes, “The chief justice also is charged in part with choosing the panels of three trial judges who initially rule on constitutional challenges to state laws. The state Supreme Court is likely in the next two years to consider redistricting, voter ID and school voucher cases.”

North Carolina Democrats threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at any Republican effort to redistrict that state. Anything that wasn’t pro-North Carolina Democratic Party was called everything from racist to needlessly political, despite years of Democrats drawing maps along those same lines.

Apart from redrawing lines, the other battles that will happen soon are in states that are losing seats as a result of the census. The United States House has 435 total seats to divide up among all the states. The census determines which states will gain, lose, or maintain their current seats.

We don’t have to wait for the census to know some states are in trouble. Politico notes:

[A]lready, there are a few members of Congress who will almost certainly find themselves in more challenging terrain in 2022. This redraw will be most painful in the roughly ten states which are on track to lose a district, particularly ones with smaller populations. That could mean bare-knuckled maneuvering between the two Democrats in Rhode Island and three Republicans in West Virginia — states likely to drop a seat.

While we wait for official census results, it’s possible to predict which states will lose seats in the House. Current projections show as many as 10 states handing their seats off.

CBS News projects that Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and West Virginia will lose seats in the U.S. House. Seven states are projected to gain seats: “Texas and Florida are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries, gaining at least three and two congressional districts respectively.”

Among the other states, “Arizona, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon are each set to gain one congressional district,” CBS reports. In short, Republicans control many of these states, with Florida and Texas being the big winners of this election and this decade.

The notable Democratic efforts to turn Texas and Florida blue fell utterly flat. Not only did those efforts fail, but Democrats are also bemoaning their efforts in places like New York. The New York Times quotes state Democrats who called the results of the election “Not a Great Outcome” for them. Similar stories can be found in California, where Republicans shocked the world, flipping seats in some places for the first time since the 1990s.

The next decade’s overall outlook is much better for Republicans, just from a political calculation front. Of course, it won’t be impossible for Democrats to win House races. Redistricting has been a feature of American politics since the beginning, and both parties are still around. But this does mean that if Democrats want to win over the next decade, they’ll have to do more than rely on their appeal in major cities.

As for Republicans, they’ll have the advantage moving forward. How much of an edge is still to be determined. Hopefully, they’ll find a way to capitalize on it.