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Redistricting Could Work Against Congressional Democrats in 2022

Democrats in Congress are currently debating President Joe Biden’s $3.5 trillion human infrastructure plan which will probably include one of the largest tax increases in generations. Both Republicans and Democrats know that this will be a major issue in next year’s midterm elections, with Republicans expecting it will benefit them politically. While votes taken by members of Congress will undoubtedly play a part in whether they are re-elected or defeated, another debate within their states may help determine the balance of power over the next decade in the House of Representatives. 

Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution requires that a census be taken every 10 years, with the results used in determining distribution of federal funds, the redrawing of congressional and state legislative districts, and reapportionment of U.S. House seats among the various states.

The new data from the recently completed 2020 census shows the U.S. population in the states and the District of Columbia, as of April 1, 2020, grew to 331,449,281, a 7.4% increase from 2010. It shows a 9% population growth in metro areas between 2010 and 2020 as 52% of counties experienced a decrease. Metro areas now account for 86% of the US population. New York City and Los Angeles County respectively remain the largest city and county in the United States.

As noted, the changes in population growth within the states is used to reapportion the 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. The reapportionment of these seats can impact the political structure and federal policies emanating from Washington. The Aug. 12 data shows Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas gaining congressional seats. California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia will lose seats.   

The states are the leading authority in using the data to redraw congressional and state legislative district lines that reflect population shifts over the last decade. Each state will use the population data to redraw new legislative and congressional districts based on the population shifts. There are primarily three processes for determining new district lines: the state legislature with the governor often having veto power, a commission or a hybrid of the two. A state-by-state redistricting analysis can be found here.

The role of the state legislatures in the redistricting process raises concerns of political gerrymandering. According to Reuters, “[g]errymandering occurs when district lines are deliberately manipulated to benefit one party over another. Federal law prohibits racial gerrymandering, in which minority communities are intentionally disadvantaged, but partisan gerrymandering, in which lines are altered based on how residents voted, is permitted.”

Republicans have the political advantage with state legislatures. According to Forbes, the current  balance of power within state capitols following the 2020 election is:

  • The Republicans hold the trifecta of state government (governorship and both chambers of the legislature) in 23 states, compared to 15 states for the Democrats.
  • Divided government in 11 states:
    • Democratic governors will have to work with Republican legislatures in 8 states.
    • Republican governors will have to work with Democratic legislatures in 3 states.

*Nebraska has one chamber of the state legislature that is officially nonpartisan.

There are significant implications in the redrawing of congressional districts, along with the reapportionment of seats heading into the 2022 election cycle. Democrats currently hold a 220 to 212 majority with 3 vacancies. Three states under Republican control of the redistricting process – Florida, North Carolina, and Texas – are gaining seats. Along with the political headwinds historically faced by the president’s party in midterm congressional elections, reapportionment in those states, along with Republican control in other states, could contribute to narrowing the slim Democratic majority in the House. Of course, redrawing of congressional districts with Republican members in states controlled by Democrats would offset some of these Republican gains.

There are a number of states, primarily in the West, that have tried to remove political gerrymandering by establishing nonpartisan redistricting commissions. These commissions are intended to make objective decisions without bias or political outcomes. Oregon is one of those states that is gaining a congressional seat. A few states, such as Virginia, have established a hybrid approach based on legislative approval of a nonpartisan commission recommendation. But the politics of redistricting in other states will play some part in determining which party controls Congress after 2022. 

Toby Burke

Toby Burke

Toby Burke is the Associate Vice President of State and Local Affairs for NAIOP.

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