Controlling Re-Districting Is a Long-Term Goal for Republicans and Democrats

December 13, 2019 Updated: December 19, 2019

Republicans want to repeat in 2020 the success of the 2010 state elections, when they won 7 gubernatorial races and 21 state legislative chambers. But Democrats across the country are vowing not to let that happen. Both parties have created fundraising and research organizations to focus on battleground state legislative races—especially when there is a chance to flip or keep control of a chamber—with the long-term goal of controlling redistricting.

“Our work is now more important than ever before because if Republicans don’t win in states where the Legislature plays a critical role in redistricting, our party won’t win a majority in the U.S. House for the next decade,” read a statement from Ron Weiser, the finance chair of the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC).

One of the key campaign goals for the RSLC is to increase Republican control in 12 key states, including Minnesota.

“Following its unprecedented success in the last redistricting cycle in 2010, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) announced the launch of its major redistricting initiative, Right Lines 2020, to secure fair, legal, and constitutional districts after the next Census. Expert, public estimates have revealed that winning as few as 49 state legislative seats could determine as much as a 146-seat swing in the U.S. House for the next 10 years,” the RSLC statement reads.

Democrats also have a major focus on state elections and redistricting. Their efforts to get control of the redistricting process are backed by George Soros and other Democratic billionaires, labor unions, and socialist-minded activist groups, along with big names in the party like President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Eric Holder, who are raising hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a systematic effort to get control of the nation’s district map.

The RSLC is planning multi-million-dollar investments in key states where the Republican legislature has control or has a key role in the drawing of new congressional and state district maps. The group’s aim is to challenge radical ideologies that have grown popular among Democrats.

According to the RSLC’s website, “the Right Lines 2020 initiative will work in close conjunction with the National Republican Redistricting Trust (NRRT)—the Republican Party’s key resource for redistricting-related legal and data needs. The RSLC-NRRT partnership will serve as the tip of the spear of the Party’s unified efforts to secure fair, legal, and constitutional district maps.”

Adam Kincaid, Executive Director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said in a statement: “The Democrats are definitely paying more attention this time around—look no further than the fact they have Barack Obama and Eric Holder running point on their effort. If Republicans don’t start investing in state legislative races, and the litigation and data needed to secure our majorities to the same extent the Democrats are, the GOP will see our legislative majorities erased and it will take decades to rebuild them. Fortunately, between the RSLC and the NRRT, we have the infrastructure and team we need to win.”

The Republicans and Democrats look at it this way: Winning more legislative seats, especially in a dozen or so key states, could determine more House of Representative seats in the U.S. Congress.

National Conference of State Legislatures Senior Policy Specialist Wendy Underhill, whose work involves gathering and disseminating unbiased election-related information for legislators, told The Epoch Times: “This indeed represents the RSLC’s political approach for 2020, and the Democrats probably are thinking similarly. I cannot say if they are correct, but it means they know which states to put their efforts into, and possibly which districts within those states.”

The RSLC has targeted Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Virginia, and New York. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), chaired by former attorney general Eric Holder, has also targeted 12 states, including Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

Epoch Times Photo
Map of 2018 state legislature districts. (Brennan Center for Justice)

2019 to 2020 electoral targets for the NDRC are to keep the majority in the House and gain more leverage in the redistricting process after the 2020 census.

According to the NDRC, “During the last redistricting cycle in 2011, Republicans had trifecta control in 19 states which gave them complete power over the drawing of 213 congressional districts. The NDRC is committed to changing that and making sure Democrats have a seat at the table in the 2021 redistricting process.”

The NDRC gained momentum after the 2018 election. According to the NDRC website, “During the 2019-2020 election cycle, the NDRC is targeting 12 states, including 3 gubernatorial races, 16 state legislative chambers, and one down-ballot race.”

Following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling of a high profile gerrymandering case, Rucho v. Common Cause, state legislatures will continue to have control of the redistricting process and face less legal hurdles when drawing district lines for party advantage.

Since most state Senate seats are safe for one party or the other—because of the geographic split in states between liberal-leaning cities and conservative-leaning outer suburbs and rural areas—population gains and losses could provide opportunities for a party with complete control to pick up seats in redistricting. The House seats are more unpredictable due to population changes, and the party that control of the state legislature sets the rules by which each state does redistricting.

“Democrats and Republicans both want to control state legislatures because of the policy implications. In 2020, in addition to the usual concerns around budgeting, criminal justice, education, health and more, the opportunity to be in control when redistricting takes place is a motivating factor for both parties,” said Underhill.

In the United States, redistricting takes place in each state every ten years, following the census. This defines geographical boundaries, with each district within a state having about the same number of state voters. The resulting map affects the elections of the state’s members of the House of Representatives and the state legislative bodies. Redistricting has always been understood as a political gesture, which in most states is controlled by state legislators and governors.

When one party controls the state’s legislative chambers and governor’s office, it is in a strong position to gerrymander district boundaries to their advantage. Since 2010, computer technology has facilitated gerrymandering by political parties in the redistricting process.

There are efforts to make the redistricting process fair and transparent by bipartisan groups like the Brennan Center for Justice, an independent, nonpartisan, law and policy organization.

Tom Wolf, a counsel with the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program who focuses on the census and redistricting, told The Epoch Times that his organization partners with citizen groups to advise them on sound policy for redistricting as they try to work to create independent redistricting commissions or set fair criterion for redistricting.

Before the recent Supreme Court ruling in the Rucho v. Common Cause gerrymandering case, the Brennan Center advocated for the court to rule against extreme gerrymandering (where one party maintains systematic party control), in places like North Carolina, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Maryland.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to not get involved in redistricting issues [h]as left it to the states to continue making their own rules about district mapping,” said Wolf.

Still, organizations like the Brennan Center work with the public to advance a non-partisan system for redistricting. “If a state has rules that make an independent commission impossible then a set of criterions are advised to help make the process fairer and more transparent,” said Wolf.

2018 report from the Brennan Center called Extreme Maps concludes that when one political party has both state chambers, there is more partisan bias in drawing maps.

The redistricting process is incredibly complex, and its final result will depend primarily on elections in 2019 and 2020 and the 2020 census. “The 2020 census data will hugely impact the map drawing and lock it in for 10 years,” Wolf told The Epoch Times.

A Brennan Center report called Potential Shift in Political Power After the 2020 Census reads: “If current population trends hold up for the remainder of this decade, there likely will be substantial changes in congressional representation come reapportionment time.”

Epoch Times Photo
2020 Census Projection. (Brennan Center for Justice)

The report highlights a late-December 2018 analysis from Election Data Services and makes some projections on how districts could change after the 2020 census. It projects that Texas will pick up three House seats and Florida two; while Colorado, Arizona, North Carolina, Montana, and Oregon will each gain one. New York is said to be on course to lose two seats, while Alabama, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia are expected to lose one. California and Minnesota are thought to be on the edge of possibly losing one seat each.