After the months-long delay, the Census Bureau released the results of the 2020 census in early August. It is providing updated demographic information and launches the redistricting process. A highly contentious fight for congressional and legislative power is well underway — as the first drafts of congressional maps were released in mid-September. Redistricting occurs once every ten years.
Redistricting is inherently divisive as each political party wants to use this opportunity to its advantage. Parties try to gain leverage by drawing congressional district lines that will benefit their political goals in every state. Redistricting has the power to influence the political landscape for the next decade at all levels of voting and policymaking.
Democrats are working to keep hold of their slim majority in the House. Republicans aim to gain more congressional seats promising more political leverage into the future. Whereas, marginalized groups are mobilizing to ensure they receive fair political representation. In the backdrop of all this, concerns arise over the delayed process due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Pressure is put on states to draw and revise maps, submit legal challenges, and complete litigations in a short time frame.
Gaining more districts gives a party more political power and influence in shaping significant policies related to the state budget. As well as prioritizing and voting in favor of specific bills, or the opposite, and killing unfavorable bills. Political groups are concerned they will have less time to make legal challenges against newly drawn electoral maps before the upcoming elections.
Redistricting and 2022 Elections
The 2022 congressional midterm elections will inevitably be affected by the results of the apportionment process and the newly drawn congressional electoral maps. Democrats hold the House majority by a tight margin, and Republicans are aiming to gain a majority. Currently, Republicans have a majority of the state legislature seats across the U.S. Therefore allowing them to draw more maps than Democrats and guide the redistricting process in their favor.
Before redistricting can occur, reapportionment determines how many representatives each state will have based on the updated population data from the Census Bureau. Reapportionment distributes the 435 House states, established in the constitution, among all 50 states based on population and guaranteeing each state has at least one House representative. Six states, including Florida, Texas, and North Carolina, will gain congressional delegates, while seven states will lose delegates in the next Congress. Each loss and gain directly affects each party’s sense of confidence to secure a majority of House seats in the next election.
California, a historically blue state, is one of the states losing a congressional delegate, which is the first time in its 170-year-long history. The question for many is whether or not California’s loss will hurt the Democrats’ chances of maintaining the majority in the House. Additionally, the population in the Rust Belt is declining, resulting in New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia each losing a delegate. Meanwhile, Texas is gaining two seats because the state’s population increased by 16%, according to the Census Bureau. It is ironic that most of the population increase, allowing Texas to obtain two new districts, comes from growth in communities of color. The GOP expects to gain two more House seats from Texas because Republican legislatures control the map-making process in the state.
The Flaws of Redistricting
This cycle of redistricting is more complex as marginalized groups are mobilizing to retain their political power in the political wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 to discontinue the process of preclearance established by the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Preclearance was critical in protecting minorities and their voting rights because it required states with histories of discriminatory practices to have any change that could affect voting, i.e., redistricting, to receive pre-approval by the U.S. Attorney General.
There is a need to increase awareness of harmful practices and the damaging effects of gerrymandering. Voting rights advocates and political groups are lobbying state legislatures and redistricting commissions to draw fair district lines. The results of gerrymandering and drawing district lines will play a critical role in either amplifying or silencing marginalized voices. Both inside and outside of policy-making spaces in the U.S. States are doing their part in combating the traditionally unfair redistricting practices. Colorado, New York, Michigan, and Virginia each held a ballot initiative in which voters were in favor of creating redistricting commissions. This would decrease political bias and harmful gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering packs, stacks, and cracks voters in ways that will dilute minority voices. ‘Cracking’ in gerrymandering can suppress a minority group when lines are drawn deliberately to divide a minority group into separate districts. Rather than placing them in the same district. Separating minority voters will make it more difficult for them to gather the sufficient numbers needed to elect a representative.
Political advocacy and voting rights groups are finding ways to safeguard marginalized groups’ political influence. By using the new census data, The Impact group and the Native American Rights Fund are identifying Indian Americans clusters. Then lobbying state legislatures and redistricting commissions to treat them as communities of interest. Communities of interest are distinguished as having shared needs and policy interests, who would benefit from choosing a representative collectively. Both of these organizations expressed a willingness to file legal challenges against maps they believe to be discriminatory. While this is not a perfect system and has some caveats, it is a strong starting point to keep communities together. This will ensure their political interests are recognized at the state and national levels.
In the coming months, further lawsuits and legal battles will ensure each political party fights to create favorable district boundaries. Hence, laying a strong foundation for the 2022 elections.