Redistricting battles roil fight for House majority

Redistricting battles roil fight for House majority

Redistricting challenges in states across the country are roiling the battle for the House majority ahead of 2024.

States, including North Carolina, Alabama and New York, are expected to see changes to their maps or are in the middle of litigation over potential new lines.

Given Republicans’ narrow hold over the House majority, experts agree redistricting cases will play a critical role in determining who controls the lower chamber next cycle.

“I think there are a lot of people on pins and nails right now in the halls of Congress on both sides waiting to see,” said Michael Li, a redistricting expert with New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice. “… There aren’t many competitive seats in the House, and every seat that you can gain through as a result of litigation makes it that much easier or harder to retain or win a majority,”

Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for a spate of redistricting challenges that will have clear implications for the House map in 2024.

In New York, Democrats are looking to have their map redrawn by the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC) in an effort to get a more favorable map for the next cycle. In North Carolina, the GOP-led state Legislature is anticipated to draw maps that are expected to add several more favorable seats for Republicans after the state’s high court reversed a ruling that was made last cycle over the state’s House maps regarding the issue of partisan gerrymandering.

In states like Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia, litigation is underway that is centered on the Voting Rights Act and the fight for the creation of new Black-majority districts.

A court-appointed special master is being tasked with creating a new House map in Alabama. The case stemmed from a Supreme Court decision handed down earlier this year that found the Voting Rights Act was likely violated in crafting the map, requiring a new map to be made that would establish two majority-Black House districts.

Republicans instead drafted lines that created one majority-Black district while the percentage of Black voters was only slightly elevated in the other. Republicans are appealing the case to the Supreme Court.

In Louisiana, the Supreme Court lifted a stay in June on a case pertaining to the state’s congressional map after a lower court directed legislators to create a second Black-majority district, following its ruling on the Alabama case. The case now heads to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Over in Georgia, a trial is underway to determine whether the GOP-led state Legislature will need to create a new majority-Black House district on the grounds of violating the Voting Rights Act.

“I think voters, especially when it comes to a number of the southern states — Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana — all feel very encouraged that they’re about to get the representation that they’ve been seeking for years,” said John Bisognano, president of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC). “And I anticipate a strong enthusiasm boost from voters over the course of the next year and a half.”

Other challenges to state maps in places like Florida, South Carolina and New Mexico are also playing out, throwing some uncertainty over the race for the House in those states. Some of that uncertainty is affecting the candidates, both incumbents who could see changes to their districts as well as newcomers who may not yet know which seat they’ll be running for.

Some candidates, like former Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s running in New York’s 17th Congressional District, are already fielding questions about the possibility they could be running in a new district. Jones, who was forced to run in a different House district last cycle to avoid an awkward member-on-member primary challenge following redistricting, told Spectrum News NY1 he’d run in a similar district within the Hudson Valley if new maps are drawn again.

The redistricting fights aren’t yet impacting voters because the primaries are still months away. But “people who are thinking about running for office I think are anxiously waiting to see whether they want to run for office or not, or existing members, whether they want to retire or not,” Li said.

It’s also too early to say how the redistricting challenges could impact the primary calendar and if dates will need to be adjusted. Jeffrey M. Wice, an adjunct professor of law at New York Law School, explained the political calendar and court involved could have an impact on primary dates.

“It’s a matter of timing, when new plans can be put in place and the 2024 political calendar. Federal courts are often hesitant to delay elections or make changes to election law or maps too close to an election, and that … amount of time can really vary,” Wice said.

Republicans and Democrats feel encouraged they will see gains on their respective sides, even as questions loom over how the House map will eventually look.

“Worst case for Republicans, I think it’s a break-even situation. Best case, you know, you pick up three or four seats based on redistricting,” said one GOP strategist granted anonymity to speak candidly.

Adam Kincaid, executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust (NRRT), expressed confidence over the ongoing legal battles, such as in Louisiana and Florida, arguing that even if Georgia’s map needed to be redrawn, “I don’t know why it wouldn’t be a 9-5” Republican-to-Democrat advantage.

Kincaid also projected optimism in South Carolina, suggesting that even with a new map, “I think it’ll still be a competitive, Republican-leaning district under any legitimate redraw, but I don’t think that will happen in time for ’24, If at all.”

But Democrats feel good about their chances, too.

“Republicans’ never-ending efforts to bypass fair maps, ignore court orders, and gerrymander their way to the majority is just further evidence that they can’t win the House using their dangerous, extreme, and unpopular agenda. Voters know Democrats are the only party fighting for voters from Alabama to New York to Florida to have the fair maps and representation they deserve,” said Courtney Rice, a spokeswoman for the House Democrats’ campaign arm, in a statement.

For all of the uncertainty over this upcoming cycle’s House maps, some experts say the national 2022 midterm House map was largely fair — and anticipate 2024 will continue that trend.

The “2022 map that emerged from the redistrictings was the most fair that we’ve had in many years. It still had a slight pro-Republican tilt to it, but it was overall, I’d say, very fair,” said Christopher Warshaw, a political science professor at George Washington University.

“My general expectation is there’ll be unevenness on a state-by-state level, but at the national level, I think the maps are pretty fair and are probably going to get even a little more fair going into 2024,” he added.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to The Hill.