Population data released Thursday by the Census Bureau will guide complex efforts around the country to draw new congressional districts through a process that, in many states, is likely to draw bitter opposition from Democrats.
The data showed the number of white people in the United States declined for the first time in history and that population growth overall slowed to its most sluggish pace since the 1930s.
Now, states will use the demographic numbers collected in the 2020 census to redraw congressional maps ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
Here is how the process will work.
Who has an advantage?
Because state legislators make most redistricting decisions, Republicans have the upper hand in drawing new maps.
Republicans control 30 state legislatures while Democrats control just 18, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. One legislature, in Minnesota, is split, and members of Nebraska’s unicameral legislature are elected on a nonpartisan basis and thus aren’t typically counted in such assessments of partisan control.
Republican governors outnumber Democratic ones; 27 states have a GOP governor, while 23 states are controlled by a Democrat.
Republicans also have comfortable majorities in some states that received extra congressional seats as a result of the 2020 census. In Texas, for example, Republicans have a 16-seat advantage in the state House of Representatives and a five-seat advantage in the state Senate, which only has 31 total seats.
Texas will get two additional congressional seats thanks to its population growth, and state Republicans will largely drive decisions about where to put the new districts.
Jeffrey Wice, an adjunct professor at New York Law School and senior fellow at the New York Census and Redistricting Institute, said Republicans will have to balance their advantage against the risk of legal challenges.
“Republicans do control more state legislatures than Democrats do,” Wice said. “The question becomes, how far will the Republicans go to draw extremely partisan maps without being challenged in court, especially in state courts, over partisan gerrymandering?”
Who draws the lines?
In most states, the legislature has either sole or primary responsibility for redistricting.
But some states rely on commissions to make those decisions in an effort to cut down on political influence over the congressional lines.
“Michigan and California have completely independent commissions, where the commissions are independent of the politicians and of the government leaders. They’re generally selected by a lottery or a pool of voters,” Wice said. “They draw the maps, and their maps are not subject to review or veto by governors or legislatures.”
Colorado voted in 2018 to create an independent redistricting commission to draw all future maps, and it will put the new process to the test for the first time in this year’s redistricting effort.
Other states, such as New York and Utah, have advisory commissions that can give guidance to legislatures as they make redistricting decisions — but their maps are not automatically adopted.
And others, including Connecticut and Texas, have backup commissions that are called upon to draw congressional maps if the state legislature fails to agree on redistricting.
In Iowa, a completely different system is used. Staff members draw draft maps for approval by the legislature, which can then give the drafts an up or down vote.
Wice said the Iowa Legislature has never rejected a staff-drawn map since adopting its redistricting method.
How long will it take?
Different states face different deadlines for drawing their new maps; some will have just weeks to make sweeping decisions about where to put district lines.
A delay in reporting data from the Census Bureau has compressed the timeline for some states to redistrict. The bureau had initially planned to deliver its data to states by the end of March, but it blamed pandemic-related complications for pushing the delivery date back to the fall.
For some states, such as Colorado, that leaves little time for the process. Members of Colorado’s redistricting commission voted earlier this month to extend their deadline for completing a map from Sept. 1 to Oct. 1 — but that still leaves just seven weeks for them to make key calculations about where to draw the lines given the state’s significant population increase, which afforded it an extra congressional seat.
In Ohio, state lawmakers have until Sept. 30 to come up with a map and submit it to the full legislature for a vote. Ohio will lose a congressional seat due to slow population growth over the past decade.
Many states are rushing to draw new maps before the cutoff dates for candidates to launch campaigns, given that some candidates and incumbents may not even know what districts they’ll be running in until the redistricting process has been completed.
Some states, such as Illinois and Texas, have either already made changes to their campaign filing deadlines and primary calendars or are actively working to do so in order to accommodate the delayed redistricting process.
How will the data drive decisions?
Earlier this year, the Census Bureau released overall population numbers by state and used those to dictate which states would gain or lose congressional seats.
The data published this week gave a much more granular look at where population changes occurred within states and which demographics grew or shrunk as proportions of a state’s population.
Districts across a state must have relatively equal numbers of people within them — or else maps become vulnerable to successful legal challenges, according to Dave Hopkins, a political science professor at Boston College.
“That means you are constrained, to some degree, by where the voters are in a particular state and where the change has been since the last census,” Hopkins said. “Some districts will need to shed voters. Some districts will need to add voters.”
Hopkins noted many of the states that gained enough residents to earn additional seats saw their minority populations climb and will therefore need to make decisions about creating minority-majority districts to reflect their new demographics.
Where will the biggest changes occur?
Some of the fiercest redistricting battles could occur in the states that gained or lost seats as a result of population changes. That will be the case in 13 states; the rest did not experience enough of a shift to alter their representation in Congress.
“In terms of the states that are losing seats, the question is who winds up without a seat when the music stops,” Hopkins said.
Seven states (Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, California, Illinois, and West Virginia) will lose one seat each in Congress. The fight among state lawmakers, sitting congressmen, and party officials over which incumbent members to protect and which to risk when eliminating a district could become especially bitter.
“Obviously, in a case where there’s a partisan slant, if one party is in control of the map-drawing, they’ll want someone in the other party to be left standing without a seat, and so, that will be a big consideration,” Hopkins said.
“So, for example, in New York, which has lost a seat … generally it’s upstate New York that’s losing population faster than downstate, and so, it’s a lot easier to take a seat away from an upstate member than from a downstate member,” he added.
In states that gained seats on the basis of strong minority growth, such as Texas and Florida, the battle over how people of color are represented in the new maps will take center stage.
Redistricting decisions could invite lawsuits under the Voting Rights Act if lines are drawn in a way that limits the power of the minority vote.
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Wice said one way that mapmakers have done this in the past is through “packing” — or corralling all the voters of color into a single district.
“You cannot pack minority voters excessively into a district because then you waste their vote, you dilute their vote by not allowing minority voters to have influence beyond their one district,” Wice said.
Democrats and advocacy groups have already signaled that they plan to watch the redistricting process closely in states where tactics such as racial packing could be an issue, and lawsuits could complicate efforts to get new maps drawn before the 2022 midterm elections.
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Original Author: Sarah Westwood
Original Location: How redistricting will unfold across the country