By Joseph Ax and Jason Lange
(Reuters) – When Republican-controlled states, such as Texas and Florida, gain U.S. seats, thanks to the 2020 census data showing their populations are booming, Democrats once again have a grim redistribution cycle.
But the census also found that most of the country’s growth is in urban areas and among minorities. Coupled with the relocation of suburban white voters to the Democrats during the presidency of Republican Donald Trump, the party’s prospects for the next decade look less dire.
Proposals for new congressional cards in Republican-controlled states, such as Texas, Indiana and Georgia, are not aggressively aimed at Democratic incumbents, but rather seek to protect vulnerable Republicans whose suburban districts have become political battlefields.
Meanwhile, Democrats are poised to push their own cards through in states like New York and Illinois, where urban growth and rural decline offer a chance to eliminate Republican districts. Profits there could help combat Republican benefits elsewhere.
In most states, the power to hand over congressional district maps to the U.S. Census lies with the legislature, and lawmakers often try to manipulate maps to benefit their own party in a practice known as gerrymandering.
The stakes are high: Republicans only need to take five seats in the 2022 election to re-enter the House, which would give them effective veto power over Democratic President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda.
Republicans currently control the redistribution of 187 congressional seats compared to just 75 for Democrats, according to an analysis by New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. The remaining 173 seats are in states with single districts, dual control or independent re-district commissions.
Many Republican states are already using gerrymander cards from the last round of redistribution in 2010, after the party took control of nearly two dozen state legislatures.
“In many parts of the country, Republicans are already close to their ceiling in terms of the number of seats they can squeeze out of them,” said Paul Smith, who helps oversee litigation and strategy at the Campaign Legal Center, which is campaigning for fair organizations. elections.
The final result is uncertain. More than 40 states have not yet issued maps, and litigation with challenging district lines is inevitable.
Cities like Austin, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia, have grown rapidly over the past decade, many of them in minority populations that tend to vote democratically.
The demographic changes led Republicans to relinquish some democratic gains to focus their attention elsewhere.
In Austin, for example, previous redistribution exercises were aimed at diluting the liberal power of the city by mixing its voters with those of its more conservative suburbs in a crazy quilt of districts. Austin voters make up about 75% of Travis County, which Biden adopted above Trump by a margin of 45 points.
But suburban voters have turned sharply away from Republicans in recent years, while the 2020 census showed the city has grown by more than 20%. It forced Republican lawmakers this week to propose a map that would place much of Austin in a new, overwhelming Democratic district to strengthen Republican seats in the surrounding areas.
The proposed map, which includes two new districts thanks to the population boom in Texas, will eliminate virtually every rival district in the state, Republican and Democratic, in order to retain the current advantage of Republicans.
Under the new rules, only three of the state’s 38 districts would have a margin of less than 10 percentage points to separate Trump and Biden, without counting third-party votes.
“This is a defensive gerrymander, as opposed to an offensive one,” said Michael Li, a district expert at the Brennan Center. “That does not mean it is not bad.”
Democrats and advocacy groups criticized the new card because it did not create districts with a majority of minority voters, which was responsible for almost the entire population increase of the state. Federal law requires certain such districts to ensure that the power of the minority voters is not diluted.
“I think it was deliberate and deliberate to suppress the explosive growth in the minority population in Texas,” said Ron Reynolds, a Democrat.
The office of Republican Senator Joan Huffman, who wrote the card, did not respond to a request for comment.
In Georgia, a proposed map of the state’s Republican Republic this week jeopardizes Democrat Lucy McBath, who occupies a former Republican district in the suburbs of Atlanta.
But Carolyn Bourdeaux, the only Democrat to run a Republican House last year, would see her nearby district become much more democratic, reflecting the increasingly diverse area that helped Biden’s surprise victory in the state.
DEMOCRATS ON VIOLATION
Democrats try to counteract any losses by committing the offense in states where they rule.
New York, where Democrats control redistribution for the first time in more than a century, could be the biggest prize of the cycle.
Analysts say the Democratic super-majority of the legislature could eliminate up to five Republican seats. A dual commission must draft an advisory card, but Democrats have the votes to reject it.
Republicans accused the Democrats of plotting to force through a rhymer.
Democrats also appear ready to wipe out at least one, and possibly two, Republican seats in Illinois. In Oregon, the Democratic majority pushed through a card this week giving the party the advantage in five of six districts.
New York State Senator Mike Gianaris, the Democrat who chaired the committee that would take over the redistribution if the state commission failed, said the goal was to draw the lines “fairly” to reflect demographic shifts.
“Just because the result will be more Democrats does not mean it was created for it,” he said, acknowledging that no one is “unaware of the national implications of what we are doing.”
(Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey, and Jason Lange in Washington; Edited by Colleen Jenkins and Sonya Hepinstall)