Electoral manipulation increases as states remap House seats
The state remains a perennial battleground, closely divided between Democrats and Republicans in elections. In the last presidential race, Republican Donald Trump won by more than one percentage point — the narrowest difference since Barack Obama barely won the state in 2008.
But last week, the Republican-controlled legislature ended maps that redraw congressional district boundaries, dividing urban Democratic voters to dilute their votes. The new plan took the number of Republican-leaning districts from eight to 10 in the state. The Republicans even stand a chance of winning the 11th place.
The North Carolina plan was immediately criticized for its aggressive approach, but it is not alone. Experts and lawmakers who track this once-a-decade redistricting see a cycle of supercharged manipulation. With fewer legal constraints and increased political stakes, both Democrats and Republicans are pushing the boundaries of the long-used tactic of drawing districts for maximum partisan benefit, often at the expense of community unity or racial representation.
“In the absence of reforms, electoral manipulation in general is worse than in 2010 than it was in the last round” of redistricting, said Chris Warshaw, a professor of political science at George Washington University who has analyzed decades of redistricting mapping in the United States. division of circles.
Republicans have dominated redistricting in the past decade, helping them build more political advantage in more states than either party has had in the past 50 years.
With only three months into the mapping process, it is too early to tell which party will take the lead. Republicans need a net gain of just five seats to control the US House of Representatives and freeze President Joe Biden’s agenda on climate change, the economy and other issues.
But the GOP’s potential net gain of three seats in North Carolina could be completely negated in Illinois. Democrats who control the legislature have adopted a zig-zag map across the state to attract Democratic voters and drive Republicans into a few areas.
In the 13 states that have passed new congressional maps so far, the cumulative effect has mainly been a wash of Republicans and Democrats, with only a few districts left. That could change in the coming weeks, as Republican-controlled legislatures consider proposed maps in Georgia, New Hampshire and Ohio targeting Democratic-controlled seats.
Ohio Republicans have taken a particularly ambitious approach, proposing a single map that could leave Democrats with just two seats out of 15 in a state that Trump won by 8 percentage points.
Districting is a practice nearly as old as the country, with politicians drawing district lines to “break” opposing voters between several provinces or “grouping” them into one province to limit competition elsewhere. At its most extreme, electoral manipulation can deprive societies of representatives that reflect their interests and lead to elections that reward candidates who appeal to the far left or the right—making compromise difficult in Congress.
While both parties have manipulated district boundaries, these days Republicans have more opportunities. The process of drawing lines is controlled by the Republican Party, which accounts for 187 seats in the House of Representatives compared to 75 for Democrats. The rest of the states either use independent committees, have split government control or only one seat in Congress.
“All over the house, you’re seeing Republicans as a gerrymander,” said Kelly Ward Burton, executive director of the Democratic National Committee for Redistricting, which oversees the Democratic Party’s redistricting. Burton did not acknowledge that the map of Illinois was a gear maker, but argued that no single state should indicate parity between the two.
“They’ve been in a power grab for Congress for the whole decade,” Burton said of the Republican Party.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who is leading the Democrats’ effort, has called for more states to use redistricting committees, and a stalled Democratic election bill in the Senate would mandate them nationwide. Democratic-controlled states such as Colorado and Virginia have recently adopted the committees, leading some in the party to worry that he is giving up his ability to take on Republicans.
However, Democrats have shown themselves to be happy when they can. After a power-sharing agreement with Oregon’s Republicans faltered, Democrats quickly redrawn the congressional map of the state so that all but one of its six districts headed. In Illinois, Democrats can grab three seats from a map that has drawn widespread criticism for being a gearmaker.
In Maryland, Democrats are considering a proposal that would make it easier for a Democrat to fire the state’s only Republican congressman, Representative Andy Harris.
The legal landscape has changed since 2010 such that it has become difficult to challenge electoral manipulators. Although the use of maps to reduce the power of certain racial or ethnic groups remains illegal, a conservative majority in the US Supreme Court has ruled that many states no longer have to operate maps by the US Department of Justice to assert that they are not unfair to minority residents. As required by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court has also ruled that federal courts cannot invalidate zoning schemes.
Allison Riggs, senior advisor on voting rights for the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is suing North Carolina for withholding its new maps.
Newly passed congressional maps of Indiana, Arkansas, and Alabama maintain the current GOP advantage. Of the 17 seats in the US House of Representatives from those states, Democrats hold only three, and that seems unlikely to change. In Indiana, the new map centers Democrats in an Indianapolis county. In Arkansas, the map divides Little Rock, its largest city. In Alabama, a lawsuit from a Democratic group alleges that the map “strategically cracks and packs Alabama’s black communities, eroding the power of black voting.”
Although electoral district manipulation may not always be scrutinized by the courts, it is limited by demographics.
In Texas, for example, the US Census Bureau found that the state had grown so much that it gained two new seats in the House of Representatives. Roughly 95% of the growth came from black, Latino, and Asian populations who tend to vote Democrats. The Republican-controlled legislature drew a map that, while not creating new districts controlled by these voters, maintained Republican advantages. Civil rights groups sued to block it.
North Carolina Republicans took a different approach, just as they did a decade ago. In the last cycle, the courts first found that Republican lawmakers mustered too many black voters into two congressional districts, then ruled that they illegally manipulated the lines on the replacement map for partisan gain.
The new North Carolina map, which adds the 14th district to the state due to its population growth, is already facing a lawsuit. Experts say it is unlikely to be approved by the Department of Justice if the old rules are in place, especially because they threaten the seat of black congressman, Democratic Representative JK Butterfield.
“It’s raising a boatload of red flags,” said Michael Lee, an attorney at the Brennan Center for Justice.
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, says he is confident the maps are “constitutional in all respects.”
Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri, and Riccardi from Denver. Associated Press writer Brian Anderson in Raleigh contributed to this report.