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Fairer districting in November for one-fourth of all House districts?

October 20th, 2020, 8:23am by Sam Wang


Wherever you are, there are so many reasons to vote. We have resources in the right sidebar. See the PEC 50-State Voter Guide. Also at other sites, see Taniel’s What’s on the Ballot? and Stephen Colbert’s Better Know A Ballot.

Today, I have a rundown of all the ways you can make a difference in redistricting fairness in nine states: Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina, Kansas, Texas, Missouri, Nebraska, Minnesota, and Connecticut. Combined, these states are expected to have a total of 106 House seats, nearly one-fourth of the chamber. And it is possible for you to help, even if you don’t live in one of those states.

Ballot measures

Several measures failed to make the ballot, in large part thanks to court shenanigans, in Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Oregon. But there are still two big questions affecting redistricting in Virginia and Missouri.

Virginia (11 House seats): Amendment 1. The constitutional amendment finally gets its shot with Virginia voters. It’s not perfect, but it’s a serious improvement over legislators fully controlling their own districts. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project’s overview of its provisions is here. To get to the ballot, the amendment first had to pass the General Assembly twice: the first time by Republicans who feared losing control of the redistricting process, the second time by a mix of Republicans (now in the minority) and a few Democrats willing to give up some of their own power. If it passes there still needs to be enabling legislation to give it some extra teeth. Anti-gerrymandering vote: YES.

Missouri (8 House seats): Amendment 3, “Dirty Missouri.” In 2018, voters passed an amendment, “Clean Missouri.” Clean Missouri established a state demographer to make the first draft of a redistricting maps, and placing quantitative limits on the partisan bias of that map. This year, legislators have put a new amendment on the ballot that contains small election reforms – and does away with the demographer and quantitative limits. Anti-gerrymandering vote: NO.

Judicial elections

Ohio (15 House seats): two state Supreme Court races. The state Supreme Court will hear any challenges under the new Fair Districts provisions of the state constitution. Ohio judicial elections are nominally nonpartisan, but the allegiance of the justices are known. It’s currently composed of 5 Republicans, 2 Democrats. Two of the Republican seats are up for election, leading to the possibility of a 4-3 split (in either direction). The Democratic challengers are Jennifer Brunner and John P. O’Donnell; Brunner has spoken specifically against gerrymandering. In the last 10 years, state Supreme Court races have run an average of a few points more Democratic than the top of the ticket – but with a wide range (standard deviation=17 points).

Breaking single-party control of legislatures

North Carolina (14 House seats), Kansas (4 seats), Nebraska (3 seats), and Texas (39 seats). In all three of these states, single-party control over redistricting is on the cusp of being broken if Democrats make gains. “Cusp” means that the probability it happening is 15-85%, based on our Redistricting Moneyball project.

In North Carolina, Democrats are within a few seats of taking control of the state House or state Senate, in part thanks to a redrawing of the map by the state Supreme Court in 2019. That map made the Senate much more competitive but left some partisan unfairness in the House map.

In Kansas, the Republican supermajority in the state House can be broken if Democrats gain a single seat. This gives them a voice in redistricting. And in Texas, Democrats need to gain 9 seats in the state House to end up with control – and a say in Congressional redistricting. (Thanks to the twists of Texas redistricting law, Democrats will likely have no say in the drawing of state legislative lines, no matter what.)

The same is true in Nebraska. Nebraska is a harder state to analyze because candidates are nominally nonpartisan. However, we looked into it. Our analysis suggests that Democrats are relatively likely – but not certain – to maintain enough seats to prevent Republicans from attaining a supermajority. The closest races in the Unicameral (that’s what their legislature is called) are in Senate Districts 3, 15, 31, 35, and 45. Of these the open seats – where money means the most – are in Districts 31 and 45.

Minnesota (7 House seats) and Connecticut (5 seats). In these two states, the tables are turned compared with North Carolina/Kansas/Texas: they are potentially under single-party control by Democrats. Modest Republican gains in both states would cement the issue. In Minnesota, Republicans control the state Senate. In Redistricting Moneyball calculations suggest the chamber is on a nearly-perfect knife edge. The top two districts in terms of voter power are SD-58 (greater Saint Paul area; D incumbent) and SD-14 (St. Cloud; R incumbent).

In Connecticut, Republicans have an excellent shot at breaking the Democratic supermajority and forcing a bipartisan map-drawing process.

Not Florida (29 House seats). When we initially did our Redistricting Moneyball calculations, it appeared that Democrats had an outside shot at regaining control of the state House. But that goal seems out of reach. The Senate may go 21 Republican, 19 Democratic seats. One more would do it – but thanks to poor candidate recruitment and a disorganized state party, Democrats appear not to have brought enough game.

If you want to affect the questions above, links are provided in the ActBlue and WinRed links in the sidebar.

Tags: 2020 Election · House · Redistricting

6 Comments so far ↓

  • Stephen Huegel

    As always, Dr. Wang, thank you for this updated, valuable information! Will contemplate; I have used your information all year in order to help guide my financial support.

  • J.S.Sollace

    “[P]oor candidate recruitment and a disorganized state party”—Isn’t this Democratic Party’s mission statement?

    But seriously, I have to admit that the missed opportunities in Florida have somewhat dampened my overall positive feeling about Democrats’ chances this year. I really want to see better organization and candidate recruitment at the state and local level in the coming years.

    • ArcticStones

      I would have expected Democratic voter registration in Florida to be through the roof this years, especially amongst younger voters. That did not happen. In fact, in Florida as well as numerous other swing states, the Republicans have beat Team Blue at voter registration. Shocking!

      The Democratic Party damn well better have a superior GOTV effort in both early in-person voting and Election Day voting.

      I do suspect GOTV will prove decisive in whether or not we overcome the rampant Republican voter disenfranchisement and other cheating – including the court challenges that are sure to come.

      Hate to say it, but for Biden/Harris to win, and for Democrats to take back the Senate and win important state-level races to halt gerrymandering, it’s imperative that there be an overwhelming Blue Tsunami.

  • UserFriendly

    In Connecticut, Republicans have an excellent shot at breaking the Democratic supermajority and forcing a bipartisan map-drawing process.

    Dems are two state senate seats away from being able to run the table on redistricting. 2/3rds of 36 is 24, they have 22.

  • matilda welch

    No, I voted against proposition 1 in Virginia. After years of being beaten down, I refuse to make nice and act like a battered wife and take the abuser back We, the progressives have to take our power and redistrict for our sake. Sorry, never going into a fight with one hand tied behind my back.

    • Sam Wang

      Proposition 1 itself is the act of “fighting back.” Together with enabling legislation, it creates a process that is constrained by rules that prevent inequities and ensure representations for different communities. It is true that Republicans get a veto in the process – as do Democrats, and citizen members of the new commission. I would think the overall product should be to the liking of progressives who want reform to the existing process.

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