While the race for the White House is sorted out across tight midwestern battlegrounds, Republicans can already claim an important victory further down the ballot. The GOP held state House and Senate chambers across Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Kansas, and many other key states. This ensures a dramatic edge when it comes to redrawing new state legislative and congressional maps next year, following the completion of the census count.
This year, Democrats had hoped to avenge the GOP’s 2010 Redmap strategy, which drove Republicans that year to control swing-state legislatures in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Florida, and majorities they have not relinquished since. That also allowed Republicans to draw, on their own, nearly five times as many congressional districts nationwide as Democrats.
Tuesday’s election offered both parties the last chance to gain influence over maps that will define the state of play for the next decade. States have different rules on this: almost three-quarters of all states, however, give their legislatures the prominent role. That heightens the stakes of state legislative races in years ending in zero. On Tuesday, in the two states with the most at stake – Texas and North Carolina – Democrats fell far short, despite millions of dollars invested by the national party and outside organizations.
In Texas, Democrats needed to gain nine seats in the state House to affect redistricting. They may not net any. Republicans picked up several open seats, and GOP incumbents held on in almost all the battleground districts enveloping the cities of Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston. In House district 134, which includes part of Houston, Democrat Ann Johnson ousted GOP incumbent Sarah Davis. But otherwise, the party ran far behind expectations.
The consequences could linger until 2031, if not longer. Texas Republicans may look to redraw state maps next year based on the “citizen voting-age population” or CVAP, and depart from the longtime standard of counting the total population. A 2015 study by Thomas Hofeller, the late GOP redistricting maestro, found that such a switch “would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites,” and create a relative population decline in Democratic strongholds in south Texas and in otherwise fast-growing parts of Dallas and Houston.
In North Carolina, meanwhile, even a new, fairer state legislative map – albeit one that still slightly favored Republicans – couldn’t help Democrats break the GOP’s 10-year hold on both the House and Senate. Democrats netted one Senate seat – they needed five – and lost ground in the state House. Republicans will not only have a free hand to draw maps next year, but they also appear to have gained seats on the state supreme court – which will adjudicate any dispute over these maps – and cut the Democratic majority there to 4-3. (Democrats did make gains on both the Ohio and Michigan state supreme courts, both of which could be asked to weigh in on the constitutionality of maps later this decade.)
As a result, Republicans will have a free hand in drawing new districts across both states, providing the GOP with a renewed decade-long edge and also paving the way for conservative legislation on voting rights, health care, reproductive rights, education funding and much more. Any new voting restrictions, meanwhile, could assist Republicans in maintaining electoral college dominance in these states, as well.
Democrats in Kansas had hoped to simply break GOP supermajorities and sustain a Democratic governor’s veto power over a GOP gerrymander that could devour the state’s one blue congressional seat. But they appear to have been unable to muster either a one-seat gain in the House or the three seats necessary in the Senate.
Wisconsin Democrats, however, did successfully preserve the veto of Democratic governor Tony Evers, ensuring that the party will have some say over maps that have provided Republicans with decade-long majorities even when Democratic candidates won hundreds of thousands more statewide votes. Wisconsin was one of the most gerrymandered states in the country after the Republican takeover in 2010.
There was mixed news for gerrymandering reformers in two states where fair maps were on the ballot statewide. In Virginia, voters overwhelmingly approved a redistricting commission that will consist equally of lawmakers and citizens to draw lines next year. But in Missouri, by a narrow margin of 51% to 49%, voters repealed a 2018 initiative that would have placed maps under the control of a neutral state demographer. That will leave Republicans in full control of the process.
After 2010, Pennsylvania has elected a Democratic governor, and Michigan has adopted an independent commission, suggesting less partisan maps next year. But by holding Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio, Republicans appear likely to draw at least four times as many congressional seats by themselves.
That advantage, in turn, will endure long after whoever won Tuesday’s presidential election has left the scene.