Newsletter / May 2021

What's up with redistricting?

Ryan Quinn

Swing Left Campaigns Director

There’s a lot going on with the census, reapportionment, and redistricting over the next few months, and the implications for elections over the next decade are huge. Below, Ryan Quinn, Swing Left’s Campaigns Director, lays out what’s happening now with reapportionment, what we can expect this year with redistricting, and what it all means for Swing Left’s work.

What stage are we at in the redistricting process, and what comes next?

In April, the U.S. Census Bureau released data on reapportionment, which is the process of reallocating the 435 House districts between the states based on updated population distribution. We now know that there are seven congressional districts changing hands between 13 states: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia are each losing one district, while Florida, Colorado, Montana, North Carolina, and Oregon are each gaining one, and Texas is gaining two. This means that there are some incumbents who won’t be eligible to run in their current district in the states that are losing a congressional district, and the states gaining a district will need to draw completely new constituencies.

The next step will be the release of block-level data, which is critical for guiding the process of how state legislatures or independent redistricting commissions draw new state and federal maps. In a typical redistricting cycle, data is released state-by-state over a couple of months, but because of concerns around data quality and collection challenges due to the pandemic, the Census Bureau is releasing all data as one packet on August 16. This delay also means that the time the states have to analyze the data and redraw their maps is significantly compressed.

The reapportionment results came as a surprise to a lot of people. Can you break down what happened?

One of the big surprises was that the states we expected to gain the most based on population estimates from last year—Texas (3), Florida (2), and Arizona (1)—didn’t gain as many seats as we expected, or didn’t gain a district at all in Arizona’s case. All three of these states have large Latinx populations, so this has fueled some speculation that the Trump administration’s ultimately unsuccessful push to include a question about citizenship may have depressed self-reporting among the Latinx population.

Another surprise was that certain states kept a congressional district when we expected them to lose one—including Minnesota, Alabama, and Rhode Island. When we see block-level data, we’ll get a better understanding of why all of this happened.

What does this mean for the Electoral College?

Reapportionment also impacts the Electoral College, but this is actually the smallest movement of seats among the states since the House was expanded to 435 Representatives in 1910. To put it in perspective, if the 2020 election happened next year, President Biden’s margin would’ve decreased by six electoral votes.

Are we seeing a shift in political power? What does this mean for 2024?

There’s been a decades-long trend of Americans moving away from the Northeast and Great Lakes regions and moving to the Sunbelt and the West. What we’re seeing now is a reallocation of electoral votes and political importance to a lot of growing states along the southern border of the United States. While we've only moved seven electoral votes across the map this year, there is no reason to believe that this trend of population redistribution will stop any time soon.

The states that Democrats have traditionally been strong in—the Blue Wall states—will continue to be important going forward, but in the next decade, we’ll need to grow Democratic power in the Sunbelt states.

How does GOP voter suppression come into play, and how does the For the People Act fit in?

The states that are growing in political power are the states that the GOP is targeting aggressively with voter suppression efforts among a more diverse electorate. Republicans are pushing or have already passed legislation making it harder to vote in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Texas. These bills are all part of a pretty nakedly partisan, systematic approach toward restricting access to the ballot, which Republicans assume will result in better outcomes for the GOP. It all boils down to their thought that it’s easier to change the rules of who can vote and how to cast a ballot than it is to change the party’s positions on policy to appeal to more voters.

The For the People Act would be an overhaul of voting laws and redistricting laws. If passed, it would ban partisan gerrymandering and ensure that voters get to pick their representatives, not the other way around. The bill would also protect and expand voting rights and access by promoting mail-in ballots, which are currently a main target of Republican voter suppression efforts across the country.

In the absence of the For the People Act, Swing Left is focused on supporting Democratic state legislative candidates and governors, especially in states where we don’t have Democratic trifectas like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. A Democratic governor gives Democrats a seat at the table in the redistricting process, and most importantly, a veto vote in the case of unfair maps. Of course, Swing Left is also focused on investing in state legislative campaigns to ensure that Democrats can not just prevent voter suppression, but eventually expand access to the ballot.

What’s the next step Swing Left’s political team is watching for?

We’ll be keeping an eye on draft maps through the summer to see how legislators and commissions are approaching new seats, as well as the movement of population between existing seats. The release of block-level redistricting data will be essential to that analysis. We’ll be watching closely to understand how new district lines affect Democratic incumbents we need to defend, and how they impact new potential pickup opportunities in key states to increase the Democratic majority in the House. At the state legislature level, we’ll be considering how we continue to make inroads in the next decade.

This is one of the most important moments to determine how competitive races will be in 2022, but also in the rest of the decade. As we continue to dig into data and process, we must keep in mind how these races will determine the balance of power in Congress in the next decade.

What’s the best way to get involved now?

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