Redistricting: Let the Games Begin

Redistricting: Let the Games Begin

Last month, the Census Bureau announced the official results of the state population counts, determining how many Electoral votes and House seats each state will have for the next decade.  As was predicted, California lost a seat along with New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia.  All were blue states except West Virginia.

Texas picked up two seats, while Florida, North Carolina, Colorado, Oregon, and Montana, each picked up one seat. Except for Colorado and Oregon, all were red states.

The states now begin the vexing task of redistricting.  Except for those six states that have only one representative, each state, even those that didn’t lose or gain seats, will have to draw new district lines to adjust for population changes.

Party domination in state houses will be key to drawing state lines.  By all accounts, Republicans have the advantage. Seventeen states are Republican-controlled, 7 are Democrat-controlled, 6 are split, and 14 states appoint commissions (California being one).  In three of the four states with commissions but where the legislatures have final approval, Republicans have the edge due to majorities in the legislatures.

According to the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman (who we thank for creating an informative chart for the data above), Republicans will have the power to draw congressional lines in 187 districts, while Democrats will have authority in states totaling 75 districts.  States that have set up commissions can pen 121 districts.  Forty-six districts are in states where control is split between the two parties.

According to Wasserman, Republicans’ biggest payoffs could come from Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.  These four states alone could pick up all five seats needed to win a majority in the House.  Democrats’ best bets are Illinois and Maryland.

This is only the second time in California that a commission, rather than the Legislature, will redraw the district lines for Congress, the Legislature and the Board of Equalization. California’s commission is composed of five Republicans, five Democrats, and four people from other parties or who don’t have a party preference.  The state auditor picks the first eight members and in turn, the members pick the remaining six. Commissioners are paid $300 a day plus expenses.

All this can only mean political intrigue for months to come – in fact, the controversy has already begun.  Charles T. Munger, who funded the propositions that created the commission two decades ago, wrote in a May 7 letter to the commission, “The commission’s ‘outreach’ efforts are being conducted in violation of the transparency provisions of state law . . . . It is important both that this stop and that it not set a precedent for how the commission conducts itself.”

Due to the pandemic, the members haven’t been able to meet in person, casting doubt on the commission’s transparency. Munger believes that some commissioners have been meeting privately without public notice, that the commission has conflicts of interest, and that it has failed to timely make public records, videos, and transcripts.

And the criticism is bipartisan. Cynthia Dai, a Democrat who served on the last commission, told the Los Angeles Times that she believed that the current commission may have violated the spirit of the Voters First Act, the ballot initiative that created the commission.

“This is troubling to say the least,” writes the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times.  They point out that the last effort ended “under a cloud” after a ProPublica investigation found that state Democratic leaders quietly used special interest groups and partisan supporters to help draw district lines.

In addition to the transparency issues, the pandemic has added other complications. Tim Anaya, fellow blogger who worked in the Legislature during the last redistricting effort, points out that the delayed Census results means that the commission has less time to draw the new lines before the filing deadlines for the 2022 elections.  And of course, we can’t forget the legal challenges.  “While the Legislature can always change the date of the primary – and thus the filing period – to allow more time to finish redistricting,” says Tim, “whatever happens, the final product will surely be rushed and messy.”

Rowena Itchon is senior vice president of the Pacific Research Institute.

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