Redistricting Is Now Underway

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 13, 2021 — Now four full months past the original deadline, the Census Bureau finally is scheduled to deliver to the states their census tract data, thus enabling the map-drawing process to begin.

While data was received yesterday, it will still be awhile before the public begins seeing even preliminary maps. The data must first be configured to the individual state’s redistricting software. Secondly, most state processes mandate hearings for public comment once the data is released. Each of these factors will happen prior to actual map construction. This notwithstanding, the critical element for each state, having the necessary data, is at long last occurring.

At the end of last year, we published a redistricting outlook that suggested Republicans, even though they control the process in a preponderance of states, could still find themselves down several seats in reapportionment and redistricting simply because of what could happen in the states that are gaining and losing congressional seats. (Go to: Ellis Insight Redistricting Outlook)

Some notable changes have occurred since the original piece was written, and now it appears the tables have turned toward the GOP as the party in best position to benefit nationally from the decennial district reconstruction process.

Below is a recap of the state situations that have changed:

Alabama: The original reapportionment prognostications suggested that Alabama would lose a congressional district. Republicans, because they control all but a Civil Rights-protected seat, were sure to take the loss. Likely due to a population surge in the latter part of the decade, Alabama did not lose a seat, thus the GOP saves a sure net loss.

Colorado: Though Colorado has adopted a redistricting commission for the first time, the swing toward the Democrats suggested that their party would gain the new seat. The Colorado commission is the first to release a congressional map, based upon Census Bureau estimates, and while the new 8th District looked solidly Democratic, the newly configured 7th District, currently Democratic, slightly favors the GOP.

Though this map is just a preliminary draw, should this be the direction in which the commission heads Republicans could actually reap a one seat gain when the 2022 election cycle concludes.

Michigan: It appeared at first glance that the new redistricting commission would lean toward the Democrats, meaning the state would lose another seat to the Republicans’ detriment. This scenario still could occur, but a substantial population loss in Detroit, which the data release may or may not reveal, could put the Democrats on the hot seat because the city’s protected minority seats would have to take more population from surrounding Democratic districts. This population roll, if needed, could force the Democrats to take the seat reduction.

Minnesota: Like Alabama, Minnesota was slated to lose a seat, but didn’t in the final apportionment release. If the delegation reduction had occurred, it appeared that the northern part of the state would be forced to absorb the loss. Such would mean a net Republican regression because the party controls the two northern seats. Since the eight-seat delegation will now remain intact, Republicans likely avoid another loss.

Ohio: With a current 12R-4D delegation, the mathematics suggest that Republicans would take the loss here, too, as Ohio again loses a district in reapportionment. Now that Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Warren/Youngstown) is leaving the House to run for the Senate, and the Akron portion of his district may be needed to add population to the 11th District, a majority minority CD that appears to be the least populated seat in the state, it is the Democrats who could conceivably take the loss.

Another option suggests the 11th could gain the population it needs by annexing the Cleveland section of Rep. Marcy Kaptur’s (D-Toledo) 9th District. This would leave Kaptur vulnerable in a likely pairing with Rep. Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) in a largely Republican district. This scenario, too, could force the Democrats to take the loss.

Oregon: The Beaver State gains a seat in reapportionment, and with Democrats in full control of the legislative process, it appeared that they would attempt to draw a 5D-1R map. The population figures and their locations, however, may dictate otherwise.

With all five current districts being heavily overpopulated and virtually equivalent in resident number, it may be very difficult to draw a new Democratic seat, especially when Reps. Peter DeFazio (D-Springfield) and Kurt Schrader (D-Canby/Salem) both had close 2020 elections. This will lead them to encourage legislators to shed Republicans from their existing seats. If so, it becomes extremely difficult not to draw at the very least a competitive new seat.

The Census Bureau numbers will provide further clues as to what may happen in Oregon, a state that will prove to be one of the more interesting redistricting places in the country.

Pennsylvania: With Republicans controlling the legislature and Democrats holding the governor’s mansion and having a clear and largely partisan majority on the state Supreme Court, it looked like the GOP would have to absorb the one-seat reapportionment loss since the reduction would likely come in western Pennsylvania.

Now that Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pittsburgh) has announced for the Senate, and he is the only incumbent to date not seeking re-election, it is reasonable to project that his 17th District would be the seat collapsed. A three-district population roll among Reps. Mike Doyle’s (D-Pittsburgh) 18th CD, Mike Kelly’s (R-Butler) 16th, and Guy Reschenthaler’s (R-Peters Township) 14th, all of which require more population, would virtually and seamlessly solve the district reduction problem, and in this scenario, to the Republicans’ favor.

Rhode Island: Here, we see another example of a state expected to lose a seat in reapportionment that did not. In this instance, Democrats are the beneficiary since they control both Ocean State congressional districts and would have been forced to lose one.

If all the swings in the above descriptions prove accurate, it will be the Republicans who stand to benefit by at least a handful of seats once the redistricting and 2022 election processes conclude, a number that could unseat a majority in the closely divided House of Representatives.

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