Everyone in U.S. politics is on high alert for the decennial redistricting process as it reflects U.S. House districts. We’ve already gotten the Census data that determines reapportionment of these districts (their allocation among the states), but state legislatures (and, in some states, redistricting commissions) will soon have the more granular data affecting congressional maps.
For all the understandable focus on Congress, it’s important to keep in mind that state-legislative districts are about to be redrawn for the next ten years as well. And as a new report from the Washington Post’s the Monkey Cage notes, that’s where current Republican advantages in control of the redistricting process could have the greatest impact:
We found that, after 2011, 45 state legislative maps had been drawn with extreme partisan gerrymandering. Of these, 43 favor Republicans, while only two help Democrats. Because of these gerrymandered maps, Republicans held onto power after losing the statewide popular vote in Virginia in 2017, and in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin in 2018.
Having the power to gerrymander state-legislative districts is important enough, but sometimes it is offset by the governorship being held by the other party (as in the four states just mentioned above). Gerrymanderers can also aim at producing supermajorities that neutralize gubernatorial veto powers:
In North Carolina, Republicans need only three seats in the house and two seats in the senate to achieve the 3/5ths majority required to override a governor’s veto. In South Carolina, Republican majorities in both houses fall just below the two-thirds veto override threshold. Several other Republican-led states may also be just one map away from veto-proof power.
Conversely, Democrats narrowly hold a supermajority in both chambers of the California legislature, but (a) they also hold the governorship in the Golden State, and (b) California utilizes a voter-imposed independent redistricting commission to draw its maps.
Figuring out state-legislative redistricting and its potential consequences can be like a game of three-dimensional chess with all the variations it involves, but it’s a highly consequential game. Parties that control legislative map-drawing can and often do perpetuate their power from decade to decade. And that’s why Democratic underperformance in state-legislative contests in 2020 was such a very big deal.