With redistribution underway, Democrats’ prospects look bright

Written by Joseph Ax and Jason Lange

(Reuters) – As Republican-controlled states such as Texas and Florida gain seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and grow their population for the 2020 census data, Democrats were in another dark reorganization cycle.

But the census also shows that most of the nation’s growth is in urban areas and among minorities. With Republican Donald Trump’s presidency shifting suburban white voters to Democrats, the party’s prospects for the next decade look less grim.

Proposals for new congressional maps in Republican-controlled states such as Texas, Indiana, and Georgia do not aggressively target Democratic incumbents and instead seek to protect the most vulnerable Republicans, whose suburban districts have become political battlegrounds.

Meanwhile, in states like New York and Illinois, Democrats are ready to move forward with their own maps, where urban growth and rural decline allow for the elimination of Republican districts. Profits there could help counter Republican advantage elsewhere.

In most states, the legislature has the power to reconstruct congressional district maps after the tenth U.S. census, and lawmakers often try to manipulate the map to benefit their own party, known as gerimandering.

The stake is high: Republicans will only need to win five seats in the 2022 election to regain the House, which would give them an effective veto power over Democratic President Joe Biden’s legal agenda.

According to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, Republicans currently control the rearrangement of 187 congressional seats, compared to 75 for Democrats. The remaining 173 seats are in states with single district, bipartisan or independent reorganization commissions.

Many Republican states have already used gerimandered maps since the last round of redistribution in 2010, after the party seized control of about two dozen state assembly chambers.

“In many parts of the country, Republicans are already close to their limits on how many seats they can snatch from them,” said Paul Smith, who helps oversee the lawsuit and strategy of the nonprofit campaign legal center, which advocates for fair elections.

The final result is uncertain. More than 40 states have not yet mapped out, and challenging district lines is inevitable.

‘Defensive interrogator’

Cities such as Austin, Texas, and Atlanta, Georgia have grown rapidly over the past decade, mostly in minority communities that vote Democratic.

Demographic changes have prompted Republicans to divert some of their democratic gains.

In Austin, for example, the goal of the previous reorganization exercise was to weaken the liberal power of the city, mixing its voters with the voters of its more conservative suburbs with a mad rant of the districts. Austin voters accounted for about 75% of Travis County, which was 45-points more favorable to Biden than Trump.

But suburban voters have sharply turned their backs on Republicans in recent years, with the 2020 census showing the city has grown by more than 20%. It pushed Republican lawmakers this week to propose a map that would turn much of Austin into a new Democratic district to increase Republican seats in the surrounding area.

The proposed map includes two new districts that will eliminate virtually every competitive district in both the Republican and Democratic states to preserve the current advantage of Republicans, thanks to Texas country-population growth.

Under the new line, only three of the state’s 38 districts will get a gap of less than 10 percentage points, separating Trump and Biden, without counting third-party votes.

“It’s a defensive germander, in contrast to an offensive person,” said Michael Lee, a restructuring expert at the Brennan Center. “That doesn’t mean it’s not bad.”

Democrats and advocacy groups have criticized the new map for not creating districts with a majority of minority voters, who are responsible for almost everything in the state’s population growth. Federal law requires certain districts to ensure that the power of minority voters is not diminished.

“I think it was intentional and deliberate to reduce the explosive growth of Texas’ minority population, ”said Democratic State Assemblyman Ron Reynolds.

The office of Republican State Senator Joan Hoffman, who wrote the map, did not respond to a request for comment.

In Georgia, a proposed map of state Senate Republicans this week put Democrat Lucy Macbath in jeopardy, occupying a former Republican district in the suburbs of Atlanta.

But Caroline Bordeaux, the only Democrat to relinquish her seat in the Republican House last year, will see her nearby district become much more democratic, reflecting the increasingly diverse territory that aided Biden’s astonishing statewide victory.

Democrat in crime

Democrats want to deal with any damage through crime in their ruled state.

New York, where Democrats control redistribution for the first time in more than a century, could prove to be the biggest prize of the cycle.

Analysts say a Democratic super-majority in the legislature could overturn five Republican seats. A bipartisan commission is tasked with creating an advisory map, but Democrats have a vote to reject it.

Republicans have accused Democrats of forcibly conspiring through Gerimander.

Democrats are also ready to remove at least one and possibly two Republican seats in Illinois. In Oregon, the Democratic majority pushed through a map this week that benefits the party in five of the six districts.

New York State Senator Mike Gianaris, a Democrat who will chair a committee that would take responsibility for reconsideration if the state commission fails, said the goal was to draw a “rough” line to reflect population change.

“Just because a result will be more democratic does not mean that it was drawn for that purpose,” he acknowledged, adding that “no one is ignorant of the national impact of what we are doing.”

(Reporting by Joseph Ax in Princeton, New Jersey and Jason Lange in Washington; edited by Colin Jenkins and Sonia Hepinstall)

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