Republicans have been more successful than Democrats since 2010 at gerrymandering congressional districts to their advantage. But the Republican advantage may be about to fade because of a few court cases.
In Alabama, the U.S. Supreme Court forced officials to redraw the map to add one majority Black (and therefore Democratic-leaning) district. In New York, Democrats are trying to redraw the map to flip several seats. In Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, other legal challenges could help Democrats.
If everything goes Democrats’ way, roughly 10 House seats could become meaningfully easier to win. Next year, the party needs to net only five seats to reclaim the House. New York alone could switch six seats from leaning Republican to leaning Democrat.
Not every court case is hurting Republicans. In North Carolina, a ruling from the state’s Supreme Court will allow Republican lawmakers to redraw the map to move several seats their way. In South Carolina, liberal groups have taken the state’s Republican gerrymander to the U.S. Supreme Court; but the court’s conservative majority appears likely to side with Republicans, based on oral arguments last week.
Still, the overall picture looks promising for Democrats. “The House map is pretty equitable now, certainly more so than it was 10 years ago,” David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report told me. If the cases go in Democrats’ favor, he added, “it could make the House map even a little bit bluer on balance than a random map would be.”
In 2022, Republicans won about 51 percent of the popular vote in House elections nationwide — and about 51 percent of House seats. (My colleague Nate Cohn broke down those results.)
In some ways, the recent gerrymandering developments are the pendulum swinging back.
States typically update congressional maps once a decade, after each U.S. census. In 2010, Republicans swept state elections just in time for the redrawing of maps. They took full advantage, drawing congressional districts in their favor.
After the 2020 census, Republicans remained in power in more states than Democrats. But after the gerrymanders of the 2010s, Republicans could not do much more to skew the maps.
Meanwhile, legal challenges from liberal groups diminished the Republican gerrymanders. Some states, like Michigan, embraced independent redistricting commissions that drew more balanced maps. Democrats also used their control of some state governments, including in Illinois and Oregon, to aggressively redraw maps.
“Republicans are not the only ones who gerrymander,” Claire Wofford, a political scientist at the College of Charleston, told me.
Of course, Democrats will still need to win elections next year. The balance of gerrymandering is likely to determine control of the House only if the national vote is close.
Here are three major stories to watch in coming months:
New York: The case moving through the courts would likely affect six seats, the most in any current dispute. A lower court already ruled in Democrats’ favor, and the state’s highest court is set to hear the case in November. Democrats now hold 11 of the state’s 26 congressional seats.
North Carolina: Republicans are set to redraw the map in the next month, and could flip three or four seats in their favor. Republicans currently hold seven of the state’s 14 congressional seats.
Time: If Republicans stall legal challenges for long enough, the maps may not change before the 2024 election. “There is more potential upside for Democrats right now than for Republicans,” said Stephen Wolf, an elections writer at Daily Kos, “but there are too many unresolved court cases to say yet what will likely happen.”
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