Democrats make surprising breakthroughs in redistricting fight – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

By NICHOLAS RICCARDI and BOBBY CAINA CALVAN

NEW YORK (AP) — Democrats braced themselves for disaster as state legislatures began redrawing the maps of Congress, fearing Republican dominance in state houses could distract them from power over the next decade.

But as the redistricting process nears its final stages, that anxiety is starting to subside.

For Democrats, the worst-case scenario of losing more than a dozen seats in the US House of Representatives seems unlikely. After drawing their own aggressive map in states with Democratic legislatures, some Democrats predict the typical congressional district will move from leaning to the right of the national vote to tying it, ending a distortion that has given the GOP an edge integrated over the last five legislative elections.

“We thwarted their intention to fight their way to a House majority,” Kelly Ward Burton, head of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said of the GOP.

The country’s congressional cards won’t be settled for several months. Republicans in some big states like Florida have yet to finalize proposed changes, giving the GOP a last-minute opportunity to seek an edge.

But the picture may become clearer this week as the Democratic-controlled New York state legislature has the opportunity to seize map-drawing power from the state’s bipartisan commission. This would almost certainly dampen the GOP advantage in place since the last redistricting process in 2010.

The maneuvers in state capitals have implications not just for Democrats’ strenuous efforts to maintain a majority in the US House in this year’s midterm elections. This will affect the broader balance of power in Washington and state legislatures for the rest of the decade.

While Republicans say they have achieved their goals so far, they are surprised at how hard Democrats have tried to increase the number of seats their party can win. The GOP has taken a markedly different approach in aiming to shore up the districts of its vulnerable members, turning competitive seats into safe seats.

That’s partly because Republicans already widened the map with aggressive redrawing after the 2010 census, when they controlled more states. Now, as the lines are adjusted to match 2020 census numbers released last year, they are locking in their gains as Democrats take risks to fight back.

In a wave election, Democrats could lose even more seats on the maps they’ve drawn because they cast so few voters aside, analysts say. And, if political coalitions shift in the coming years, the seats Democrats thought were within reach could suddenly disappear.

“Republicans have protected themselves from the tsunamis pretty well,” said Michael Li of the Brennan Center for Justice, which is following the redistricting. “But for Democrats, if it rains a little, their house is flooded.”

The Democratic push comes as the party fought unsuccessfully to ban partisan gerrymandering nationwide – their election bill banning the practice died in the Senate last week during a Republican filibuster. Li said Democrats, however, continue to commit gerrymanders in states they control, sometimes aggressively like in Illinois, other times relatively lightly, like in New Mexico and Oregon.

By contrast, experts say Republicans, who control more states, have heavily committed gerrymanders in places like Texas, North Carolina and Ohio. But the GOP’s Ohio maps were thrown out by the state’s Supreme Court this month, and Democrats hope North Carolina’s High Court will follow suit with districts there, in part to the source of the party’s increased optimism.

The next and greatest opportunity for Democrats is in New York, which will test how much power Democrats are willing to give up to fight gerrymandering. Stating they wanted to eliminate the partisanship of redistricting, Democrats there in 2014 backed a ballot measure to put the process in the hands of a bipartisan commission. But the state legislature can overrule the commission. In 2014, it was split between Democratic and Republican control. Now the Democrats have a super-majority in both chambers.

The New York Legislature has already rejected the commission’s first map attempt, and the committee’s Democrats declared a stalemate on Monday, giving the legislature the chance to draw its own maps.

“Democratic leaders and those on the far left who run the show in Albany are determined to take up this process again to derail the commission and have the party leaders draw the maps in Albany,” said Nick Langworthy, chairman of the New York GOP. “I think they looked at a handful of states to give them a shot at retaining a majority.”

Republicans only need to win five seats in the November election to take control of the US House of Representatives. They began the redistricting cycle by controlling the draw in states with 187 House seats while Democrats controlled only 75.

That means the end result will inevitably favor the GOP, regardless of Democrats’ resistance to fighting back, said Kimbrall Brace, a veteran redistricting consultant. “They always end up putting a Republican flavor on the overall plan,” Brace said.

So far, the GOP has won a handful of seats in the maps that have been finalized, but it’s hard to put a precise number on the number because half of the states have yet to officially adopt the maps. If Democrats are aggressive, for example, they could win four seats in New York and largely wipe out the GOP’s national gains. But then the Florida Republicans could counter with a gerrymander.

Yet Republicans have passed up several opportunities to inflate their margins even further.

In Missouri, some GOP state lawmakers are furious that the legislature is proposing a plan that locks in the status quo rather than try to turn Democratic Representative Emanuel Cleaver’s Kansas City-area seat into the GOP. In Indiana, Republicans did not split the Gary-based district represented by Democratic Rep. Frank Mrvan.

Even in Georgia, where Republicans flooded a seat in suburban Atlanta held by Democratic Representative Lucy McBath with GOP voters, they were reluctant to do the same with her Democratic neighbor, Representative Carolyn Bourdeaux. Instead, they crowded Democratic voters into the Bourdeaux district, making it safer so that no other Republican seats were at risk.

Adam Kincaid, executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said strengthening Republican incumbents was the party’s top priority. He cites Texas, where GOP-drawn maps make the few Democratic seats even more Democratic. That piles more Republican voters into the 23 GOP-held congressional districts and turns them into safe seats. Republicans and their supporters spent $20 million on races in the state in the 2020 cycle. Now, Kincaid said, they can direct the money elsewhere.

“This round went pretty much exactly as we expected – except for the Democrats placing a bigger bet than expected,” Kincaid said.

Unlike the GOP, Democrats have been keen to redistribute their voters, even at the possible expense of their own incumbents.

The starkest example is in Nevada, where party mappers moved liberal voters from Rep. Dina Titus’ once overwhelmingly Democratic Las Vegas district to shore up two neighboring swing seats represented by Democratic Reps. Steven Horsford and Susie Lee. . That may keep all three Democratic seats safe in a good year, but puts them all at risk in a tough Democratic election cycle like the current one.

Burton argued that tactical decisions like those made by Democrats in Nevada and others elsewhere are not gerrymandering, but simply drawing lines to make seats competitive.

“We’re not afraid of voters,” Burton said. “We are not afraid of constituencies where voters decide the outcome.”

Joel Wertheimer, a Democratic civil rights lawyer and analyst for the liberal group Data for Progress, has predicted for months that redistricting will move the typical congressional district from about two percentage points to the right of the national vote to the margin of five. Biden points. Popular vote victory 2020.

He attributes it to a change in mindset among Democrats willing to risk greater losses for a possible better chance of securing the 218 seats needed to control the House.

“I think the math the Democrats are doing is, do we care if we have 180 or 190 seats?” said Wertheimer. “I just want to have the majority.”

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