Gerrymandering is rising while states are drawing maps for house seats

The North Carolina Republicans are well positioned to win at least two seats in the House at next year’s election – but …

North Carolina Republicans are well positioned to garner at least two seats in Congress in next year’s election – but that’s not because the state is getting redder.

The state remains an eternal battleground, tightly divided between Democrats and Republicans in elections. In the last presidential election, Republican Donald Trump won by just over 1 percentage point – the narrowest margin since Barack Obama barely won the state in 2008.

But last week, the GOP-controlled legislature completed maps that redraw congressional district boundaries and divide Democratic voters into cities to dilute their votes. The new plan took the number of GOP-prone districts from eight to 10 in the state. Republicans even have a chance to win an eleventh.

North Carolina’s plan received immediate criticism for its aggressive approach, but it is hardly alone. Experts and lawmakers who track the redistribution process once a year see a cycle of supercharged gerrymandering. With fewer legal constraints and increased political efforts, both Democrats and Republicans are pushing the boundaries of the tactics that have long been used to pull districts to maximum party political advantage, often at the expense of community unity or racial representation.

“In the absence of reforms, gerrymandering has generally been even worse than in 2010 than in the last round,” said Chris Warshaw, a political scientist at George Washington University who has analyzed decades of map redistribution in U.S. states.

Republicans dominated redistribution over the past decade, helping them build a greater political advantage in more states than both parties had in the past 50 years.

Just three months into the card-making process, it’s too early to know which party will come out on top. Republicans need a net gain of just five seats to take control of the US House and effectively freeze President Joe Biden’s agenda on climate change, the economy and other issues.

But Republicans’ potential three-seat net gain in North Carolina could be completely nullified in Illinois. Democrats, who control the Legislative Assembly, have passed a map with lines winding serpentine across the state to capture Democratic voters and refer Republicans to a few districts.

In the 13 states that have so far adopted new congressional cards, the cumulative effect is essentially a wash for Republicans and Democrats, leaving only a few districts. That may change in the coming weeks as Republican-controlled legislatures consider proposed cards in Georgia, New Hampshire and Ohio that target Democratic seats.

Republicans in Ohio have taken a particularly ambitious approach and proposed a card that could leave Democrats with only two seats out of 15 in a state that Trump won by 8 percentage points.

Gerrymandering is a practice almost as old as the country in which politicians draw district lines to “crack” opposing voters between multiple districts or “pack” them into a single one to restrict competition elsewhere. At its extreme, gerrymandering can deprive community representatives of their interests and lead to elections that reward candidates who appeal to the far left or right – making compromise difficult in Congress.

While both parties have gone wrong, Republicans these days have more options. The GOP controls the line drawing process in states representing 187 home seats compared to 75 for Democrats. The rest of the states use either independent commissions, have shared government control or only one congressional seat.

“Across the board, you see Republican gerrymander,” said Kelly Ward Burton, executive director of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, which oversees the redistricting of the Democratic Party. Burton did not admit that Illinois’ card was a gerrymander, but argued that a single state should not propose equivalence between the parties.

“They’re on a power grab for Congress all decade,” Burton said of the GOP.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who is leading the Democrats’ efforts, has called on several states to use redistribution commissions, and a Democratic election proposal that has stalled in the Senate would give them a mandate for the entire country. Democratically controlled states like Colorado and Virginia recently passed commissions, prompting some in the party to worry about giving up its ability to discourage Republicans.

Still, Democrats have shown themselves happy to give gerrymander when they can. After a power-sharing agreement with the Republicans in Oregon stalled, Democrats quickly drew the state’s congressional card so that all but one of its six districts leaned forward. In Illinois, Democrats could get three seats out of a map that has drawn widespread criticism for being a gerrymander.

n Maryland, Democrats are considering a proposal that would make it easier for a Democrat to oust the state’s only Republican congressman, Rep. Andy Harris.

The legal landscape has changed since 2010 to make it harder to challenge gerrymanders. Although it is still illegal to use cards to reduce the power of specific racial or ethnic groups, the Conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that more states should no longer run cards from the U.S. Department of Justice to confirm that they are not unfair. towards minority populations. as required by section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court also ruled that partisan gerrymanders could not be overturned by federal courts.

“Between the loss of Section 5 and the marked free-for-all of partisan gerrymandering in federal courts, it’s much more challenging,” said Allison Riggs, chief attorney for voting rights in the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is suing North Carolina for block their new cards.

Newly approved convention cards in Indiana, Arkansas, and Alabama all retain an existing Republican advantage. Of the total of 17 seats in the U.S. House from these states, only three are occupied by Democrats, and that seems unlikely to change. In Indiana, the new card concentrates the Democrats in an Indianapolis district. In Arkansas, a GOP plan splitting black Democratic voters in Little Rock troubled even the Republican governor, who made it official without his signature. In Alabama, a lawsuit from a Democratic group claims that the card “strategically cracks and packs Alabama’s black community, diluting blacks’ voting power.”

On Wednesday in Utah, the Republican-controlled state legislature approved cards converting a swing district largely in the Salt Lake City suburb into a secure GOP seat, and sent it to Governor Spencer J. Cox for his signature.

Although gerrymanders may not always be controlled by the courts, they are limited by demographics.

In Texas, for example, the U.S. Census Bureau found that the state grew so much that it got two new seats in the House. About 95% of the growth came from residents of blacks, Latinos and Asians, who tend to vote democratically. The GOP-controlled Legislative Assembly drew a map that, without creating new districts dominated by these voters, retained Republican advantages. Civil rights groups have sued to block it.

North Carolina Republicans took a different approach, much like they did ten years ago. In the final cycle, the courts first found that Republican lawmakers packed too many black voters into two congressional districts, and then ruled that they were illegally manipulating the lines on the compensation card to obtain party win.

The new North Carolina map, which adds a 14th district to the state because of its population growth, is already facing a lawsuit. Experts say it is unlikely it would have been approved by the Justice Department if the old rules were in place, especially because it puts a seat in danger of a black congressman, the Democratic Rep. GK Butterfield.

“It raises a boatload of red flags,” said Michael Li, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice.

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, a Republican, says he is convinced the cards “are constitutional in every way.”


Lieb reported from Jefferson City, Missouri, and Riccardi reported from Denver. Associated Press writer Bryan Anderson of Raleigh contributed to this report.

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