President-elect Joe Biden made major inroads into traditionally Republican territory. But Democratic wins in Arizona and Georgia likely won’t extend to the next round of political battle: the redistricting process for House seats heading into the 2022 elections.
Though Biden soundly beat President Trump to claim the White House, Democratic victories didn’t extend to key state legislatures, where lawmakers will draw new districts for Congress lasting a decade. Beyond Georgia and Arizona, Democrats’ efforts to flip legislative chambers in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and elsewhere fell flat.
Meanwhile, the 2020 census is expected to result in Democratic-controlled states like California losing congressional seats and Republican-controlled states gaining them.
That means the president-elect’s administration won’t only face an initial challenge in a possible Republican Senate and a House with a narrower Democratic majority, but Republicans are likely to have an advantage in the 2022 midterm elections. House Democrats may only end up with a slim 222-213 House majority when final races are called. And a change to Republican control would severely hamper Biden’s legislative priorities in the second half of his presidential term.
Former Attorney General Eric Holder, who is now chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, addressed the challenge that Democrats face with redistricting in an email just after the election.
“The last decade of targeted voter suppression efforts and gerrymandering has given an advantage to conservatives going into the 2021 redistricting process,” Holder said in a fundraising email. “In some states, our grassroots movement will be the last line of defense to achieving fair maps.”
Arizona’s redistricting system is less affected by political dynamics than other states because it uses a commission system to draw legislative districts, with two members appointed by Republicans, two members appointed by Democrats, and a fifth nonpartisan member chosen by the other four.
Texas, a longtime white whale for Democrats, is expected to gain two or three congressional seats, reflecting rapid population growth in the state. Biden somewhat improved on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 performance, trailing Trump by 5 points rather than nine. Still, not only did Democrats make no gains in congressional seats, but the state legislature remains under Republican control, which could result in increasing Republican advantage in the state’s congressional delegation.
Texas’s state legislature there has long shown a willingness to draw districts with partisan results. Though the state is frequently challenged in court over whether its districts comply with the Voting Rights Act, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that gerrymandering on the basis of partisanship is a political question rather than a legal one.
Biden won Georgia by a narrow 12,670-vote margin out of more than 4.9 million cast, drastically improving on Clinton, who lost Georgia by 5 points in 2016. But Republicans retained control of the state legislature, which has control over drawing districts. Gov. Brian Kemp, who has veto power over the new map, is also a Republican.
While the state is not expected to add or lose any seats from its 14-person U.S. House delegation, an aggressive Republican redraw could tilt one or two districts around the Atlanta area into more solidly Republican territory.
The Democrats and Biden also in 2020 unsuccessfully targeted Ohio. Biden lost Ohio to Trump by 8 points, about the same margin that Clinton lost by in 2016.
Ohio Republicans also keep control of its state legislature and even slightly expanded their majority in the state House, boding well for the party as it gets the first shot at drawing congressional districts. The state is likely to lose a congressional district, meaning that districts could be drawn in such a way that eliminates a Democratic seat.
But Ohio has a stricter process than other states, though, requiring three-fifths from each chamber, including a majority of Republicans and Democrats, to approve the map. If an agreement on the map can’t be reached, a state redistricting commission gets involved.