This fall's voting will affect the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional districts
Every 10 years, the hierarchy of national politics is turned on its head. It's a time when governors and state legislators take control of jobs on Capitol Hill, and when politicians have the ability to choose their voters, rather than the other way around. It's a period of heightened political stakes, when election results affect not just the current election cycle but, potentially, elections over the coming decade. The time for redistricting is near.
With partisanship and gridlock already at a peak in Washington, the two rival political parties each hope to have an edge going into the redistricting process that follows the 2010 census. This advantage, in most states, will depend on who controls the state legislatures, which redraw voting district lines to account for population changes, and who holds veto power as governor. So as Americans head to the polls in November, experts say that they should know that whom they choose for their state seats now could affect who holds congressional seats in the future. "Redistricting determines who's in power," says the Campaign Legal Center's Gerry Hebert. "It's the most political thing that [state] legislatures do."
States redraw their congressional districts at least once every 10 years, following the decennial census, to ensure that each citizen's vote counts as much as the next. This follows the Constitution's "one man, one vote" principle. In theory, redistricting should simply account for population shifts; it nevertheless has evolved into a complex political tool by which the controlling party games the system to try to create significant advantages for its candidates.
Observers recall that after the 2000 census, Republicanshad an edge over Democratsin the redistricting process, which helped them gain a number of congressional seats in the decade's early election cycles. Democrats are more prepared this time around, says Michael Sargeant, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.
Both political parties have several groups committed to strategic aspects of redistricting -- from winning seats in the states' chambers to analyzing population data and anticipating court battles over redrawn district lines. Organizations like the DLCC and its GOP counterpart, the Republican State Leadership Committee, work on behalf of the parties to seek the best chances possible for future election cycles.
According to Tom Bonier, the chief operations officer for the National Committee for an Effective Congress , a Democratic-allied group, redistricting strategists target certain states based on size -- after all, the more total congressional seats, the better -- and the likelihood that their favored party can gain control over at least one of the three components responsible for redistricting, namely, governorship, state Senate, and state House. "It doesn't really matter if you control one of three versus two of three, but the difference between controlling none and one is big," says Bonier. The difference is between getting entirely shut out or having a seat at the table and being able to force a compromise, he says. "Conversely, the difference between controlling two of three and three of three is big, too."
States that stand to gain or lose seats as a result of the census reapportionment will also be more highly targeted since their district lines generally undergo more drastic changes. According to preliminary estimates, more of the typically Democratic states stand to lose seats in redistricting next year than those which tend to vote Republican.
Given those conditions, states with competitive governor's races in 2010 -- such as California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan -- are high on strategists' lists, Bonier says. In California, though, taking control of the state's top seat could be inconsequential if voters pass a ballot proposition in November that would assign redistricting power for congressional districts to a nonpartisan commission. About a dozen states have already adopted similar commissions to create fairer maps.
According to Ed Gillespie, chairman of the RSLC, the 150-seat state House in Texas -- a state which could pick up as many as four new congressional seats due to population growth -- is also very competitive, as Republicans now hold just a four-seat advantage. In Ohio, where analysts estimate a loss of two U.S. House seats in reapportionment, Republicans need to win just four seats in the state House to gain control.
Democrats also have a chance at gaining a veto-proof majority in both of Nevada's chambers, Bonier says, as well as wins in the state House in Indiana and the state Senate in Michigan. To the tally, Sargeant adds Pennsylvania, which now has a split state legislature, and Wisconsin, where Democrats are defending both state chambers.
The payoff for winning state legislatures and governorships in these states could be huge, given the long-term savings that drawing safe congressional seats could bring a party. According to the DLCC, state legislative campaigns require far less cash than what is typically necessary for a competitive House race. Since redistricting generally creates safe House seats for the party in charge, national campaigns won't need to spend as much to keep their congressional incumbents in power.
The battle over redistricting doesn't stop after elections. How effectively each party draws the lines matters most, and both parties have devoted resources to research in this area as well. Strategy tends to vary from state to state. "Some legislatures engage in incumbent protection, others try to maximize the party's gain," says Gillespie.
This round of redistricting is not only more politically charged but has more information than ever to guide mappers. Experts can use powerful software to analyze voter data block by block to assess the political impact of alternative district boundaries. "We've never had data and technology more sophisticated than we have now," says Hebert, of the Campaign Legal Center. "It's a science and an art as well. If you look at some of the districts drawn, [Leonardo] da Vinci couldn't be more creative."
Voters have power in the process not only by their votes for state legislature and governor but also by remaining involved and vocal with their state leaders once the lines are drawn, says Kareem Crayton, associate law professor at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Active citizens can back their party in challenging new district lines in courts, which ultimately decide the final maps in states where redistricting is especially contested.
According to former Virginia Rep. Tom Davis, who oversaw Republican redistricting efforts in 2000 as chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the national political atmosphere of the midterm year will be reflected in local politics, as many voters typically will vote along party lines, even if they don't follow their local races as closely as the more publicized statewide contests. "There's a national wave that could help Republicans," Davis says. Gillespie already predicts that his party, the GOP, will pick up at least 10 state chambers in November.
Though districts drawn next year will likely remain the same until 2021, voters don't necessarily stay frozen, either in their locations or in terms of their political views. Top issues and population patterns evolve. "Redistricting will help you maybe for the first two cycles," says Davis. "After that, people start moving back and forth, and issues change. People who used to vote Republican all of a sudden start voting Democratic or vice versa. In redistricting, you gotta look ahead."
Available at Amazon.com:
Read the latest political news.
- The Next Hoover
- Obama Targets Bush's Tax Cuts for the Rich
- Another Round of Class Warfare?
- Send in the Clowns
- Obama Could Use Some Clintonesque Salesmanship
- Glenn Beck, President Obama & the Hunger for Purpose in Times of Transition
- Glenn Beck-A-Palooza
- Glenn Beck and His War on Christians
- Glenn Beck to Obama: Heretic!
- With Apologies to Cole Porter
- Glenn Beck's Ecumenical Moment
- Glenn Beck: What Revival Looks Like
- Shock Prediction: GOP to Take House Maybe Senate in 2010 Election
- 2010 Elections: October Surprises
- Obama Going Back to Basics
- The 'Conservative' Reagan and Other Political Myths Dispelled
- The GOP and Tea Party Declare War on the Constitution
- Redistricting Heightens National Political Stakes for State Races
- What Does Generic Republican v. Democrat Ballot Say About Election 2010?
- Dick Armey Explains the Tea Party Movement
- The Senator from Agribusiness
- Daley and Bush Parallel Lives
- An Evening with Arne Duncan
- Out of the Media Muck an Idiot Emerges
- Dilemma of the Open Megaphone
- Republican Party Platform: Welfare for the Rich
- Lower Expectations
- 2010 Election Focusing on Scare Tactics From Both Parties
- 2010 Elections: Year of the Bad Candidates
- 2010 Elections: McCain and Murkowski Primary Results Send Mixed Messages
- 2010 Elections: GM IPO Could Help Democrats
- 2010 Elections: Rich Candidates Pay Millions to Run
- Pro-Arizona Immigration Rhetoric Will Haunt Republicans
- 2010 Elections: More Cloudy Tea Leaves
- Dorsal Fins Surround White House
- John Boehner's Economic Prescription
- Tax Cut Issue Will Impact 2010 Elections and Obama in 2012
- This is Who 'We' Really is, Glenn Beck
- Glenn Beck's Rally: The Big Bust on the Mall
- How to Spread Dumb-ocracy
- 2010 Elections: Let the Lovefest Begin
- Obama's Cronkite Moment?
- Iraq: A Promise Kept?
- Election Day Shocker: 10 Percent Unemployment
- Gingrich and Palin: Twin Towers of Intolerance
- Ground Zero Mosque Madness
- Ground Zero Mosque: Islamophobia? Not Really
- Is the Great Mosque Debate Making Us Stupid?
- Strengthening the Political - Military Relationship
- Beyond Moderates and Militants: Charting a New Course in the Middle East
- Don't Tread on the 14th Amendment
- Focus on Bush Tax Cuts Masks the Real Issue
- Tea Party Terror
- Republicans Hit Obama for Ground Zero Mosque Comments
- Obama's Ground Zero Mosque Mess
- 'Ground Zero Mosque' Controversy Shows America's New Nativism
- Ground Zero Mosque Presidential Paradox
- Lack of Foresight Let 'Ground Zero Mosque' Controversy Balloon
- Please Mr. President, No More Teachable Moments
- Hope, Hate and Frustration
- Republicans Who Could Replace Michael Steele
- Florida's Marco Rubio Tops List of Tea Party Fundraisers
- Card-Carrying Member of the 'Professional Left'
- Memo to America's Middle Class: Obama Is Just Not That Into You
- National Deficit: The Ticking Debt Bomb
- Obama's Wins on Jobs and Healthcare Don't Mean Much to Voters
- Obama Follows Reagan's Campaign Strategy
- Democrats Push Elizabeth Warren as Consumer Watchdog
- Downsizing Defense
- Iraq - Mission Accomplished II
- Constitutional Amendments and Citizenship Rights
- 2010 Elections: Obama's Key Aides Could Help Democrats in 2010 Election
- 2010 Elections: Boehner Preps to Replace Pelosi as Speaker of the House
- 2010 Elections: Low Hispanic Turnout May Hurt Democrats
- Arizona Immigration Ruling Has Little Impact on 2010 Elections
- Obama: Not Your Grandfather's FDR
- What Year Is This?
- Honing the Obama Pitch
- Nostalgia for Buckley et al Is Misplaced
- Sarah Palin, 'Mama Grizzlies,' Carl Jung, and the Power of Archetypes
- Why We Shouldn't Keep the Bush Tax Cut for the Wealthy
- Magical Thinking in Washington
- Wake Up Washington
- The Final Lesson of BP
- Illogical Immigration
- Iran - The Next War
- Obama's Juggling Act in the Middle East
- Let's Preserve Freedom at Ground Zero
- End Poverty: Export Capitalism
- Why Can't Obama Get Anything Done?
- Washington's Crisis Checklist
- Place the Blame Where It Belongs
- What's Keeping President From Picking Best Person to Protect Consumers?
- Immigration Ruling Correct But 'Civil War' Remains
- Administration Lying About Arizona Immigration Law
- Immigration Problem Requires a Federal Solution
- Arizona Ruling May Backfire for Immigrants
- Immigration Reform Requires More Than Getting Tough or Feeling Good
- Republicans Running on Empty
- 2010 Elections: Republican Summer Action Plan: Hit Democrats, Blog, Retweet
- 2010 Elections: It's Obama Vs. Bush for Democrats on the Campaign Trail
- 2010 Elections: Republicans' Agenda Dilemma
- Democrats Focus on GOP Objections to Unemployment Bill
- Tea Party Candidates Raise Big Money for House Races
- 2010 Elections: Incumbents Work Overtime to Raise Campaign Cash
- 2010 Elections: House Candidates Ramp up Spending Ahead of 2010 Election
- Democrats Pushing Campaign Finance Bill Ahead of 2010 Elections
- None Dare Call It ... What?
- Why Are We Beginning to Hate Congress?
- Corrupt or Just Clueless? You Decide
- Lobbying Royalty Celebrate 20 Years
- Congress Must Act Now to Alleviate Child Hunger
- The GOP's Opportunity ... and Challenge
- Bipartisanship on Hold
- Gingrich Blasts Plan for Mosque at Ground Zero
- Build Mosque Near Ground Zero; It's the American Way
- 'Journolist' Affair: School of Journolism
- 'Journolist' Affair Worse Than Clinton Conspiracy
- 'Journolist' Affair: Open Conspiracy No Longer Merely Ajar
- Outsourcing Government
- The Secrecy State
- Unemployment Extension Win for Obama & Democrats
- The Boundless Beneficence of Big Brother
- Financial Reform Another Talking Point for Obama & Democrats
- New Finance Bill: Mountain of Legislative Paper; Molehill of Reform
- Obama and Big Business Trade Blame on the Economy
- The New Racial Mess
- Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Post-Racial America
- Chewing Up the Innocent While Spewing Racism
- Shirley Sherrod - Perils of the 24/7 News Cycle
- Breitbart's Bum Story
- Bad Boy of Pseudo-Journalism Exposes Himself
- 2010 Elections: Tea Party Dilemma
- A Tea House Divided
- Republicans Are Turning Against the Afghanistan War
- Chuck Schumer Is Most Active Member of Congress
- Financial Reform: Obama's Sales Challenge
Redistricting Heightens National Political Stakes for State Races | Politics
(c) 2010 U.S. News & World Report