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Control of US House in the balance as redistricting fights rage

The GOP's House control in 2024 could depend on a few crucial races and ongoing redistricting cases.
Control of US House in the balance as redistricting fights rage
Posted at 4:06 PM, Oct 28, 2023

Every ten years, as the U.S. population shifts, the states redraw the boundaries for congressional maps.

It's a procedure called redistricting. But political reporter David Wasserman, with the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, says that in the 2020s, the process of redrawing the lines has become more combative than ever.

"There have always been court fights over redistricting maps in the middle of decades, but this decade has taken it to a whole new level. And we're seeing more litigation, more revisiting of maps with higher stakes than we have in the past," Wasserman said.

Wasserman calls himself a nerd for maps. His handle on social media is "Redistrict."

"I've always been fascinated by the intersection of politics and geography," Wasserman said.

2022 saw Republicans take back the U.S. House in the first elections after the most recent census. They hold a slim nine-seat advantage. but ongoing court battles provide opportunities for Democrats as well as Republicans.

Here's how redistricting works: The U.S. Census counts the population every ten years and awards House seats based on population. As people move around, states redraw their districts, aiming to place roughly the same number of voters in each one.

So why has redrawing the political map gotten so contentious?

Recent changes to the North Carolina maps demonstrate the stakes involved. One of the most evenly divided swing states, Donald Trump won the state in 2020 by just over one percent. Then, during the 2021 redistricting process, a Republican-led legislature was established.

SEE MORE: Judge: DeSantis' Florida redistricting map unconstitutional

Political handicappers at the website 538 predicted the new districts would result in the election of 10 Republican house members. But the state supreme court struck down that map as unfair.

"Last cycle, we ended up with a map drawn by court-appointed experts that led to a dead-even breakdown in the congressional delegation—seven Democrats and seven Republicans," explains Wasserman.

Meanwhile, in New York, "Democrats are essentially trying to allow the Albany legislature, which has the Democratic supermajority, to try to draw a map that's highly advantageous for Democrats next year that could help Democrats win four or five additional seats in that state alone," says Wasserman.

The case is in the state's appeals court, with a decision expected by December.

Florida could be fruitful for Democrats too. Last year, Republican lawmakers dismantled a majority-black district, and Democrats sued.

"The state has more or less admitted that the Republican map diminished the opportunity of Black voters to elect a candidate of choice," says Wasserman. "So although this is going to eventually be heard by the Florida Supreme Court and there's a question of timing here, it is possible that you will see a Black opportunity district in north Florida restored." 

So a possible gain of a blue seat in the Sunshine State.

SEE MORE: Alabama lawmakers' Friday decision could defy Supreme Court order

And next door in Alabama? Black citizens make up 27% of the population, but only one of the state's congressional districts has a majority Black makeup. The US Supreme Court ordered the state in June to redraw the map; a state panel in September said the new map the legislature drew wasn't sufficiently following that order."

"It's almost like they went through the court order and created a checklist of what we can do wrong and did it," said AL State Rep. Chris England (D).

So another possible win for Democrats there, and according to Wasserman, possible blue pickups in Louisiana and Georgia as well. "The question is, can Republicans appeal these rulings and delay in time to prevent some type of remedial map from taking effect next year?" he says.

Since the North Carolina map that led to seven Democrats and seven Republicans, the State Supreme Court has become more Republican.

The North Carolina legislature passed a map this week that analysts say could return the map to the Republican version and probably eliminate three or four Democrat-held seats, says Wasserman, who dubs the Tarheel state the quote "Republican insurance policy." "That would effectively double their cushion heading into 2024," he adds.

In the closely contested House, those few seats could make all the difference, showing just how powerful nerds for maps, when they're in positions of authority, can be.

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