Not only are Republicans frantically redrawing lines to increase their advantage; they’re doing it in a way that in place after place ensures that the results of every election will be clear long before any candidates debate issues or voters contemplate their choices.
We have to be clear about one important thing: The key victim here is not the Democratic Party, though its prospects will suffer. The voters are the victims.
This is not ordinary partisan jockeying. It has been taken to an entirely new level, as a Republican campaign more than a decade in the making comes to fruition. Its goal is not merely to give Republicans an advantage in close elections. Its goal is to make elections irrelevant, so that no matter what the voters want, Republicans always stay in power.
A few highlights:
- In Texas, Republicans essentially eliminated electoral competition. Only one of the state’s 38 congressional districts will be competitive under the new map; 13 will be safely Democratic, and 24 will be safely Republican. If recent trends persist, the majority of the state’s voters will be voting for Democrats within a few years, but Republicans will still control nearly two-thirds of the House seats.
- In North Carolina, one of the most closely divided states in the country, Republicans drew maps that created 10 GOP seats, just three Democratic seats and one competitive seat.
- In Georgia, where Democrats recently won the presidential contest and two Senate races, state Republicans just released a map that would give them control of nine of the state’s 14 congressional districts. They essentially made it impossible for Rep. Lucy McBath, a prominent Black Democrat, to win reelection.
- In Utah, legislators rejected a map drawn by an independent commission in favor of one that divides Salt Lake County, which Joe Biden won, among four districts so that all will be Republican.
- In perhaps the most egregious gerrymander of all, Republicans in the Ohio legislature are pushing through a new map that will ensure that as many as 13 of the state’s 15 congressional seats will be held by Republicans.
All these gerrymanders are being duplicated in maps for state legislatures. This is a key part of the system: If Republicans can draw state legislative lines that make it impossible for Democrats to gain power, they can then use control of the legislature to keep drawing its lines and those of congressional districts to maintain their grip.
Let’s consider Ohio in detail. A swing state that leans slightly Republican, it has one Democratic and one Republican senator, and over the past three presidential elections, the Democratic candidate has averaged 46 percent of the vote there. Twice in the past decade, the state’s voters passed initiatives to rein in gerrymandering, but Republicans have found loopholes that allowed them to lock in control of the state no matter what voters actually want.
In September, the state’s GOP-controlled redistricting commission approved state legislative maps that will guarantee the GOP a veto-proof supermajority in both houses, putting even a future Democratic governor at the mercy of the Republican legislature. Top it off with the incredible 13-to-two congressional gerrymander, and you have a state where Democrats are nearly half the electorate but have no power — and virtually no chance of ever gaining power.
That is precisely the point: to make elections irrelevant and eliminate the voters’ ability to choose their leaders.
With each new round of redistricting, the House moves closer and closer to being like the Senate, where the way lines are drawn (in the Senate’s case, state lines) ensures that even when Democrats have much more support among the electorate, Republicans will either win outright or come close enough that any period of Democratic control will be brief.
It’s happening at all levels, including ones you’ll rarely hear about on the national news: Wherever they can, Republicans are taking representation away from liberal voters — especially Black voters — and making sure Republicans keep control.
In a few states, Democrats are likely to enact their own gerrymanders, especially Illinois and New York. But they won’t come close to overcoming the advantage Republicans are giving themselves. And there’s a key difference between the two parties here: Where they have gotten power in recent years, Democrats have usually pushed to create independent commissions to draw district lines, while where they rule, Republicans have kept redistricting power firmly in their hands.
Much coverage of gerrymandering talks about it in terms of which side is “winning” and which side is “losing,” which frames it as a game. But games are supposed to be run according to fair rules that apply equally to everyone.
This is not a game. It undermines everything the American system of democracy is supposed to be about. And if it works the way Republicans want, you won’t be able to do anything about it.