Democrats failed to pick up any state legislative chambers this November, and they could face the consequences of that for the next decade.
In many states, it’s up to politicians in state legislatures to do that. Republicans controlled the mapmaking process in most states after a stellar 2010 election and were able to draw state and congressional districts that made it harder for Democrats to regain power at all levels. After a stronger-than-expected performance this November, Republicans will control map drawing in a majority of chambers next year, too, although to a slightly lesser degree.
Here are some of the states where Democrats still have a foot in the door in redistricting despite their poor 2020 election — and states where they won’t but could really use one.
States where Democrats have a foot in the door
Michigan is one of a growing number of states with an independent redistricting commission. Voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2018 to assign the map-drawing duties to a group of citizens rather than leave it to politicians.
But some Michigan Republicans have tried to argue that the commission is unconstitutional and want to defund it. So Democrats wanted to win even more control of state government to brace for the political fight they know is coming over these maps, no matter who draws them.
They tried this November to flip the Michigan state House (the state Senate is so far in Republican control it wasn’t in contention for them.) But they didn’t. They’ll still have the governor’s mansion to push back on any GOP-led changes to the independent commission.
Still, Democrats are hopeful that the independent commission will draw fairer lines, and then they’ll have a new map for state and congressional districts in time for 2022 elections.
Like Michigan, Pennsylvania is a swing state with divided control: a Democratic governor and Republican legislature. Democrats had hoped to flip the state House — and maybe the state Senate in a really good year — but didn’t flip either.
Still, Democrats may have more of a cushion here than in other states. Pennsylvania had been known as one of the most extremely gerrymandered states until 2018, when the state Supreme Court declared GOP maps unconstitutional because they were so partisan and forced the drawing of new ones. That played a huge role in helping Democrats win back the majority in Congress in 2018. Democrats are probably hoping that the state court can play a backstop to any map-drawing battles they lose this year.
Democrats control the governor’s mansion and had no hope of trying to get the legislature in their control. But they did manage to stop Republicans from winning a veto-proof majority in the state legislature that would have given the GOP near-absolute control over the mapmaking process.
The likeliest outcome in Wisconsin is that Democrats and Republicans can’t agree on maps, and it gets booted to the courts. That could help Democrats, who tend to believe that the courts order fairer-drawn maps than Republicans would if left to their own devices.
States where Democrats will have no foot in the door — and could really use one
This swing state at the presidential level is dominated by Republicans at the state level, who have controlled the governor’s mansion and state legislature for two decades. And that means Republicans have had control over state and congressional district boundaries for two all-important redistricting opportunities as Florida grows in population and changes in demographics. They are about to start their third. (Some Democrats thought a really strong Democratic wave could have flipped a chamber here, but others never thought it was in play. And no Democratic wave manifested anyway.)
You can see the results of Republican power at the state level on Florida’s congressional delegation. Democrats will control just 11 of Florida’s 27 congressional districts next year, and that’s before Republicans get to draw new maps.
Georgia Democrats proved themselves a force at the presidential and U.S. Senate level this November. (Democrats managed to push two GOP-held Senate seats to runoffs in January. In the battle for the White House, we’re still waiting on results, but Democrats have a chance to win Georgia for the first time in nearly three decades.)
Like Florida, some Democrats were hopeful that a blue tsunami in November had the potential to flip the state House. But that didn’t happen. Which means that like Florida, the state is controlled by Republicans, and they will get to decide state legislative and congressional districts for the next decade.
Democrats picked up zero congressional seats in Texas, despite hoping to pick up several. They had hoped to pick up an entire state legislative chamber, the state House, which would go a long way toward helping House Democrats keep control of Congress by giving them a say in the map-drawing process for this major state. They won’t have such a foot in the door now; the state government remains entirely controlled by Republicans.
Still, Democrats protected about a dozen state legislative incumbents who won in 2018 in tough seats. At least they didn’t go backward in their foothold in the state legislature, one Democrat put it.
Iowa has an independent redistricting commission, but the state legislature has influence over approving those maps. And Democrats are worried that Iowa Republicans could make the map-drawing process more partisan.
Democrats were trying to flip the state House to protect against such changes. They were four seats away from taking control, but instead, Republicans gained six state legislative seats there, strengthening their majority.
The governor of North Carolina will remain a Democrat after November’s elections. But unlike in many other states, he doesn’t have the authority to veto a legislature’s electoral maps. Democrats made it a big priority to try to flip both chambers and ended up flipping neither. Republicans strengthened their majority in the state House and held onto the state Senate.
Ohio voters recently approved a constitutional amendment to try to reduce gerrymandering, but the Republican-controlled state legislature still controls much of the process. Republican state lawmakers also have an opening in the new commission to try to tweak their districts mid-decade.
Democrats wanted to flip the partisan control of the state Supreme Court so they could have power to change Republican-drawn maps via the courts. They ended up falling one seat short.
Kansas has a Democratic governor who could veto maps. But Republicans have a supermajority in the state legislature to override her veto. Democrats tried to break that supermajority in November but weren’t able to.
Correction: North Carolina Republicans only strengthened their majority in one of the state’s two legislative chambers.