A month after the release of 2020 Census data, mapmakers in a handful of states have published proposals for new congressional districts. The plans, which could change substantially before final approval, provide an early look at the redistricting battles unfolding in state capitals that could help Republicans retake control of the U.S. House in 2022 and will ultimately shape the country’s political landscape for the next decade.
Oregon Democrats imagine five favorable seats
One of six states to gain a congressional seat because of its above-average population growth over the past decade, Oregon will have six congressional districts beginning in 2022. Both Democrats and Republicans released proposals, highlighting the ways mapmakers can shift district boundaries to gain a political advantage.
A Washington Post analysis of the proposals, based on precinct results from the 2020 presidential election, suggests the Democratic plan would probably make it harder for Republicans to compete in the more-population-dense districts in the west. Republicans, by contrast, would shrink Democratic strongholds around Portland and create two highly competitive swing districts along the coast.
In a state where Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 16 percentage points in the 2020 presidential election, Democrats enjoy a majority in the state legislature that will vote on the new congressional maps.
Analyzing competing proposals helps reveal parties’ preferences in a way that is impossible in states where only one redistricting plan is proposed, said Douglas Spencer, an associate law professor at the University of Colorado who runs the website All About Redistricting.
“If you look at the Oregon map, obviously the Democrats have a strategy of putting people in safe districts: ‘We’ll take ours, you take yours.’ And Republicans are like, ‘Hey, let’s make it more competitive everywhere so that we can maybe get a play in the western part of the state,’” Spencer said.
Republicans would cut the competition in Indiana’s 5th
In Indiana, the Republican-controlled state legislature Tuesday released its plan for the state’s nine congressional districts. The plan would turn the state’s most competitive district into a Republican stronghold, a Post analysis shows.
The 5th District, north of Indianapolis, would shift eastward, transforming from a district where Trump beat Biden by about 2 percentage points into one in which Trump would have won by about 16. In April, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put the 5th District on its list of competitive districts to target, but the proposed new boundaries would make it harder for a Democratic candidate to challenge incumbent Rep. Victoria Spartz (R).
None of the other eight districts would undergo a substantial political shift, easing Democrats’ fear that Republicans would redraw the northwestern 1st District to jeopardize Rep. Frank J. Mrvan’s (D) reelection chances.
“We pulled together all the data along with public input to draw fair maps that account for shifts in population over the years,” said state Rep. Greg Steuerwald (R).
Indiana House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta, meanwhile, condemned the plan, saying in a statement shared with The Post that “any map drawn with the assistance of high-priced D.C. consultants, using advanced political and consumer data points, will benefit the Indiana GOP — not Hoosier voters.”
The Republican-controlled state legislature ultimately controls the maps, which could still undergo substantial changes before final approval.
“We’re just getting started,” Michael Li, a senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice who works on redistricting, said of the proposals. “They’re just plans,” he added. “They’re good discussion points.”
Colorado commission weighs 3rd District, Latino voters
Like Oregon, Colorado gained a congressional seat on the strength of its population growth; but unlike Oregon, the Democrats who control the legislature are powerless to draw politically advantageous maps. Instead, responsibility for drawing new congressional districts rests with an independent commission, a practice embraced by reformers and now in place in seven states.
The commission has published two plans since 2020 Census data was released. The first would draw a horizontal line through conservative Rep. Lauren Boebert’s 3rd District, where voters preferred Trump by more than five percentage points, and split it into a safely Democratic 2nd District in the northwest and a possibly more competitive 3rd District won by Trump in the southwest. The latest plan, released Wednesday, is probably better for Boebert, turning the 3rd District into one that would have gone for Trump by almost nine points.
Both of the plans would also create a new 8th District that would have the largest share of Latino voters of any district in the state, according to a Post analysis of census data. That could be a nod to the Latino community’s vocal disapproval of an earlier proposal that the commission published even before the census data was released, Spencer said.
That preliminary plan would have created a new district consisting of 32 percent Latino voters, while both of the plans published after the census data release would have a higher share at 38 percent.
The Colorado constitution requires the redistricting commission to avoid splitting up “key communities of interest” that can “include racial, ethnic, and language minority groups.”
Early map proposals have also been released in Maryland, Nebraska and New York, but all may change after the legislatures debate their merits and members of the public and interest groups share their feedback.
Ted Mellnik contributed to this report.