Redistricting Looms Over GOP Efforts to Take Back Statehouses
With midterms fast approaching, most eyes are trained towards Congress and the question of which party will grab a majority of seats. But, as the New York Times points out today, the battle for statehouses around the country may have a far greater lasting effect.
That’s because Republicans, if they manage to seize control of a number of state legislatures and a majority of governor seats in the fall (as they are predicted to do), will have the unique opportunity of presiding over the once-a-decade redistricting process that is slated to occur next year after the results of the 2010 census are finalized. While redistricting is nominally a nonpartisan process, evidence from the past suggests that, in practice, it is anything but:
Consider Pennsylvania. After population changes in the 2000 census cost the state two of its Congressional seats, the state’s Republican governor and legislature set new, irregularly shaped districts favoring Republicans, setting off a legal battle that went to the United States Supreme Court, which upheld the new districts. Since then, Democrats have taken control of the state’s House and its governorship.
Now, on the eve of redistricting, when the state is likely to lose another Congressional seat, the Democratic hold is looking tenuous. The governor, Edward G. Rendell, must leave office because of term limits, and the Republican nominee has been leading in polls in the race to succeed him.
Over at FiveThirtyEight, Nate Silver predicts that Republicans could be on track to control approximately 30 governor seats, reversing a situation in which 26 seats are currently held by Democrats, 23 by Republicans, and 1 by an Independent. Redistricting, he notes, is always a contentious process, but especially in states expected to lose seats. With fewer seats, during the next election, the surplus of incumbents must compete against each other to stay in office. Further compounding Democrats’ problems is the fact that among the states that are expected to lose seats (like Iowa, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania), a Republican nominee for governor is considered a clear favorite in all of them.