Legislative Redistricting Fights Impacting the Future of Political Parties

Legislative redistricting has never been easy.  Often state legislators or their political supporters are asked to redraw their own legislative districts to better reflect new population trends generated by the census every ten years. Asking legislators to redraw their own districts is like asking taxpayers to decide how much in taxes they should pay.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, redistricting, the process of drawing electoral district boundaries, takes place in the United States following the completion of each decennial census, to account for population shifts.  The rules for redistricting vary from state to state, but all states draw new legislative maps either in the state legislature, in redistricting commissions, or through some combination of the two.  Ballotopedia notes for Congressional redistricting, in 33 states, state legislatures play the dominant role in congressional redistricting. In eight states, commissions draw congressional district lines. In two states, hybrid systems are used, in which the legislatures share redistricting authority with commissions. The remaining states comprise one congressional district each, rendering redistricting unnecessary.  For State legislative redistricting: In 33 states, state legislatures play the dominant role in state legislative redistricting. Commissions draw state legislative district lines in 14 states. In three states, hybrid systems are used.

As this process has evolved over the years new battle lines are getting drawn, including the injection of the judicial branch into the discussion and other efforts to tilt the process one way or the other. For example, in Ohio, Republican Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor side with minority party Democrats on the Ohio Supreme Court to reject two legislative maps drawn by a commission newly created by voters to redraw legislative lines. In Missouri, the General Assembly has shut down its state Senate as opponents of the House plan launched a filibuster.  Court battles are on-going in North Carolina and other regions. 

Why all the legal and political battles? The political makeup of legislative districts can play a major role in determining which political party wins the seat in an election. While great candidates, money and hard work can impact legislative races, generally, Democratic leaning legislative districts elect Democrats.  Legislative districts also matter because some districts can be so heavily filled with one party that the General Election really does not matter. Those seats are chosen by the voters in a political party in a Primary Election.  Concerns exist that these legislators are less willing to work on a bi-partisan basis as their election is only threatened if they are perceived to be too close to the other party.

Redrawing legislative districts to create more competitive districts may also have an unintended consequence. Look at Ohio.  The Ohio Supreme Court is pushing hard for legislative districts to be drawn that provide a proportional representation for the districts as compared to their voter history with the goal of reducing Republican supermajorities to slim majorities closer to a 54-45 margin in the Ohio House of Representatives and 18-15 majority in the Ohio Senate.  The impact on public policy this will likely have is the election of fewer Republicans in suburban communities and the consolidation of conservatives in rural communities. Suburban Republicans may become as rare as a Republican U.S. Senator from the Northeast or California.  The result may well be more anti-mask, vaccine and other public policy good government advocates support.  The law of unintended consequences can create unanticipated results and they may well be the result of legislative redistricting reform.