Election 2020

Today's Gubernatorial, Statehouse Races Will Set the Table for Redistricting Fights

Republicans rode an electoral wave in 2010 and used that perch to draw favorable congressional districts in many states. Will Democrats have the same opportunity after this year?


All elections are about power—and some shifts in political power are felt for years.

Such was the case 10 years ago, when Republicans rode an electoral tsunami that gave the party its largest share of state legislative seats since the 1920s. That election preceded the once-per-decade redrawing of legislative and congressional districts, and Republicans used their time in the catbird seat to carve out favorable political geography for themselves. Although some of those district maps were eventually overturned by courts and redrawn after yearslong legal battles, Republican gains at the state level in the 2010 election undeniably shaped the country's political landscape for the past decade.

What the next decade looks like will be decided today.

There are 5,876 state legislative races being conducted on Tuesday—nearly 80 percent of all statehouse seats in the country—and 11 states will elect a governor as well. Beyond the redistricting power, there are significant policy stakes: the National Conference for State Legislature (NCSL), a nonpartisan group that tracks state political action, notes that Congress has passed 163 bills since January 2019 while states have enacted 15,000 new laws.

Democrats have clawed back some of what they lost in 2010, but NCSL data show that Republicans still hold 52 percent of America's legislative seats and control 59 of the 98 partisan chambers in statehouses. (Nebraska has a unicameral legislature that is technically nonpartisan, but Republicans have an unofficial majority there too.)

A big night for Democrats could see them vault into power in some places where they haven't had a majority for a long time. In Pennsylvania, the state that seems to be at the center of so much of this election, Democrats need to flip nine House seats and four Senate seats to take control of the legislature ahead of redistricting. Pennsylvania's Senate hasn't had a Democratic majority since 1980, making it a good marker for judging the strength of this year's possible "blue wave."

That's the type of historical result Democrats will have to achieve if they want to match the Republican shellacking of 2010, when the GOP swung control of an incredible 21 legislative chambers.

Democrats are eyeing potential swings of power in both chambers in Arizona, where Republicans enter the election with a two-seat majority in the state House and a three-seat edge in the state Senate. Democrats haven't held either chamber in Arizona in more than 40 years. Republicans are also playing defense in the Michigan state House, where they have a seven-seat advantage, and in the Minnesota state Senate, where they hold a three-seat majority.

A few gubernatorial contests could see power shift as well, though for the most part these races are less competitive this year. Incumbent Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, is likely to face a close contest in North Carolina, and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, could too. Other than that, the only interesting race is Montana's incumbent-less gubernatorial contest, which seems wide open.

But even if Democrats can match the Republican wave of 2010, their power to redraw districts will be blunted, in part, by Democratic-led efforts to rein-in partisan redistricting during the past decade.

At least 114 congressional seats will be subject to redistricting commissions in 2021, according to the Cook Political Report. Those commissions operate differently in various states and have a mixed record when it comes to thwarting partisan outcomes, but they certainly remove a degree of power from lawmakers' hands. The number of congressional districts drawn by a commission could rise to 125 if Virginia voters approve a ballot initiative on Tuesday that would create such a commission.

There are another 58 congressional districts in three key states—Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania—where the next set of congressional maps will be subject to newly created standards set by state courts. And there are seven congressional districts that can't be gerrymandered because they are at-large districts covering the whole state.

That still leaves 245 seats in Congress—a little more than half—for which state legislators will have outsized control. All eyes are understandably on the top-of-the-ticket race between President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden, but the outcome of statehouse races might have more lasting consequences.

NEXT: Carbon Pricing Is a Possible Alternative to Partisan Bickering Over Climate Change

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  1. in other election news, Seattle mulls decriminalizing criminal acts committed by poor people. Check the ‘povery box’ and poof, your misdeameanor offences go away.

    “The reality is that, often, misdemeanor courts sweep people in, they’re high-volume and often the people who are charged don’t really understand what’s happening to them,” said Boruchowitz, now director of the Seattle University School of Law’s Defender Initiative.

    A proposal introduced during Seattle City Council’s budget deliberations is aimed to dramatically change that. The proposal would allow judges and juries the option to dismiss misdemeanor crimes that were committed because of poverty or while a person was experiencing symptoms of a mental illness or substance-use disorder.
    “I think when you’re talking about folks who are committing offenses to survive or because of underlying mental-health or substance-use issues, incarceration does not have the deterrent effect people believe it has,” Herbold said.

    While the idea would likely have widespread effect, defenders say it wouldn’t mean blanket immunity from punishment, as critics have suggested.

    Fun fact, the data shows that releasing people without charge has zero fucking deterrent effect.

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    2. I do think there’s too much reliance on punishment as an outcome of law — as well as law as an outcome of punishment, if you know what I mean.

  2. You still believe that claptrap and malarkey about republicans? So then how did they lose in 2018? Yeah no explanation huh. The fact is republicans rode a wave of anti Obamacare and lefties cannot being themselves to admit how flawed it was. But if myths about voter suppression and gerrymandering keep you off the ledge don’t let me stop you.

    1. Republicans lost the House because RINOs were getting called out for being too Democrat friendly. Lefties in Blue states couldnt get rid of Trump so they got rid of RINOs.

      Now the Census 2020 will take House seats from Blue states and give them to Red states making up for any lost seats in 2018. Plus, some House districts might go back Red after voters know how Communist Democrats have become.

      1. Seats going from red states to blue states doesn’t necessarily mean the seats themselves will be going from Democrat to Republican. For example IL is likely to lose a seat, but they will redistrict to ensure its a Republican that loses their seat, not a Democrat. Presumably NY and CA will be doing the same

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  3. Bear in mind that in Michigan redistricting authority was taken away from the legislature in 2018. It is now given to a theoretically bipartisan, utterly unaccountable committee selected from ordinary citizens (re: activists) in a nontransperant fashion.

    Pennsylvania’s redistricting power has usurped by its leftwing partisan Supreme Court.

    1. “Pennsylvania’s redistricting power has usurped by its leftwing partisan Supreme Court.”

      Republicans used gerrymandering to take 13 of 18 House seats with a minority of the votes. Now Democrats will control the redistricting process — imagine how many seats Democrats could take with a majority!

      Republicans will still be part of the process, though. They get to whine and whimper as much as they want.

      1. The Democrats gerrymandered all the time. Gerrymandering did not become a moral crisis until they also started losing state legislatures regularly.

  4. Is there an opening at Vox that ENB and Boehm are auditioning for? Seriously, every day it’s TDS and anti-GOP drivel from these two.

    1. More likely it’s part of the shady attempt to undermine the credibility and reach of actual libertarian viewpoints.

    2. I know, right? It’s every true libertarian’s duty to carry water for Republicans!

  5. US election 2020.How Trump has changed the world America’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was a major factor – only 15% of respondents felt the US had handled the virus well, according to figures from July and August…Read more

  6. MAGA 2020

    1. Still predicting another red wave, bigot?

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        Republicans gain seats in US Senate.
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  7. Montana is not that wide open. Gianforte had led in every poll but one, in which it is tied. The Democrat is the Lt. Governor to Bullock, who isn’t very popular and looks like he (Bullock), will lose to Daines. Additionally, the Republicans look poised to sweep all other state-wide races and the Presidency. There is a major 2A, gun rights amendment on the ballot and marijuana legalization (the conservatives are split about 50-50 on support so this won’t depress conservative voters, whereas the gun rights amendment should drive them to the polls). The Democratic gubernatorial nominee will need unprecedented voter turnout on the reservations, Helena, Bozeman, Missoula and Butte to offset losses in rural Montana. Billings leans blue but is still fairly evenly split. Reservation turn out tends to be hit and miss, additionally most reservations are under some form of lockdown as COVID cases are much higher on the reservations than elsewhere. Surprisingly, tribal turn out decreases with mail in ballots, and most reservation counties have opted for mail in ballots. The tribal vote seems to be driven by traditional get out the voting canvassing, so it is not guaranteed that tribal turn out will be high this year.

    1. Interesting to hear how things are on the ground. Hope your right.

  8. Well people on the left expected to run away with this because Biden was up in the polls, but polling methods are no longer reliable. Biden could still win but it’s going to be tight and likely we’ll be waiting until Friday for Pennsylvania results to be finalized………>> USA PART TIME JOB.

  9. I developed what I think is a solution to the redistricting problem some years ago. I know, that makes me sound like a crank but, read on. I call it randomized cake cutting. For those of you who are mathematically inclined, you’ll be familiar with the cake cutting problem. My proposal uses that basic idea and adds randomization. I’ll try to describe it as briefly as possible.

    The simple version assumes two parties though it can work with multiple ones (but that will only happen if Condorcet Voting is adopted). Obviously, there have to be at least two districts, though the more districts there are, the better. The procedure is as follows. In the two party “game”, each party draw up district maps. With computers this this can be done quickly. Once the maps have been drawn up a “fair” randomizer (I like a 10-sided die) is rolled by a representative from each party. The winner gets to pick the map used on the 1st round and the loser gets to pick one district which is “frozen”. In the two district example, the remaining district goes to the other party. Of course, in the two district example the map drawer has a big advantage – possibly draw a map that gives the other party a hobson’s choice. However, the other party can draw a map that allows it to guarantee the two parties will each get a district.

    The more districts there are, the more rounds and you can probably guarantee a fair outcome with 4 or more districts. Basically there will be one less round of the the map drawing/selecting than the number of districts being selected.

    There is no such thing as an independent commission – no one can really be trusts. Neither can judges. Turning it into a randomized game make things about as fair as possible.

    There are some possible variants of the selection process that could be used when large numbers of districts are selected but there is no reason by their couldn’t be sequential rounds.

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