The next round of legislative redistricting won’t take place until after the 2020 elections, but the battle to reshape the nation’s political boundaries begins in 2014.
The vast majority of states have legislatures draw their boundaries, yet those lines are subject to gubernatorial approval, like most legislation. And the fact is, the vast majority of incumbent governors get reelected. Thus, whoever wins in 2014 will be well placed to win in the 2018 elections, and will likely be sitting in office when it comes time to draw new lines in 2021.
• GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost Florida by a sliver in 2012, yet Republicans hold 17 of 27 seats in this evenly divided state.
• Romney lost Michigan by 9.5 points, yet Republicans hold nine of its 14 congressional districts.
• Romney won North Carolina by 2 points, yet Republicans hold nine of 13 seats.
• Romney lost Ohio by 3 points, yet Republicans hold 12 of 16 seats.
• Romney lost Pennsylvania by 5.5 points, yet Republicans hold 13 of 18 seats.
• Romney lost Virginia by four points, yet Republicans hold eight of 11 seats.
• Romney lost Wisconsin by 6 points, yet Republicans hold five of its eight seats.
As a result of gerrymandering in these and other states, Democrats won just 46 percent of House seats in 2012, despite winning the House national popular vote by a point. In fact, if the states above all had (still unrepresentative) 50-50 delegations, Democrats would gain 19-20 seats — more than the 17 seats they need for a majority. And really, given Democratic advantages in most of those states, it shouldn’t even be 50-50.
And that’s just at the federal level. The same dynamic is at play in state legislatures all around the country, giving Republicans far more political power than they have earned, considering their popular support. In fact, it’s one of the best ways, along with voter disenfranchisement, that Republicans can maintain political power in the face of their demographic decline.
And that’s why the 2014 cycle is so important. For Democrats seeking fairer lines, winning governorships in critical big states will be imperative, so that the party is running incumbents for reelection in the critical 2018 cycle.
In a redistricting debate, two options emerge: either the governor and (gerrymandered) legislature work out lines that are representative of the state’s population, or they deadlock and the task falls to the judiciary. And as the numbers above show, a fair, judge-written map would inevitably favor Democrats the vast majority of the time.
It seems kind of absurd to think that 2014 elections in states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will have such a dramatic effect at the nation’s political landscape well into the 2020s. But the math doesn’t lie, and the fact that eight-year gubernatorial terms will run through the next redistricting cycle means that battle starts now.
Moulitsas is the publisher and founder of Daily Kos (dailykos.com)