The five states yet to draw US House maps
Seven months before a midterm election day that will decide control of a narrowly divided Congress, most states have completed the often contentious, sometimes downright ugly process of drawing new U.S. House district boundaries that will define the political decade ahead.
But in five states that lag behind, legislators and governors have yet to agree on the final contours of a map, and voters still do not know which candidates they will be able to vote for once fast-approaching primaries come around.
Here are the five states where congressional district maps remain unfinished:
FLORIDA — 28 seats
Stung by years of litigation over the last decade, the Republicans who control Florida’s legislature wanted to get through this year’s redistricting process with a minimum of fuss. They proposed a map that would have changed little, with the exception of a newly added Republican-leaning district in the Orlando area.
But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) isn’t ready to give up the chance to pick a fight.
DeSantis has pledged to veto the legislature’s map unless lawmakers agree to dismantle a majority-Black district in Northern Florida, a seat currently held by Rep. Al Lawson (D). DeSantis says the district violates the Voting Rights Act, though critics suspect he sees an opportunity to boost his own conservative credentials.
“This is about Ron wanting to look like a conservative warrior fighting for a conservative map because that’s what conservative activists want,” said Matthew Isbell, a Democratic data analyst in Florida. “Conservative activists were convinced that Florida was going to produce an extremely gerrymandered map for Republicans. Suddenly, when the legislature started producing drafts that were actually balanced, there was this anger that quickly emerged.”
Legislative leaders have already adjourned their session, and they have refused to accede to DeSantis’s demands. But DeSantis holds a powerful tool at his disposal: A line-item veto that he could use to eliminate the pet projects of any legislator who defies him.
The Florida Supreme Court will get a final say over district lines under the state’s fair maps amendment, approved by voters in 2010. All seven justices are Republican appointees, three of whom were put on the court by DeSantis.
But even if he doesn’t win, DeSantis has already made a point to the activist class — both in his state and across the country.
“Either way, he’s either a victor or a martyr,” Isbell said. “And either works totally fine for him.”
OHIO — 15 seats
Ohio voters approved their own version of redistricting reform in 2015, creating a bipartisan commission meant to draw maps. But both that commission, controlled by Republicans, and the Republican-led legislature have been stymied by the state Supreme Court, where a majority of justices have rejected several proposals that would have given Republicans a major advantage in competing for the state’s 15 U.S. House seats.
The court is now considering a lawsuit against the commission’s latest maps, which would create 10 Republican-leaning districts, three that favor Democrats, and two competitive seats.
The delay is causing havoc with primary elections scheduled for May 3, barely seven weeks away. Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) on Thursday told county boards of elections they would not be able to include state legislative contests on the primary ballot after the Supreme Court struck down those maps this week. If the high court does the same to congressional races, primaries in those contests too could be delayed.
The reform measure was meant to prod lawmakers into adopting a bipartisan map. But a provision in the law allows legislators or the commission to pass a partisan map that would exist for only four years, instead of the entire decade, so that lawmakers could buy themselves time to reach broader agreement.
In Columbus, Republicans are increasingly voicing anger at Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a Republican who faces mandatory retirement later this year. O’Connor has voted with the court’s three Democratic justices to knock down the Republican-approved maps.
“It’s blatantly obvious that the chief justice of the Supreme Court does not want to allow her successor to review maps in four years,” said Jai Chabria, a Republican strategist and former top adviser to ex-Gov. John Kasich (R). “The mood among Republican legislators is fury at the constantly moving goal posts the Supreme Court is setting.”
MISSOURI — 8 seats
Missouri’s state House of Representatives has approved a new map that would largely maintain the status quo, in which Republicans can win six of Missouri’s eight seats and leave two — based in St. Louis and Kansas City — for Black Democratic lawmakers.
But the state Senate is sharply divided between moderate Republicans and Democrats, who favor the House-passed plan, and conservatives who want to carve up the Kansas City district held by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D).
The most substantial hurdle to a more aggressive Republican push has come from a bipartisan group of 11 female senators who have criticized the bitterly partisan debate and blocked the conservative plan.
Amid the most heated debate in February, Kelli Jones, communications director for Gov. Mike Parson (R), underscored the divide between conservatives and moderates that has defined Missouri politics in recent years.
“Once again, it’s the Missouri Senate’s women who restore common sense,” Jones wrote on Twitter. “It’s about time we stop tip toeing around a few mens’ fragile egos.”
LOUISIANA — 6 seats
In a state known for bizarre alliances and strange politics, the debate over Louisiana’s congressional district boundaries is perhaps the most conventional deadlock on the list: Republicans in the legislature want to maintain their 5-1 advantage, and Democrats and Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) want to draw an additional Black-majority seat.
Edwards vetoed a map approved by the Republican legislature. Republicans have until next Friday to come up with the votes to override his veto, though they would need at least a few independent or Democratic votes to do so.
But what makes the Democratic hopes more complicated is that, unlike in Northern states, Louisiana’s Black population is spread out far beyond New Orleans and Baton Rouge, the state’s two largest cities.
“The challenge is, the Black population of Louisiana is fairly dispersed throughout the state. It’s not like New York or Illinois where nearly all the Black pop. is concentrated in one urban area. You have Black populations in nearly every parish around the state,” said John Couvillon, a veteran Louisiana elections analyst.
An iteration of Louisiana’s congressional districts created a second Black-majority seat, approved in 1992, that snaked from Baton Rouge along the Mississippi River and into the northern cities of Monroe and Shreveport. But that district was struck down by a federal court in 1994; the judges called it the “Mark of Zorro” for its ungainly shape.
National Democratic groups have filed what is known as impasse litigation to try to force a federal court to draw the lines. But Louisiana legislators have something those in other states do not: Time. Louisiana’s odd election laws mean the congressional primaries will happen on Nov. 8, the same day the rest of the country votes in the general election, with a general election set for Dec. 10.
“We’re not quite as much under the gun as, say, a Texas or North Carolina or Ohio would have been,” Couvillon said.
NEW HAMPSHIRE — 2 seats
Here’s another instance of Republican disagreement blocking a final map. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has promised to veto district lines approved this week by the Republican-controlled state legislature.
The legislature’s maps would have made the most substantial changes to New Hampshire’s congressional district lines in more than a century. The GOP-approved district lines that would have created one likely Democratic district and one likely Republican district, rather than the two competitive seats that exist today.
“The proposed congressional redistricting map is not in the best interest of New Hampshire and I will veto it as soon as it reaches my desk,” Sununu said, minutes after the state Senate gave the maps their final approval. “The citizens of this state are counting on us to do better.”
In remarks last year, Sununu publicly wondered at the reasoning for eliminating competition in both districts in order to guarantee winning one seat. In a favorable year, Sununu reasons, Republicans could win both seats.
Some New Hampshire Republicans say Sununu has another reason to favor keeping the maps the way they are: He was heavily involved in recruiting Jeff Cozzens (R), a craft brewery owner who is challenging Rep. Annie Kuster (D) in the district that would become more safely Democratic under the legislature’s map.
“Sununu recruited the best candidate we have ever had in [Kuster’s district], so now I believe he feels invested,” said Mike Dennehy, a longtime New Hampshire Republican strategist. “If the GOP makes the proposed changes, Cozzens doesn’t have much of a prayer.”