Redistricting: 'The next decade of our democracy is on the ballot' in November

Redistricting: 'The next decade of our democracy is on the ballot' in November
© Hill illustration

Democrats know it's critical for them to reverse their two most catastrophic defeats in modern times: four years ago and 2010.

Many Democrats see defeating Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE as an existential matter. Based on polls, fundamentals and reporting — even with the caveat of an election four and a half months away — this is likely; the main question may be whether Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Tammy Duckworth is the epitome of the American Dream Mexico's president uses US visit to tout ties with Trump MORE wins by four or five points or double digits.

The other painful contest was 2010 when Republicans outspent and outsmarted the Democrats to score smashing victories not only in congressional races, but in most state legislatures across the country. This set the stage for right wing victories on abortion, labor rights and health care and critically enabled Republicans to dominate the post-2010 census redistricting on congressional and state legislative election lines.


Mark Gersh, the foremost Democratic expert on House contests, tells me he figures this delivered an additional 20 to 30 House seats to the GOP for most of the decade. (The best book on the legal but sleazy 2011 tactics was by David Daley, entitled “Ratf**cked.”)

But Democrats have chipped away at this disadvantage the last few cycles and know that 2020 is the climax for next year's redistricting. “This is the last chance to determine who will have a seat at the redistricting table in 2021,” says Kelly Ward, who directs the Democrats’ national redistricting committee with the active support of Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaNeil Young updates song 'Lookin' for a Leader' opposing Trump, endorsing Biden Bellwether counties show trouble for Trump Trump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? MORE.

Early estimates are that states like Texas, Florida, and North Carolina will gain additional House seats, while Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota California will be among the losers.

This November, 87 of the 99 state legislatures are on the ballot. The top targets are the North Carolina legislature and the Texas House.

North Carolina Republicans have forcefully used, often abused, their majorities for partisan gains the last decade. They drew election lines giving them an almost untouchable advantage — until courts ruled this was racist-tinged and a partisan overreach.


With the forced redrawn congressional lines, still tilting against Democrats, the GOP likely will lose a couple seats from its current 10 to 3 advantage. In the state legislative chambers, Republicans have a 29 to 21 edge in the state senate and 64 to 55 in the state house.

The state legislature totally controls redistricting, and if Democrats capture majorities, it could mean one or two congressional seats.

North Carolina is the epicenter of the 2020 election, with a competitive presidential race, contested gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races, a couple House contests and these critical legislative races.

Texas has been moving Republican, first gradually then decisively, since Lyndon Johnson left the presidency a half-century ago. Currently, Republicans hold 23 of the 36 U.S. House seats and are up 82 to 68 in the Texas House of Representatives.

But the demographics are working for the Democrats with the greatest population gains among citizens of color and the populous suburbs moving away from the Trump Republican party. Congressman Beto O'RourkeBeto O'RourkeBellwether counties show trouble for Trump Colorado GOP Rep. Scott Tipton defeated in primary upset Clinton, Buttigieg among Democrats set to hold virtual events for Biden MORE gave incumbent Republican Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzLincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad How conservative conspiracy theories are deepening America's political divide Gianforte halts in-person campaigning after wife, running mate attend event with Guilfoyle MORE a scare two years ago. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Facebook civil rights audit finds 'serious setbacks' | Facebook takes down Roger Stone-affiliated accounts, pages | State and local officials beg Congress for more elections funds OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 | Park Police did not record radio transmissions during June 1 sweep of White House protesters | Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears GOP Miami mayor does not commit to voting for Trump MORE cut the presidential margin almost in half — to nine points — last time. Joe Biden is likely to be more competitive in Texas this November.

There are nine state House seats, currently Republican-held — that either Clinton or O'Rourke carried. Winning those would give Democrats control of the state house and leverage in the next redistricting, when the state will pick up at least two, maybe three, seats.

Another battleground will be Wisconsin, where Republicans have used their control for excessively partisan purposes, the latest forcing voting be held in April during the pandemic. The current Republican controlled state legislature already is playing games, proposing to basically cut the Democratic Governor and any federal courts out and leaving any final redistricting decision to the conservative state Supreme Court.

The states that will lose a congressional seat after the next census — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota — are getting attention too. These states now have Democratic governors. In Michigan, which has adopted a redistricting commission, the focus is on races for the state Supreme Court to fend off legal challenges to the commission.

One bitter partisan battle in the state legislatures had been over Obamacare's expansion of Medicaid benefits for lower income people. But the opposition has weakened, and only 14 states now refuse that extra aid; the only state where this election would make a difference here is North Carolina.

But in the larger picture, Kelly Ward told me: “It's not an exaggeration to say the next decade of our democracy is on the ballot this November.”

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. He hosts 2020 Politics War Room with James Carville. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.