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GOP can draw nearly half of new House districts


By Aaron Blake

Republicans made huge gains in the House on Tuesday -- victories supplemented by a slew of state legislative pickups that could allow the party to not only cement their majority but also add to it in 2012.

When the next round of redistricting -- the decennial re-drawing of all 435 House districts -- occurs next year, Republicans will have complete control over the process in four times as many House districts as Democrats do, districts that comprise nearly half of the entire House, according to a review by The Fix.

Republicans took over at least 18 state legislative chambers Tuesday and made a net gain of six governors.

As things stand right now, Republicans hold the governor's mansion and both chambers of the state legislature -- the three legs of the redistricting process -- in at least 17 states, which are projected to contain 196 of the House's 435 districts next Congress.

By comparison, Democrats will hold all three redistricting legs in five to 10 states, which could draw as few as 26 districts or as many as 88. The most likely scenario given the way undecided races are currently leaning is that Democrats control the process in seven states, in which 49 congressional districts will be redrawn.

That margin -- 196 to 49 -- works out to exactly four-to-one in the GOP's favor. And it's a big deal, said Douglas Johnson, a redistricting expert at the Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College.

"There are a lot of local dynamics that come into play, but it is an enormous amount of power," Johnson said. "In 18 months, we've really seen a flip from what looked like the best Democratic redistricting year in modern history to the best Republican year since the one-person, one-vote rulings in the late 1960s."

To know the extent of Republican control is to look at the numbers:

*Six states have nonpartisan redistricting commissions, which draw the districts independent of the state legislature. If you take those 88 seats out of the equation, Republicans will control the redrawing of 196 of a possible 347 districts.

* The 196-49 edge for Republicans is far different than the setup in the 2001 redistricting, when Democrats controlled the drawing of 121 seats and Republicans controlled 95.

* Republicans control the process in six of the nine biggest states: Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia and (arguably) Florida. (Ballot measures passed Tuesday in Florida would drastically limit the ability of the state legislature to draw lines with political considerations in mind; an appeal is already underway.) Texas has the second-most seats in Congress at 32, Florida has the fourth-most (25), Pennsylvania has the fifth-most (19), Ohio has the seventh-most (18), Michigan has the eighth-most (15), and Georgia has the ninth-most (13).

* Eighteen states are particularly important, because they are slated to gain or lose seats in the next round of reapportionment next year, according to projections by Election Data Services. Republicans control the process in eight of those states. They include Texas and Florida, which are slated to add multiple seats, and Ohio, which is expected to lose multiple seats. This is important because the states that gain or lose seats often experience the most drastic redistricting changes, which lead to more seats changing hands. Republicans will have virtually unimpeded control over that messy process.

* The largest state that Democrats definitely will control is Massachusetts, which has 10 seats that are already 100 percent controlled by Democrats. And Democrats will not only be unable to use the line-drawing process to maximize their standing, they will actually lose a district because of reapportionment. Of the other four states that Democrats definitely will control, there are only 17 districts to be drawn -- 10 of which are already Democratic.

* Democrats' best hope for some control of a big state in the redistricting process is New York. But Republicans there appear to be in line to take over the state Senate, which would give them a seat at the table for redistricting. The other states where Democrats could control the process are very much up in the air. They need the undecided governors races in Connecticut and Illinois and the state Houses in Colorado and Oregon, which currently are very close, to have a roll in the line-drawing process in each. Illinois, where Gov. Pat Quinn (D) holds a very narrow lead over state Sen. Bill Brady (R), would be big for them, since it is slated to have 18 seats (one less than it currently has).

* Democrats hold all the power in California, but voters there just passed a ballot measure that institutes a redistricting commission in their state -- a development that takes the redrawing of 53 districts off the table for Democrats.

Republicans already hold their biggest House majority since the 1940s, so they're not in position to redistrict themselves into as many new seats as they were before the election. But the gains in state legislative and governor's races they made Tuesday will allow them to shore up their new and old members and create a few new targets -- all with the goal of keeping their new majority for years to come.

By Aaron Blake  | November 4, 2010; 3:32 PM ET
Categories:  Redistricting  
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