Redistricting: A Political Junkie’s Fantasy

Today is a big day for political junkies, because today the U.S. Census Bureau released its re-apportionment data for the 2010 census (and, if you’re like me, you were salivating all the way to 11 AM EST clicking the refresh button until the new data appeared, and registered for the live video webinar of the Census press conference).  This re-apportionment will greatly affect the 2012 elections.

Every ten years, politicians on both sides of the aisle salivate at the possibility of redistricting their state to make the odds of winning control of Congress easier.  One of the oft-unseen benefits of the 2010 mid-term elections for Republicans is that they will likely control the redistricting process in 2011, which could mean even more gains in Congress for the Republicans in 2012.

The U.S. Constitution mandates that a census be taken every ten years, and after the census is done, the seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are reapportioned among the states.  Here are the states that gain/lose seats in the 2011 redistricting (the formula for determining apportionment is on the right):

Arizona: +1
Florida: +2
Georgia: +1
Illinois: -1
Iowa: -1
Louisiana: -1
Massachusetts: -1
Michigan: -1
Missouri: -1
Nevada: +1
New Jersey: -1
New York: -2
Ohio: -2
Pennsylvania: -1
South Carolina: +1
Texas: +4
Utah: +1
Washington: +1

In the 2010 elections, Republicans made a net gain of more than 650 seats in state legislatures around the country, and now hold complete control of 25 legislatures around the country (the Democrats control 16 legislatures, and eight states have divided control).  This is important to them because the state legislature control redistricting, more often than not.

Goals and Problems
For the party that controls the redistricting, there can be several goals:

  • Shore up support in a wavering district
  • Gain a seat in Congress – make it so that an opposition seat is easier to take over
  • Make opposition incumbents run against each other – if you’re losing a seat, you can give the opposing party a disadvantage this way.

If the party controlling redistricting is too greedy, though, they can become overzealous in redistricting.  For instance, there was a state in 2000, the Democrats controlled redistricting, and they tried to draw a map that would be advantageous in a lot of different seats, but ended up drawing a map that spread the Democratic support too thin, which cause many of the seats to go over to the Republicans over the last 10 years.

There are also laws that need to be followed in redistricting:

  • One person, one vote – there has to be roughly the same number of people in each district
  • No discrimination against minorities – you can’t split the minority population into different districts, to dilute their vote.  This is used to create majority-minority districts.
  • Pre-clearing – the redistricting plan, in some cases, has to be approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Republican gains likely in the next Congress
Because of redistricting, Republicans may re-draw districts in the next year, so that they can gain more than 25 seats in the U.S. Congress, though it’s more likely that they’ll gain between 10 and 15.  An excellent preview of 2012 redistricting is at Real Clear Politics, if you want to read it.

Illinois Redistricting
Illinois is one of the few lights in the darkness for Democrats this year.  In a year where Republicans were taking over the country politically, Democrats held onto control of both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.  This keeps redistricting in their hands for this cycle.  In 2000, the Illinois legislature was split, which caused division in the state legislature, and the process was thrown to a Legislative Redistricting Commission, which was divided, four Republicans and four Democrats.

In 2010, Illinois will lose another seat in the U.S. House (the population grew less quickly than other states), which will bring the delegation from 19 seats to 18 seats.

Most analysis of Illinois points to the Democrats trying to get rid of one or more of the new Republicans in the House: Joe Walsh (CD 8), Bob Dold (CD 10), Bobby Schilling (CD 17), and Adam Kinzinger (CD 11).  There’s also talk of forcing Aaron Schock (CD 18 – one of my favorite Congressmen) into a race against Bobby Schilling by eliminating his district and making it part of Schilling’s.  It’s very likely that the congressional district that is eliminated will be one of the southern suburban districts (11, 18, 15, 17).  It’s also likely that the Democrats will try to make re-election harder for Peter Roskam (in the 6th district) and Bob Dold (in Mark Kirk’s old seat in the 10th district).

Everything comes down to the priority of the Democrats; do they want to shore up the seats that they already have?  Do they want to make some seats easier for them to get?  Do they want to eliminate a particularly formidable Republican?

We’ll see in the next few months.

Explore redistricting (a widget from the U.S. Census site):

Here’s a cool video from the U.S. Census site on apportionment: