Redistricting in 2020 by Nicky Riordan
As newly engaged progressive groups set their sights on the 2018 federal midterm elections, political experts and party strategists are focused on upcoming battles in state legislatures across the country. The outcomes of state legislature races in 2018 and 2020 will determine which party redraws district lines in the majority of states, and will likely lock in favorable electoral outcomes for the following decade.
Republican strategists understood the importance of these outcomes in the 2010 redistricting process. In 2009, the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) led an effort called Project REDMAP to prioritize flipping vulnerable Democratic state legislatures and gain control over the upcoming redistricting process.
The strategy paid off: Republicans won 29 of the 50 governorships up for grabs and gained more than 600 seats in key state legislatures, resulting in Democratic losses across 13 legislatures. Following redistricting in 2010, Republicans took over the House of Representatives despite earning 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic House candidates overall. Moreover, REDMAP-targeted states such as Wisconsin and Ohio, which passed strict Voter ID laws between 2010 and 2016, eventually helped hand an unlikely presidential win to Republicans in 2016.
Project REDMAP continues to chip away at Democratic legislatures on the state level, increasing Republican gains to 21 legislatures following the 2016 election. This year, Republicans have total control of state government in 25 states, while Democrats control only five states. Although recent legal challenges to questionable redistricting practices have revived calls for universal use of independent commissions, state legislatures will still hold most of the power in 2020.
The importance of the 2020 redistricting process cannot be underestimated. Democrats realize this, creating the National Democratic Redistricting Committee under President Obama, and Advantage 2020, a multiple cycle strategy focused on redistricting. It would now be wise for other progressive groups to focus activist energy on what comes after 2018 before momentum fades.
Nicky Riordan, M.A. Peace and Justice Studies