Democrats fail to win in state legislative races ahead of 2021 redistribution
Ten years ago, Republicans routed Democrats in state legislative races across the country – gaining control of more seats than they’ve had since 1928 and gaining control of 54 of 99 chambers state legislatures, their highest total in 58 years, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
State House races are extremely important in every cycle – they can decide to expand Medicaid, pass abortion restrictions, pass criminal justice reform, or any other array of policy decisions. But every 10 years, their importance is magnified after the census, and they are charged with the process of redistributing legislative and congressional boundaries (which can decide partisan control of state legislatures and the U.S. Congress for the next decade).
This year, banking on a blue wave, Democrats have drawn an ambitious map aiming to spend $ 50 million to win legislative majorities in GOP-held chambers and take control of key chambers ahead of next year’s redistribution fights. The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) has targeted both houses in Arizona, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Kansas, as well as houses in Iowa and Michigan and the Minnesota Senate.
At the end, the DLCC and two other national Democratic funding organizations raised $ 88 million to the Republicans’ $ 60 million – but they don’t have much to show.
Votes in Arizona are still counted, but if these chambers remain in the hands of the GOP, the Democrats will not have succeeded in overthrowing a single state chamber. In fact, the only chambers that will have changed hands are the New Hampshire House and Senate, which have passed to Republican control. It’s a surprising defeat for Democrats – especially since New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly re-elected Democrats to the US Congress and voted for former Vice President Joe Biden by a wide margin.
According to NCSL, this means that out of 98 rooms (not counting Nebraska’s unicameral and faceally non-partisan body), “59 are held by Republicans, 37 by Democrats.” And when it comes to unified control – which means a party controls both the legislature and the governorship – Republicans have the advantage of holding 23 states versus 15 Democrats.
Democrats were probably not the only ones surprised by this result. In his October Sneak PeekCook Political Report wrote: “Concerning Republicans, the GOP holds 14 of the 19 vulnerable chambers on our list. This suggests Democrats are well positioned to create up to half a dozen new chambers this fall, and more if this is a true blue wave. Cook pointed to Biden’s “strong” run in key states, expecting it to “spur candidates down.”
But that did not happen.
Austin Chambers, Chairman of the Republican State Steering Committee (RSLC), told the Wall Street Journal on a press call Wednesday: “We defeated them, and they have nothing to show.”
Democrats blamed the heavy losses of 2010 and the resulting redistribution by republicans for this year’s losses: “The reality is that Democrats continue to pay for the mistakes we made in 2010,” DLCC national press secretary Christina Polizzi told Vox. “It’s disappointing, but not surprising.”
Upcoming redistribution fights remain under Republican control
Redistribution is the process of redefining legislative and parliamentary geographic boundaries. Each decade after the census, each state must redraw its electoral boundaries with updated demographic information. According to NCSL, “When legislatures redraw the cards, the majority party controls the process” – both parties do their best to gain political advantage, but it is much more difficult for the minority party to do so.
If the Democratic losses this year are due to the 2010 redistribution at the hands of the GOP, it is difficult to see their way forward as Republicans are again set to lead the redistribution process next year. The DLCC believes their losses are due to card “rigging” and points to gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts as evidence.
The most surprising result of this year’s state legislative election in New Hampshire could be the result. While the results were finalized yesterday, New Hampshire Public Radio reporter Josh Rogers pointed out that the legislative maps were “drawn by Republicans ten years ago and are intended to favor Republicans.” Rogers pointed to the poll by political scientist Andy Smith of the University of New Hampshire, which found that for “Democrats to break with Republicans in legislative races, they must start with more than 50% of the popular vote.”
These problems are not unique to New Hampshire.
A 2018 report by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan found that “Michigan cards exceed the threshold of what is considered gerrymandering.” And as with Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Ari Berman wrote for the Washington Post on similar trends:
Stanford and Carnegie Mellon Political Geographers find, for example, that there was “less than a one in a thousand chance” that the map adopted by Republicans in Wisconsin, which gave them 60 percent of the seats in the state assembly, was based on location of residence of the Democrats. “The partisan asymmetry of the existing map,” they wrote, “. . . was carefully and deliberately created, and not the result of the natural regrouping of voters in Wisconsin. “
The same was true in Pennsylvania, where political scientist Jowei Chen of the University of Michigan discovered “A small geographic advantage for Republicans, but it doesn’t come close to explaining the extreme Republican 13-5 advantage” in the state congressional delegation. Indeed, the Pennsylvania Republicans went to almost comedic lengths to circumvent political boundaries for partisan advantage, drawing a district, dubbed “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck,” which spanned five counties and 26 municipalities, and to l ‘one of its narrowest points crossed the parking lot of a seafood restaurant in the city of the King of Prussia.
Beyond gerrymandering, laws restricting voting, some of which are written to specifically target low-income voters and people of color, were passed by legislatures following the 2010 Republican victories.
A glaring example of this is in North Carolina, where, as NPR Reports, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a strict voter identification law that also “dramatically reduced the number of early voting days, eliminated same-day registration, and declared votes cast in the wrong constituency, even if the result of an error of the polling agents, could not be counted. Federal judges then rejected the law, writing that it “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision.
If the Democrats are right and their declining losses this year are due to the redistribution and laws designed to remove the turnout from a traditionally left-wing demographic, it’s hard to see how they’ll fare any better in the decade to come.
As NCSL policy scholar Ben Williams told Vox: “The landscape is not the same as it was in 2010, but it is fair to say that the fact that Republicans were able to hold their ground in competitive legislative chambers across the country … means they will. have the majority, say, with regard to redistribution in the cycle to come. “
Update November 13: This article has been updated to clarify which Democratic organizations have raised $ 88 million for this election cycle.