You are here

Democratic Wins Promise More Leverage in Redistricting Battles

  • GOP-drawn gerrymanders could fade in Midwest, Rust Belt
  • Ballot measures create commissions, require bipartisan backing

Democrats have set themselves up to chip away at the Republican Party’s redistricting advantage after the 2020 Census, following key wins in this year’s gubernatorial elections.

Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin will have Democratic governors when new congressional and state legislative lines are drawn in 2021.

Michigan voters also passed a ballot measure creating an independent commission to draw nonpartisan congressional and state legislative lines in an attempt to end gerrymandering.

Republicans controlled the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the legislature in those three states in 2011, allowing them to draw district boundaries favorable to the GOP.

Though there are more elections before redistricting, this year’s results lock into place 34 governors through 2022.

In 2019, three states will have gubernatorial elections: Kentucky, Louisiana and Mississippi.

In 2020, Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, Washington and West Virginia will have gubernatorial races, plus New Hampshire and Vermont, which hold a race every two years. New Jersey and Virginia held their gubernatorial elections in 2017 and will do so again in 2021.

Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general who now leads the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, wrote on Twitter that Democrats had “a great night.” He touted “reform candidate victories, creation of independent commissions and making state legislatures more responsive to the people.”

However, Democrats aren’t headed for the same kind of redistricting dominance that Republicans experienced in the last decade. After the 2010 elections, there were 29 Republican governors, 20 Democrats and one independent. Republicans took control of 53 of the 88 state legislative chambers that held elections that year.

Mixed Outlook

This time, several key states will have divided governments when their governors and state lawmakers are sworn in, and that dynamic could continue through 2021.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who hopes for a second stint as speaker of the House, said the first legislation Democrats take up in the 116th Congress probably will be a broad measure on voting rights and campaign finance.

A resolution introduced in the 115th Congress by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) (H. Res. 975) with 165 Democratic cosponsors includes language saying Congress should require states to establish independent redistricting commissions.

In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer beat Republican Bill Shuette to become governor. Voters also backed a ballot measure, 61 to 39 percent, that will create an independent commission to draw congressional and state legislative lines, taking the power away from state legislators.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) won reelection while Republicans maintained a slimmer majority in the state House and Senate, likely ensuring a split government in 2021, when new congressional and state legislative boundaries are drawn.

In 2011, Gov. Tom Corbett (R) and Republicans in both legislative chambers controlled the state’s redistricting process. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the GOP-friendly congressional map, but not until January 2018, after Republicans had won 13 of the state’s 18 U.S. House seats in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

In Wisconsin, Democrat Tony Evers unseated Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), ensuring Democrats have at least one voice in the redistricting process. Republicans maintained control of the state House and Senate, where congressional and state legislative maps are drawn, but the governor has veto power.

Walker and Republican lawmakers controlled the redistricting process in the last decade.


Republicans managed a key win in the Ohio gubernatorial race with Gov.-elect Mike DeWine (R), but its effect on redistricting will be offset by a ballot measure voters passed in May. That measure requires bipartisan support from state lawmakers — including at least half of the minority party — in order to enact new congressional district maps.

More Ballot Measures

A Utah ballot measure that would require congressional and state legislative maps to be drawn by a commission, subject to approval by the legislature, had a narrow lead of about half a percentage point. A less partisan redistricting process in that state could lead to the creation of a Democratic district around Salt Lake City, said Michael Li, senior counsel with the Brennan Center.

Colorado voters backed ballot measures creating independent redistricting commissions for congressional and state legislative lines.

Utah Gerrymandering Votes Still Being Counted

GOP Success

Republicans managed a major victory in Florida, where Andrew Gillum (D) conceded to Ron DeSantis (R). The GOP also maintained majorities in the state House and Senate, although all House members and 20 of the 40 state Senate seats are up for reelection in 2020.

The loss could be particularly harmful for Democrats considering that Florida could pick up an extra two U.S. House seats after the 2020 Census, on top of its current 27 seats, according to an estimate from Election Data Services Inc.

Republicans also won gubernatorial races in Maryland and Massachusetts, ensuring a split government in two states that sometimes see Democratic control of every portion of the redistricting process.

While unsurprising, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott‘s (R) successful re-election campaign is important to Republicans’ redistricting prospects. Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature, and the state could gain two or three U.S. House seats after the census, in addition to its current 36 seats, according to the Election Data Services study.

Up in the Air

Georgia’s gubernatorial election, still too close to call, could also represent a turning point in redistricting. Republicans have majorities in the state House and Senate and a victory by Brian Kemp (R) would likely put them in full control of redistricting, barring a major upset in state legislative races in 2020.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jack Fitzpatrick in Washington at

The post Democratic Wins Promise More Leverage in Redistricting Battles appeared first on Bloomberg Government.

itcon color logo