With changes in the decennial census, Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania will lose House seats. No matter – big states get bigger
House of Representatives – the voter division
When Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration and healthcare came under attack from the Republican House majority, he cited a study that showed 14 million more Americans in the US would be living with someone they didn’t know than at the end of the George W Bush administration.
“At a time when our country needs more unity, not more division,” Obama said, “we’ve seen a measure of tribalism that I haven’t seen in my lifetime, a closing of ranks that threatens to suffocate the American experiment in self-government.”
That study, which tracked changes to voting laws and voting districts, painted a remarkably similar picture to the one expected by the congressional reapportionment panels being stacked to restore the Republican majority in Congress.
In the past two decades, Republican policies have disproportionately favoured large states over smaller ones.
How the process works
Seats in Congress are divided into 435 districts, and each congressional district represents one-half of one percent of the entire US population.
The 2004 census revised the number of US citizens by US population by, in most cases, several million. Because the 2010 census, which was conducted under its new party-line majority, was a low mark for the Democrats, some states were slightly redder than expected. In total, the party will lose four seats, and two states will gain two seats. This will leave Republicans with a slightly smaller majority in the House.
The House has 218 representatives (just under a majority) but in recent years has been diluted by gerrymandering.
How the states are drawn
To fix this in the House, Democratic gerrymanders are under way, but that process can be long and expensive. Iowa, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan are the most in need of change, but the impact will not be all that much, especially in non-election years, with the first and second congressional districts already drawn.
It’s the state legislatures that have done the most damage, redistricting by choosing lawmakers who can bolster their chance of being re-elected. For example, Iowa has a heavily Republican legislature, while Ohio is very much a swing state.
Even in the states where redistricting is not currently planned, over the past few years, election-watchers have watched several laws created with Republican input that have disproportionately benefited the party, including the 2012 court ruling that made it easier for minorities to register and vote.
Ohio – one of the first states to hold its House reapportionment after the census – has been especially good for Republicans.
By drawing 15 or more political power lines around a district, control of the district has passed to Republicans. The Republican control of state houses leads to state legislatures forming their own lines.
After the 2000 census, Barack Obama carried five states – California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan and Pennsylvania – for the Democrats. Republicans were confident they could retake Pennsylvania but they went on to control both houses of the legislature, and took control of both state houses for the rest of the cycle.
Four of the newly created seats are likely to be held by Republicans, according to a recent analysis of state legislature maps.
From just the first three districts the five most likely Republican seats will be held by men, and one is a majority-Hispanic district in Chicago. Also likely to be among the most Republican Republican districts are the first two districts (one of which is district 38, which covers Cleveland, Ohio) and the first two Republican-leaning seats.
These redrawn districts are then sent to congressional committees, which pick their own districts based on the partisan district lines they hand down. The result of these congressional redistricting processes has made it easier for Republicans to control the redistricting process. Since 2000, state legislatures have set up about half of the districts in Texas and Alabama, and a third of North Carolina’s districts.
The strategy has also worked: four incumbent Republicans have been unseated in House elections since 2010, which amounted to 8% of the Republican House caucus.