Written By: Herald Boas
As the 2022 national mid-term elections loom closer, Republicans are becoming more and more optimistic they can win back control of Congress. This is particularly true of their efforts in races for the U.S. House of Representatives, where the Democrats lead by only five seats.
In addition to the historic trend of midterm gains for the party out of power, conservative prospects are up because of a series of unforced political miscues by Speaker Pelosi and some of the more radical members of her Democratic House caucus after the 2020 elections. These include a brief but ill-fated effort to overturn a close Iowa House race won by a Republican, introduction of legislation to pack the U.S. Supreme Court, a highly partisan voting reform bill (H.R. 1), continuing unpopular outbursts from the four leftist “Squad” members, and the recent comments by veteran Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters seen by many as interference and incitement into a tragic Minnesota event.
But one of the most important factors of all is likely to be the results of the redistricting process that follows the 2020 census. Every ten years, the government conducts a census of the U.S. as mandated by the Constitution in 1789. It has many uses, not the least of which is the reapportionment and redistricting of the current 435 U.S. House seats among the 50 states.
The census itself produces only numbers for the purpose of determining how many seats each state is allocated, but the follow-up re-drawing of Congressional district borders within each state can be, and often has been, very partisan.
Every state is entitled to at least one seat in the U.S. House. A preliminary estimate of the U.S. population is 321 million. Each state is responsible for drawing up the boundaries of their Congressional districts, with each district having the more or less same population numbers. If the preliminary estimate is confirmed, each congressional district would have approximately 700,000 persons.
Unofficial projections have the largest gains likely to be in Texas (3 seats) and Florida (2 seats), both GOP states, and the largest likely loss to be in New York (2 seats), a liberal state. Additionally, Rhode Island, which now has two seats (both Democrats), is expected to lose one seat. Additional heavily Democratic states expected to lose seats include California, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota. Several conservative states are also projected to add one seat.
Republicans also have the advantage in state redistricting. They control the process in 20 states, Democrats in only 8. Seven states have only a single district; five states have divided control. Ten states use a commission for redistricting.
Historically, reapportionment was often an opportunity for gerrymandering (named after 19th-century Governor (later U.S. Vice President) Elbridge Gerry, who originated the practice in 1812 by his signing a law creating a Massachusetts Congressional district so oddly-shaped it was caricatured as a salamander. (The term “gerrymander” was a combination of “Gerry” and the lizard.)
In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal courts have no jurisdiction over gerrymandering cases. But state courts do, and recent cases, notably in Wisconsin, indicate that extreme gerrymandering might no longer be allowed in many states, especially when courts themselves do the redistricting.
The final 2020 census results have been delayed because of the pandemic and change of administrations. In order to be applied to the 2022 national mid-term elections, reallocating U.S. house seats must occur by December 31, 2021.
Only some states gain or lose seats in reapportionment. Several states, however, have enough internal demographic change to significantly alter the boundaries of districts even if their total number of seats remains the same. Normally, one party has a large enough margin in the U.S. House that any gerrymandering has little or no impact on House business or outcomes.
Other factors will affect the battle for control of Congress in 2022, including the performance of the Biden administration, the state of the economy, and the post-pandemic national voter mood.
But in 2021, with the Democratic House majority so small, any electoral asset could affect who controls legislation after the 2022 mid-terms. Most of those assets now give the Republicans the advantage in the new cycle next year.