- On already unfair maps, Democrats lost key state and local elections.
- Republicans will now draw more than 4 times more congressional districts than Democrats.
- The 2020 election likely cemented another decade of GOP minority rule.
- Zachariah Sippy is a student from Lexington, Kentucky.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Before the election, I was convinced that if Democrats won key state and local elections, they could ensure fair redistricting in the coming decade. Today, I fear that yet another decade of malapportionment lies ahead, one that will shake the very democratic foundations of the nation.
In 2018, more than 60% of Missourians elected to turn a page on corruption. The "Clean Missouri" amendment ushered in a wave of reforms. The amendment placed stricter restrictions on gifts to members of the Missouri General Assembly, campaign finance contributions, and prevented former legislators from returning immediately to the State Capitol, only to serve as lobbyists. Most importantly, "Clean Missouri" established a nonpartisan office that would have been responsible for redistricting, instead of partisan politicians.
Almost as soon as the results were finalized, Republicans in Jefferson City began to revolt. Indeed, multiple state legislators opted to resign from their seats, rather than be subject to any rule that would have prevented them from becoming lobbyists. Those that stayed in the General Assembly began to chip away at the reforms.
Tricking the electorate, Republicans went to work repealing "Clean Missouri," by proposing a new referendum "for a cleaner Missouri." Instead of limiting corruption, however, this proposal re-politicized the redistricting process. The amendment was so absurd that former Republican US Senator John Danforth described the effort as dangerous to "the integrity of Missouri's democracy."
However, last week, in the narrowest of victories, Republican succeeded. Amendment 3 ("Cleaner Missouri") abolished the nonpartisan redistricting office, and altered the standards by which new districts maps were to be evaluated, re-opening the door to partisan gerrymandering. Even more troubling, the new amendment also suggests that non-citizens should not be included for redistricting purposes.
This move in Missouri and a wave of other measures proved that the biggest loser in last week's elections was not President Trump, but fair districts.
A 10-year shift
Outside of Missouri, GOP-led gerrymandering led to brutal results for Democrats and worrying signs for the integrity of our democracy.
In Ohio, despite winning more than 45% of the vote, Democrats will be stuck with just 25% of the congressional seats. Most egregiously, Hamilton County (the Cincinnati area), which voted for Biden by more than 15 points, will be represented by a Republican in the House of Representatives. In fact, Cincinnati is the largest metro area in the country not represented by a Democrat in Congress. This is the result of a 2011 gerrymander. With total control of the state government, Republicans drew a district map that split Cincinnati in half, smothering the urban Democratic electorate with Republican voters in exurban and rural communities.
In order to prevent a repeat of last decade's unfair maps, Democrats needed only to win two seats on the Ohio Supreme Court, providing a check and balance against the Republican dominated legislature and commission. But Democratic nominee John P. O'Donnell came up short, leaving Republicans with a 4 to 3 majority on the court. As a result of his loss, Ohio will remain a state where the will of voters is not reflected in their elected officials.
In Kansas, President-elect Biden became the first Democrat to win the state's most populous county — Johnson (home to the Kansas City suburbs), in more than 100 years. With such a strong performance at the top of the ticket, Kansas Democrats had hoped to gain at least one seat in the State House. With one more state representative, Democrats would have broken Republicans' supermajority in the State Legislature and guaranteed fair maps. But instead, Republicans picked up three seats.
Currently, there is one Democratic congressional district in Kansas, anchored in Johnson County. The seat, which was flipped in 2018 by Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids is emblematic of the suburban, educated shift towards Democrats. Empowered by their super-majorities, however, Kansas GOP leaders will now attempt to erase David's seat, cracking it in either half or thirds.
While the outlook in Missouri, Ohio, and Kansas is surely disappointing for the prospects of fair districts in the coming decade, there was no state with more disheartening election results than Texas.
Democrats have long dreamed of flipping the Lone Star State. And this year, it seemed possible. More important than the presidential race, Democrats had a chance to capture the Texas State House. With the chamber, they would have had the power to veto a district plan that favored Republicans in the nation's second largest state.
The current congressional map in Texas is already one of the most gerrymandered in the country. Just as Ohio Republicans cracked the Cincinnati arena in half, the Texas map similarly snakes around urban areas, splits cities, and drags districts for dozens of miles with no purpose other than ensuring Republican supremacy. Sadly, this will persist for another decade, as Republicans retained control of all three branches of the state government.
Outside of these four states, the picture is equally grim. Next year, Republicans will be in a position to draw unfair maps in more than 40% of US House seats, while most large Democratic-leaning states (such as New York, New Jersey, California) have non-partisan or bipartisan processes. This discrepancy will only be made worse by a right-wing federal judiciary that is hostile to independent redistricting commissions (found in Arizona, Colorado, and Michigan), and refuses to limit partisan gerrymandering.
Despite winning a majority of congressional votes this year, Democrats only narrowly held the House of Representatives, in part, due the lasting effects of 2011's gerrymander. One can only imagine that in 2022, Democrats will face an even steeper uphill battle, in the wake of newer, more precise Republican-biased maps. Instead of delivering a progressive victory, the 2020 election likely cemented Republican minority rule for the foreseeable future.
This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).
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