Redistricting and the mid-cycle election

Republican gains in Congress were the major stories for the national media, but it is the party’s gains in down-ballot local state house races that may have created the most lasting protection for the GOP‘s new majority in the House of Representatives.

Once every decade, state legislators begin the process of redrawing congressional districts to reflect changes in population.  A by-product of this process is that it can serve to insulate representatives from future difficult re-elections.

According to the nonpartisan National Conference of State Legislatures, Republicans will now hold about 53 percent of state legislative seats across the country, gaining at least 680 seats this election, the largest gain by either party since the mid 60s.

At issue are two different procedures:

Reapportionment: The number of seats in the U.S. House is fixed by law at 435. Every 10 years, after the Census has counted the population, some states gain House seats, others lose them to reflect shifts in populations.

Redistricting: In most states, state legislators, with advice from expert demographers and lawyers, obligatory input from citizens and with the final say of the governor, draw the new congressional district lines. State legislators draw the maps for 383 of the 435 seats in the House.

In most cases, governors can veto remapping plans and sometimes force legislatures dominated by the opposing party to alter plans to help protect his party’s incumbents.  This will not be the case in Texas this go-round since the Republicans dominate both state houses and hold the governorship.

The remapping takes into account the population shifts within states, the desire to protect incumbents and, of course, partisan advantage. At the margins, partisan mapping, or gerrymandering, can help one party keep a seat or make the party competitive in a place where it hadn’t been before. (In a 2004 decision, the Supreme Court essentially ruled that the partisan gerrymandering doesn’t violate the Constitution.)

In eight states, bipartisan or nonpartisan commissions handle the task.  This is not the case in Texas.

Currently, the House Committee on Redistricting is taking public testimony at hearings around the state regarding redistricting that will help shape the districts for both the house and senate of the Texas legislature and Texas congressional districts.

TexasVox will post information about hearings in your area as the information becomes available.  Click here to read an earlier blog about hearings with links to archived video of hearing around the state that have already happened.  If you are concerned about the impacts of redistricting on your state and congressional representation, plan on attending and testifying.

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