Last week the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group led by former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder Jr. with support from former president Barack Obama, announced its plan to put Democrats in governor’s mansions and legislative chambers in 12 states in this year’s elections. The group’s goal is to break up Republican-held monopoly control of the nationwide redistricting process that will begin after the 2020 Census.
“In 2011, Republicans created gerrymandered districts that locked themselves into power and shut out voters from the electoral process,” Holder, the group’s chairman, said in a statement. “By focusing on these state and local races, we can ensure Democrats who will fight for fairness have a seat at the table when new maps are drawn in 2021.”
But Holder’s group is facing an uphill battle. Republicans are in complete control of the offices in charge of redistricting in 21 states, meaning they either A) control the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the state legislature or B) they have veto-proof majorities in both legislative chambers regardless of the governor’s party. Democrats maintain a similar advantage in just five states.
In the overwhelming majority of states, redistricting is handled just like any other piece of legislation. Lawmakers in legislative chambers work together to draw maps and submit them to the governor for approval. The party in control of the government also controls the redistricting process.
This creates a strong incentive for legislators to draw districts to their own advantage, particularly in states where one party controls all three branches of government or has veto-proof supermajorities in the legislative chambers. In many cases that’s exactly what they’ve done.
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