Redistricting season officially kicked off Thursday with the release of detailed population data from the U.S. Census Bureau that will be used to redraw voting districts nationwide — potentially helping determine control of the U.S. House in the 2022 elections and providing an electoral edge for the next decade.
The new data shows that much of the fastest growth occurred in the suburbs of some of the nation’s largest cities, while populations in many rural areas declined in the 2020 census. That data will serve as the building block to redraw 429 U.S. House districts in 44 states and 7,383 state legislative districts across the U.S. The official goal is to ensure each district has roughly the same number of people.
But many Republicans and Democrats will be operating with another goal — to ensure the new lines divide and combine voters in ways that make it more likely for their party’s candidates to win future elections, a process called gerrymandering. The parties’ successes in that effort could determine whether taxes and spending grow, climate-change polices are approved or access to abortion is expanded or curtailed.
Republicans need to gain just five seats to take control of the U.S. House in the 2022 elections — a margin that could potentially be covered through artful redistricting.
The AP reported in April that date released then showed Ohio has lost one seat in Congress as a result of new census figures, marking the sixth-straight decade of congressional declines for the state.
Prompted by sluggish population growth over the past decade, the loss of a U.S. House seat comes as the state embarks on a new system of drawing its congressional maps, which are considered among the most gerrymandered in the nation.
The latest census adjustment will take the state’s representation in the U.S. House to 15 representatives, down from the current 16. Ohio has lost a total of nine seats since 1960. Seats in the House are apportioned based on a formula tied to each state’s population as determined by the census’ once-per-decade head count.
Ohio’s population grew by 2.3% between 2010 and 2020, to 11.8 million residents, according to the new census data. The national population grew by 7.4%, according to the data.
Slow levels of job creation, failure to attract enough immigrants and a dearth of top-tier public research universities to attract and retain young talent are among reasons Ohio is not growing faster, said Ned Hill, a professor of economic development at Ohio State University’s Glenn College of Public Affairs.
As they did after the 2010 census, Republicans will hold greater sway in the redistricting process.
The GOP will control redistricting in 20 states accounting for 187 U.S. House seats, including the growing states of Texas, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. By contrast, Democrats will control redistricting in just eight states accounting for 75 seats, including New York and Illinois, where the loss of a seat in each gives them a chance to squeeze out Republican incumbents.
In 16 other states accounting for 167 U.S. House seats, districts will be drawn either by independent commissions or by politically split politicians with legislative chambers led by one party and governors of another. Six states have just one U.S. House seat, so there are no district lines to be drawn.
States with significant population shifts provide some of the best opportunities for parties to gain an advantage through redistricting. They can add a favorable district, eliminate one held by their opponent or redraw a competitive district to contain a more comfortable majority of supporters.
Four of the nation’s 10 fastest growing cities were in Texas suburbs, two outside Dallas, and one each near Houston and San Antonio — all prime battle grounds for redistricting. By contrast, many Texas counties outside of its metropolitan areas saw populations decline, the Census Bureau said.
Republicans, who currently hold 23 of the 36 U.S. House seats in Texas, will have full control over the redistricting process, allowing them to decide where to draw the two new seats the state is gaining. But that could be complicated because Democrats generally have fared better in Texas suburbs in recent elections.
Suburban growth has been driven by the migration of young, Latino, Black and college-educated residents — all core Democratic constituencies, said Kelly Ward Burton, president of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.
“If you look at how the population has shifted over the decade and you draw a map that is consistent with that, Democrats gain seats,” Burton said.
But Republicans in charge of redistricting could draw maps that split up those Democratic-leaning voters, adding some to predominantly Republican districts to give the GOP a shot at winning even more seats in Texas.
Census data also showed some of the nation’s fastest growth rates in the Arizona suburbs of Phoenix, and in suburban Seattle, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho.
In Florida, which also is gaining a U.S. House seat, Republicans could use redistricting as an opportunity to redraw lines in growing central Florida to try to ensure Democratic-held seats have more GOP voters.
After the 2010 census, Republicans who controlled redistricting in far more states than Democrats drew maps that gave them a greater political advantage in more states than either party had in the past 50 years, according to a new Associated Press analysis.
But Republicans won’t hold as much power as they did last time in some key states. Republican-led legislatures will be paired with Democratic governors in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which both had full GOP control after the 2010 census. In Michigan, a voter-approved citizens commission will handle redistricting instead of lawmakers and the governor.
And in Ohio, voter-approved redistricting reforms will require majority Republicans to gain the support of minority Democrats for the new districts to last a full decade.
The redistricting process will be conducted on a compressed timeline. States are getting the data more than four months later than originally scheduled because of difficulties in conducting the 2020 census during the coronavirus pandemic.
That means map-drawers will have to work quickly to meet constitutional deadlines in some states or seek judicial approval to take longer. Ohio’s constitution, for example, sets a Sept. 15 deadline for a board to approve new state legislative maps.
“We’re in a bit of a fix over how quickly we can get this done,” said Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, a Republican who is a member of the redistricting board.