Gerrymandering and the 2022 elections

Politics in the United States today does not look a whole lot like it did in 1789.  Where are Hamilton, Madison and Jay when you need them?

For those who remember their civics lessons you might recall that the founding fathers knew nothing about/wanted nothing to do with political parties.  That lasted about eight years.  Public officials, government officeholders, and politicians come most naturally to choosing sides on issues, which at various times and places has morphed into the formation of political parties. 

The United States over the past 242 years has gone through a great deal of political turmoil including a civil war.  We have had great and good and bad presidents and members of Congress. 

More recently things have not been turning out so well.  Political parties have gone to their respective corners, like two boxers in a ring.  The referee in the middle looks kind of lonely.  The internet in all its good and bad forms dominates our lives.  Cable news spends little time informing us of facts as it provides us with talking points to get us comfortable about our personal political points of view.

The election cycle will soon lead us to the mid-term elections that will elect all 435 members of the House of Representatives, 33 senators, 36 governors and hundreds of state legislators.  For the House members and state legislators their opportunities or fates will soon become clearer.  Over the next few months those politicians will all be laser-focused on one thing: reapportionment of their districts.

The 2020 census, its data just recently arrived, changed the allocation of House seats among the states. Mostly poorer and older states lost a seat or two in their House delegations while growth states added like numbers.  That simple mathematical calculation from census data will in many cases by itself give the Republican Party additional House seats.

The real action and opportunity for political gains in Washington, however, will come from the states’ work in redrawing House seats.  Particularly in large Republican-dominated states like Texas, Florida and North Carolina political news indicates that the Party will work their magic to maximize Republican territory and to minimize Democratic territory to win House seats.  In those three states alone Republicans will likely gerrymander their way into enlarging their House caucus by six to eight members.

In response what do Democrats do to take advantage of their own control of the redistricting process in some states to help add Democrats to the House?  New York State, now solidly in Democratic control, is one of those states.

The last reapportionment process was badly botched.  Democratic Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Republican Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (are they still in jail?) could not settle reapportionment matters.  The current House districts were ultimately approved by a federal three-judge panel the day before petitions for the 2012 election were scheduled to begin circulation.

After the 2012 fiasco the state by amendment to the Constitution set up the ten member Independent Redistricting Commission that is tasked with the responsibility for drawing House and state legislative districts.  Eight of the ten members of the Commission were appointed by the leadership of the State Legislature.  The first release of their work will occur this week.

Maybe everyone will be totally mesmerized by the incredibly good and fair work of the Commission.  But this is New York, so don’t count on that.

The constitutional amendment permits the Legislature to accept the Commission’s Plans by a simple majority vote.  The Legislature can also, by a two-thirds vote of each house, reject two separate plans of the Commission.  After doing so legislators can to draw their own district lines.  It so happens that Democrats have greater than two-thirds majorities in both houses. 

But wait, there’s more.  New Yorkers in November will vote on another constitutional amendment which, according to the Commission, provides that:

  • The Commission shall submit its redistricting plan to the Legislature no later than January 1, 2022. Should the plan fail to pass, or a veto fail to be overridden, the second redistricting plan shall be submitted no later than January 15, 2022.
  • Legislative approval of the redistricting plan shall require a simple majority vote in both the Senate and the Assembly. Should the Commission fail to approve a plan for submission, the plan that received the most votes will be submitted and shall require a 60% vote from both the Senate and the Assembly.
  • Should the Commission fail to vote on a redistricting plan prior to the January 1 deadline, the Legislature is provided with all draft plans and may draft legislation accordingly.

So just for the moment speculate that the New York State Legislature will exercise their right to draw their own lines.  That seems like a very likely possibility.

The current New York House delegation includes 19 Democrats and 8 Republicans.  The census will take away one seat next year.

All things being equal, it would be nice to see all states come up with a fair and equitable drawing of the lines that respects local constituencies as well as how party affiliations are distributed across state maps.  But all things are not equal.

Republicans in the states they control will do their best to wipe out as many as possible Democratic-inclined districts.  For New York Democrats to play nice is not a good idea where the map drawers consider what is about to happen nearly everywhere else in the country.

Aside from states losing seats and the gerrymandering games that will be occurring by early next year there is also the long history of the party in control of the White House losing seats in mid-term elections.  What happens in 2022 is a story still to be written.

The aging Democratic leadership in the House seems likely to change regardless of how next year’s elections turns out.  There are some smart, aggressive and younger Democrats who are prepared to step forward into the leadership positions.

On the Republican side of the aisle, however, the current hierarchy is probably going to be the party’s leadership going into 2023.  Contemplate Trump acolyte Kevin McCarthy as speaker.

As the Republican leader of the House McCarthy led the party’s support to overturn the 2020 election.  When that wasn’t enough he gladly accepted the proposition that the Trump-led insurrection on January 6th where Trumpkins attacked police officers, leading to several deaths, was just the work of a fun-loving bunch of Republican tourists in town to see the nation’s Capitol.  McCarthy as Speaker of the House would bring the country a leader who lacks all things combined that the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow were seeking in their travel to the Land of Oz.

A lot of things can and will happen over the next fourteen months to determine control of the House of Representatives in 2023.  New York Democrats should do what they can to affect that result.

So proceed, Democratic state legislators, to do your part.  The nation is depending on you.

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