KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE
— The national redistricting picture is nearly complete, as only 5 more states — FL, LA, MO, NH, and OH — have yet to enact congressional maps.
— While Democrats are currently up in our running House tally, the plans from those 5 remaining states should boost the Republican tally.
— Despite GOP hegemony in Florida and Ohio, the situations in both states have been especially messy. Ohio Republicans are constrained by new voter-approved redistricting rules and a state Supreme Court that appears determined to enforce them, while Florida’s governor and legislature are not on the same page.
The nation’s outstanding redistricting business
With the 2022 primary season already underway, the vast majority of states have passed their new congressional maps. However, while the lines have been finalized in 39 of the 44 states that have more than a single district, some of the remaining states are large — in fact, the composition of their delegations could decide control of the House.
The Crystal Ball favors Democrats in 185 of the seats that have been drawn, to 169 for Republicans (22 districts are Toss-ups). But the 5 states that have yet to produce maps account for a sizeable 59 seats. Perhaps more notably, Republicans, at least on paper, technically control redistricting in 4 of those states — Florida, Missouri, New Hampshire, and Ohio — while they also may end up getting their way in the 5th, Louisiana, despite its Democratic governor.
Altogether, Republicans currently hold 39 of the quintet’s 59 seats, so in terms of the overall House count, even a relatively status quo arrangement would likely benefit the GOP (while Ohio is losing a seat, Florida is gaining one).
The smaller states
New Hampshire, the smallest of the 5 states, is typically a blue state at the federal level — it backed Biden by over 7 points and does not send any Republicans to Capitol Hill. But in 2020, Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) won reelection by a 2:1 margin, and his coattails likely helped Republicans claim both houses of the state legislature. In an ironic twist, Sununu seems less than thrilled with the plan that the legislature seems intent on advancing.
Since the late 19th century, New Hampshire’s pair of congressional districts has seen little change. Over the last decade or so, the 1st District has been a prime swing seat, while the 2nd has leaned Democratic, but not overwhelmingly so. Last week, a Senate committee approved a plan that originated in the state House. Under this plan, Republicans would have a good chance to flip NH-1, as it would be turned into a narrowly Trump-won seat, although this means that the GOP would essentially concede NH-2.
If the full state Senate passes the plan, it will head to the governor’s desk. Though Sununu has stopped short of issuing a veto threat, he recently seemed to encourage legislators to amend the plan.
During a recent special legislative session in Louisiana, where Republicans hold 5 of the state’s 6 seats, legislators passed a plan that would maintain that split. But the 5-1 plan was met with Gov. John Bel Edwards’ (D-LA) veto pen. Edwards reasoned that in a state that is roughly one-third Black by composition, 2 of the 6 seats should be majority Black, instead of just 1.
Republicans, who have majorities in both chambers of the legislature, need a two-thirds vote to override Edwards. While they have that number in the state Senate, they are slightly short in the state House. Interestingly, while at least one state House Democrat has announced his intentions to go against Edwards, Republicans may have some of their own defections. The congressional map made some curious splits in Grant and St. Mary parishes, which has some Republican legislators from those areas raising parochial concerns.
The Louisiana legislature began its regular 2022 session on Monday, so it may soon try to override Edwards’ veto. If Republicans are unsuccessful, the process may fall to the courts — while this may give Democrats an opportunity to make the case for another Black-majority seat, such a district would still not be guaranteed. It is also possible that if Edwards’ veto is sustained, Republicans could pass another 5-1 map that would satisfy some of their defectors — although it could still prompt litigation.
A few states up the Mississippi River, Missouri seems to be proof that just because a party can be maximally aggressive in redistricting doesn’t automatically mean that it will. In January, the state House passed a plan that essentially kept the state’s 6-2 Republican map intact.
Aside from MO-1 in St. Louis, which is about half Black (and acts as something of a natural Democratic pack anyway), Republicans have fairly wide latitude in drawing the state’s map. The plan that the state House passed kept MO-5, the other Democratic-held seat, as a Kansas City-area sink, while it gave Rep. Ann Wagner (R, MO-2), who has a light red St. Louis area seat, a boost.
However, conservative Republicans in the state Senate decried the plan as the “Pelosi map,” and charged that their party could be more aggressive. Though it would theoretically be possible to carve up MO-5, for a 7-1 GOP map, this would make some of the red seats less firm. Additionally, though it is possible to shore up MO-2 by turning it into a more rural seat, Wagner seems reluctant to relinquish much of her suburban St. Louis constituents.
After a filibuster, an amendment to create a 7-1 plan failed in the state Senate. Later, another 6-2 map was floated — as a concession to conservatives, it would have moved Wagner’s seat even further right by giving her all of Jefferson County (this suburban county used to be swingy, but now usually gives Republicans solid majorities).
Without passing a congressional map, the Missouri legislature adjourned, but it will reconvene next week. With the candidate filing deadline at the end of March, though, there is pressure on legislators to pass a plan — if talks break down again, it seems possible that courts could step in.
Florida and Ohio
Though Republicans have total control of state government in both Florida and Ohio, redistricting in both states has been, to say the least, hard to navigate.
In November, the Florida state Senate kicked off the process in the state — it released 4 draft plans. Though each version had minor differences, none were especially dramatic departures from the current plan: each retained a dozen Biden-won districts, while the new seat, FL-28, was roughly coterminous with fast-growing Polk County.
As state analyst Matthew Isbell chronicled in his summary of the state’s recent legislative session, conservative complaints over the relatively tame state Senate maps may have prompted Gov. Ron DeSantis to propose his own plan. The governor’s plan was an aggressive Republican gerrymander — in 2020, Trump would have carried 20 of his 28 districts.
One of the main sticking points among Republicans has been how to draw the panhandle. The DeSantis plan eliminated Democratic Rep. Al Lawson’s FL-5, which runs from Tallahassee to Jacksonville. FL-5 was established in 2016 as a result of the state’s court-ordered mid-decade remap — it replaced another heavily Black district that snaked from Jacksonville to Orlando. Though Black residents make up a large portion of FL-5’s population (49%), they are not a majority — thus, according to some thinking on the Republican side, it is not protected by the Voting Rights Act. Earlier this year, DeSantis requested an advisory opinion from the state Supreme Court on FL-5’s legality, but the high court declined to give an opinion.
In the meantime, the state House produced its own plans — perhaps in the interest of expediency, the state Senate got on board with the House. In the end, the entire state legislature passed 2 congressional redistricting plans — each features 18 Trump-won seats. While Plan 8015 keeps FL-5 intact, Plan 8019 reconfigures the seat so that it is located entirely within Jacksonville’s Duval County (and it becomes less Democratic-leaning). The former acts as a backstop if the latter is struck down.
Neither plan is as aggressive as DeSantis would like, though. The governor has not backed off of his veto threats, and Isbell predicts that the courts are likely to step in.
Ohio was unquestionably one of Republicans’ biggest redistricting success stories over the last decade — for 2012, they drew a plan intended to give their party a 12-4 edge in the state’s delegation, and it held each cycle — but it has seen one of the most complicated redistricting sagas of any state. In 2018, Ohio voters passed Issue 1, a state constitutional amendment that established certain standards for fairness in redistricting. While this seems a worthy objective, the ramifications of this amendment have driven much of the tumult in the state.
In November, Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) signed off on a plan that the legislature passed. That plan gave Democrats 2 ironclad seats (in Cleveland and Columbus) and created 3 marginal seats — all of which could elect Republicans, especially in a cycle like 2022 — but left 10 clearly GOP-leaning seats. Importantly, because the map was passed along party lines, it would only be in place for 4 years, according to the rules established by Issue 1.
In January, the legislature’s plan was struck down by the state Supreme Court, which found the map to be “infused with undue partisan bias.” Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, who also served as the state’s Republican lieutenant governor from 1999 to 2002, was the critical vote — she sided with Democratic-aligned justices in a 4-3 ruling.
At the beginning of this month, the state’s redistricting commission, which is a panel of statewide politicians and legislators, passed a plan that is generally similar to the version that the court struck down — in the context of 2022, Democrats would only be solid favorites in 2 of the state’s 15 seats. The new map is currently under judicial review, but seems likely to get struck down.
Of these 5 states, Ohio may have some unique logistical challenges, considering its relatively early primary. Unlike Florida, for example, which has a late August primary, Ohio’s is scheduled for May 3 — a date that may have to be pushed back. Additionally, filing for partisan congressional candidates in Ohio closed on March 4. If a new map is enacted, filing could very well have to be reopened. As an aside, Maryland recently pushed back its primary (and filing deadline) due to redistricting-related lawsuits — so such delays are not unheard of in post-redistricting cycles.
It is hard to say what type of map Ohio may ultimately enact for the 2022 cycle, but given the state Supreme Court’s interpretation of Issue 1’s standards, Democrats seem likely to emerge with more than just 2 seats.
Even if Democrats get more favorable plans in states like Ohio and Florida, we expect these final 5 states to give Republicans a boost in our overall redistricting count.
To use an Election Night analogy, the national redistricting picture reminds us of watching a swing state report returns before all of its most conservative areas are fully in: while Democrats are ahead in our count now, that could change once these states finalize their maps.