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2021–22 Redistricting Cycle Poses High Risk of Racial Discrimination in the South, New Projections Show

Florida, Georgia, and Texas are hotspots for abuses because of legal and demographic changes, and single-party control of map-drawing.

February 8, 2021
Contact: Mireya Navarro, Media Contact, mireya.navarro@nyu.edu, 646-925-8760

Flor­ida, Geor­gia, Texas, and North Caro­lina likely hotspots for partisan and racial gerry­man­der­ing due to changes in demo­graph­ics and the law, and single-party control of map-draw­ing
 
Redis­trict­ing reforms and polit­ical wins result­ing in divided govern­ment in some states improve the chances for fair maps: Color­ado, Louisi­ana, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Utah, Virginia, and Wiscon­sin

The next round of redis­trict­ing in 2021 and 2022 is likely to be the most chal­len­ging in recent history and partic­u­larly detri­mental to communit­ies of color, accord­ing to a report by Michael C. Li, one of the nation’s lead­ing experts on redis­trict­ing and gerry­man­der­ing and senior coun­sel at the Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

The Redis­trict­ing Land­scape, 2021–22 provides an over­view of the battles ahead over the polit­ical maps being drawn this year and next that will apply to Congress and state legis­latures for the next ten years. The report categor­izes the 50 states accord­ing to their projec­ted risk for partisan gerry­man­der­ing and/or racially discrim­in­at­ory maps.

“Expect a tale of two coun­tries,” Li writes. “In parts of the coun­try, newly enacted reforms and divided govern­ment will make it harder to force through partisan gerry­manders or racially discrim­in­at­ory maps. In other states, however, there may be even greater room for unfair processes and results than in 2011, when the coun­try saw some of the most gerry­mandered maps in its history.”

The risk for abuse in map draw­ing will be espe­cially high in the South, where fast popu­la­tion growth and demo­graphic change in Texas, Flor­ida, Geor­gia, and North Caro­lina will combine with single-party control of the process and weaker legal protec­tions for communit­ies of color.

“By strik­ing down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and making other key provi­sions of the Voting Rights Act harder to use, the Supreme Court has left Black and Latino voters with fewer voting protec­tions than at any time since the 1960s,” Li notes. “At the same time, the South has become more racially and polit­ic­ally diverse, posing a seri­ous new threat to the long­stand­ing status quo of white Repub­lican domin­ance. Look for some of this decade’s biggest fights to be over rapidly diver­si­fy­ing suburbs of the south­ern cities like Atlanta, Dallas, and Hous­ton.” 

In addi­tion to gerry­man­der­ing abuses in the South, Li sees improve­ments in six states that are debut­ing reforms passed by voters: Color­ado, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Utah, and Virginia. The reforms create strong inde­pend­ent commis­sions in Michigan and Color­ado that will take over redis­trict­ing respons­ib­il­it­ies from state legis­latures and draw both congres­sional and legis­lat­ive maps. In New York and Utah, new advis­ory commis­sions will present nonbind­ing maps for legis­lat­ive approval. In Virginia, a bipar­tisan commis­sion will draw both congres­sional and legis­lat­ive districts. And Ohio voters approved consti­tu­tional amend­ments to incentiv­ize more bipar­tisan line draw­ing. Court rulings strik­ing down partisan gerry­manders under state law in Pennsylvania and/or elec­tion of divided govern­ments in Pennsylvania, Wiscon­sin, and Louisi­ana, have improved the prospect for fairer maps in those states.

Other high­lights from The Redis­trict­ing Land­scape, 2021–22:

  • Repub­lican single-party control of the redis­trict­ing process will continue to be the norm in much of the coun­try. Repub­lic­ans will have sole control over draw­ing congres­sional maps in 18 states and legis­lat­ive maps in 20 states, while Demo­crats will have sole control of congres­sional maps in 7 states and legis­lat­ive maps in 9 states. These single-party-controlled states include Flor­ida, Geor­gia, North Caro­lina, and Texas. All told, Repub­lic­ans will have sole control over the draw­ing of 181 congres­sional seats compared to 49 for Demo­crats.
  • Together, Latino, Black, and Asian Amer­ican voters will account for 80 percent of the coun­try’s increase in eligible voters between 2010 and 2020, accord­ing to the report’s projec­tions. Since 2011, the number of eligible Black, Latino, and Asian Amer­ican voters has grown at an extraordin­ary rate, with Latino Amer­ic­ans alone respons­ible for 40 percent of the increase in the coun­try’s eligible voters.
  • Alabama, Missis­sippi, and South Caro­lina have a high risk of manip­u­lated maps. Although they are not grow­ing or chan­ging demo­graph­ic­ally as fast as the highest-risk states, these three states were formerly covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and will also draw maps this decade under single-party control.
  • Arizona, Cali­for­nia, Illinois, and Wash­ing­ton saw signi­fic­ant nonwhite popu­la­tion growth in certain regions in the last decade and could see fights over demands for increased repres­ent­a­tion for grow­ing communit­ies of color.
  • Delays in the release of 2020 census numbers because of the Covid-19 pandemic will create signi­fic­ant timing chal­lenges in several states. In Virginia, this will make it virtu­ally impossible to draw new maps before sched­uled legis­lat­ive elec­tions, forcing the state to use exist­ing maps for its 2021 elec­tions. In other states, the delay in receiv­ing data could push redis­trict­ing into special legis­lat­ive sessions, where there are fewer proced­ural protec­tions and more oppor­tun­it­ies to manip­u­late the process. Other states, like Illinois, will need to change legal dead­lines for complet­ing redis­trict­ing to avoid default­ing to a backup commis­sion that could be controlled by the minor­ity party (Repub­lic­ans).
  • This cycle of redis­trict­ing may bring efforts to draw legis­lat­ive or local govern­ment districts based on adult citizen popu­la­tion rather than total popu­la­tion, the long-stand­ing prac­tice in all 50 states. (This risk does not apply to congres­sional districts.) Such a switch would devast­ate repres­ent­a­tion for grow­ing Latino and Asian Amer­ican communit­ies. Black communit­ies would also be hit hard. Cities and suburbs would lose repres­ent­a­tion to more rural parts of states.
  • In Janu­ary, the House intro­duced the For the People Act (H.R. 1), a set of demo­cracy reforms that would bring key improve­ments to redis­trict­ing nation­wide. The bill includes a ban on partisan gerry­man­der­ing and would estab­lish uniform national rules for map draw­ing, includ­ing enhanced protec­tions for communit­ies of color.

“H.R. 1 could be a game changer for redis­trict­ing if Congress acts quickly,” says Li. “Without H.R. 1, states like Texas and Flor­ida almost certainly will see another round of aggress­ive map draw­ing at the expense of communit­ies of color. H.R. 1 would create a fairer process and give communit­ies of color new tools to fight back.”

To read the full report, click here.