We are just three years into the decade long redistricting cycle that began with the 2010 census. It is a cycle that begins with sorting through winners and losers of the apportionment lottery as some states gain seats while others lose. Next, politics reigns supreme as states redraw political boundaries and proceed with the delicate task of drawing a map that can pass muster both legally and politically. The third phase, which lasts most of the decade, consists of meticulous judicial examination of maps and perhaps usable precedent, just in time for the next round.
RealClearPolitics’ Senior elections analyst Sean Trende in a recent article takes us beyond the current redistricting cycle and makes an intriguing prediction about the 2020 round of redistricting; one that would, if true, change the very nature of these three phases. His thesis is that states that lose house seats in apportionment from slow population growth will have to face the prospect of having to dismantle majority-minority congressional districts.
Yes, it is likely that states with one or more majority-minority congressional districts, who lose a house seat may have to reduce the number of minority districts in cases where those districts are comprised of only bare majorities of the voting age minority population. Trende looked at the U.S. Census Bureau’s population projects for 2013 and extrapolated this out to 2020 to project which states will likely lose an electoral seat after the 2020 reapportionment. Some may say that 2013 numbers are too far out to make reasonable projections but Trende insists that 10 years ago, the 2003 census projections allowed a “decent approximation” for 2010.
Trende predicts New York, Michigan and Ohio will all lose an electoral vote in 2020 and each of them hold delicately balanced minority-majority districts, some of which will be impossible to maintain. This situation will leave linedrawers in a precarious quandary since many of these districts do not have sufficient minority population elsewhere to draw from, leading to the certain death of at least some minority-majority districts. Trende’s article gives a detailed analysis of African-American majority districts in all three states and describes the specific circumstances that future line drawers are likely to deal with in 2020.
Of course, redistricting and the case law that accompanies it is fluid, and many developments between now and 2020 will affect Trende’s predicted crisis, but it is a real enough prospect to consider. If Trende’s projections are true, it will change the nature of the redistricting cycle as interesting coalitions could develop in the effort to save endangered minority districts and a new body of law will likely address the issues surrounding the dismantling of minority districts. Perhaps this will increase the use of coalition districts between two or more minorities. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule on whether and how these districts can be used. Indeed, Trende reminds us of the tantalizing prospect that 2020 will be a fascinating time for redistricting, or in Trende’s own words; “unlike anything we’ve seen.”