This year’s midterm elections will take place with the House of Representatives split along razor-thin margins. Democrats hold 222 seats to Republicans’ 212. The 2020 election, despite resulting in Democratic control of the White House and Congress, actually saw the GOP gain seats in the House. Hence, all eyes turned to the reapportionment and redistricting process which occurs after the completion of each census, most recently in 2020.
Although the number of House seats per state is determined by population (reapportionment), in most states the actual districts themselves are drawn by state legislatures (redistricting). Historically, both parties have taken advantage of majorities in state legislatures to draw favorable district borders and gain seats in Congress. This process, essentially legal cheating, is known as gerrymandering. It is the most tried-and-true method of voter suppression that the government holds. And with nationwide population trends generally showing more growth in red states, some experts speculated that Republican state legislatures could effectively flip control of the House through the redistricting process alone.
Of course, in California (and especially San Francisco) there is little mystery as to which party holds sway. California’s new congressional map is expected to have almost an identical partisan makeup to the last one, minus one seat overall due to reapportionment. But redistricting isn’t just shapes on a map, nor is it just about a few states — these new lines could spell doom for liberal policymaking on issues like climate change, minimum wage, and education.
However, Democratic hopes of holding control of the House got a boost Feb. 3 when New York governor Kathy Hochul signed a new (and egregiously gerrymandered) congressional map into law. The map, which was passed by a heavily Democratic state legislature, leaves Republicans with just four safe seats to Democrats’ twenty, with two more seats labeled as competitive by FiveThirtyEight, a prominent statistical analysis website.
Conversely, the GOP has fallen behind in the redistricting process partially because their attempted gerrymanders in North Carolina and Ohio — much more purple states than New York — were even more extreme than the New York Democrats’ and were promptly overturned by state courts. Which brings me to the crux of the matter: is it okay for liberals to celebrate their increased chances in these elections, even though this boost has come thanks to perhaps the most insidious process in American government?
Each election nowadays feels higher-stakes than the last. One hundred and forty-seven congressional Republicans—the majority of their caucus—voted to decertify election results from Biden states in 2020. Despite Biden’s uneven presidency up to this point, it is vital that Democratic voters show up for the midterms. And if voters deliver Democrats increased majorities in Congress, Biden’s campaign promises might become more achievable.
As long as decades-long politicians control redistricting, gerrymandering will persist. It was liberals’ misfortune this election cycle that Republicans appeared slated to punish Democratic voters — especially voters of color, such as in Alabama — with a slew of unfair maps. Why can’t they celebrate catching a break in New York?
To celebrate a gerrymander in any capacity is missing the point. It has come about due to a system that encourages incumbent politicians for decades in increasingly safe districts. What the American government needs is new blood, people who jump into politics with a real belief in actually changing the levers of government to better represent the people. A start to this would be placing redistricting in the hands of independent commissions, not state legislatures, a change that eight states (including California) have already made.
I feel relieved that Democrats in 2022 will ‘only’ have to contend with the traditional midterm backlash against the incumbent party, slim margins of power in Congress, and Joe Biden’s subpar approval rating. But if we continue celebrating when we cheat because they cheat more, real change will continue to elude us. Liberals’ reaction when the redistricting tracker grows bluer should not be elation. It should be sadness at the point this country has reached in its political discourse, and resolve to elect candidates who will meaningfully strive for a fairer future.