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Opinion

Democrats, don't panic over post-Census redistricting

The media are scaring Democrats into accepting their own gerrymandered demise. But Republicans can only gain so much from redistricting. 

By Scott Keyes / December 22, 2010



Washington

The Democrats are toast. That’s the headline from this week’s Census report. Big population gains in America’s red states mean more Republican seats in Congress, and big GOP victories in state-level contests mean more conservative control of the redistricting process. In just seven weeks since the election, Democrats have already reached stage five of their electoral grieving process: acceptance.

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And why shouldn’t they be? It’s nearly impossible to find predictions about redistricting that don’t portend doom for the Democrats. The November election gave Republicans a “commanding redistricting edge,” according to The Hill. The GOP will now be able to “redraw the political landscape for the next 10 years,” writes USA Today. In states where one party controls redistricting, Republicans enjoy a “crushing” 197-49 advantage, notes the Washington Examiner.

Liberals need to relax

More liberal teeth were gnashed this week when new Census data showed that blue and purple states like New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio would lose seats in Congress. Red states, meanwhile, are sitting pretty. One of them, Texas, is picking up a whopping four seats. 

ANOTHER VIEW: Democrats' last line of defense against GOP gerrymandering: the Voting Rights Act

But Democrats shouldn’t panic. Most of these Democrats-are-toast analyses are a mile-wide and an inch-deep. They take into account neither individual state methods for drawing districts nor which party drew them a decade ago. Protected majority-minority districts are ignored, as are practical considerations of the number of districts that could realistically shift parties. And few ask the question: Is maximizing the number of possible Republican seats actually the primary motive of mapmakers?

Before we look more closely at each of these limitations on gerrymandering, a practical point bears consideration. It is tempting to believe that because Republicans control the redistricting process in 197 congressional districts, this means they can draw 197 new Republican seats. They can’t.

The limits to gerrymandering

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