On Tuesday, Democrats gained at seven governor's offices and six legislative chambers, striking a blow against the GOP's power to egregiously gerrymander congressional districts nationally after 2020 like they did this decade. However, as shown on the map at the top of this post, Republicans would still get to draw four times as many districts as Democrats if redistricting took place after 2018 instead of after the 2020 census, with Republicans scoring crucial narrow victories in the large states of Florida, Ohio, and likely Georgia too once that last race gets called. Consequently, the fight against gerrymandering is far from over.
However, Democrats won’t face as large of a deficit as they did this decade, when five times as many districts were drawn to favor Republicans than Democrats. Furthermore, while almost all of the key governor's races for redistricting did take place in 2018, there are still legislative elections to be held in 2020. Democrats could break the GOP's legislative trifecta in Florida by flipping the state Senate. That will be crucial now that Republican Ron DeSantis will become governor and hand Republicans control of the state Supreme Court, which would almost certainly let GOP legislators ignore voter-approved anti-gerrymandering constitutional amendments if they maintain full control.
One of the brightest spots on Tuesday came from the two worst states in the country when it comes to extreme Republican gerrymandering this decade: Michigan and North Carolina. In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer broke the GOP’s grip on state government by winning the governor’s race and voters approved an independent redistricting commission ballot initiative that will be tasked with drawing fair maps. That’s critical because Democrats will have won the state legislative popular vote yet failed to win a majority in at least one chamber in five of the last nine elections, including 2018 once the votes are finalized (and another election was practically tied). No other state holds a candle to that undemocratic record.
In North Carolina, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper wasn’t on the ballot and lacks the power to veto redistricting anyway, but Democratic victories nevertheless paved the way to dismantle GOP gerrymandering sooner rather than later. That’s because civil rights crusader Anita Earls flipped a Republican-held state Supreme Court seat and voters rejected the GOP’s deceptively written court-packing constitutional amendment, extending the court’s Democratic majority to a five-to-two edge. Voting rights and election law experts now expect Earls and her fellow Democratic justices to follow the trailblazing lead of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court and use North Carolina’s own constitution to strike down gerrymandering before 2020, which the U.S. Supreme Court is unlikely to overturn thanks to federalism.
Democrats still face a large unfair disadvantage in redistricting thanks largely to Republican gerrymandering, and this pernicious situation isn’t going away anytime soon now that the partisan Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court are likely to exacerbate it by blocking attempts to stop it in federal court. But by making gains at the state level, Democrats have helped make the playing field significantly less uneven for next decade’s redistricting cycle.