2020 election and census hold keys to redistricting process

State election map
State election map. Sean Golonka

By Sean Golonka
BU News Service

Most of the attention during the 2020 election season has gone to the presidential race and some key senate and house races. But the State legislature races and gubernatorial races across the country are particularly important this year because of the decennial census.

The results of the 2020 census will determine the number of seats in the United States House of Representatives that each state is apportioned for the next decade. The results will also determine the number of electoral votes each state will have in the 2024 and 2028 presidential elections.

A report last year from Election Data Services showed projections that seven states would gain congressional seats, while 10 states would lose congressional seats.

Following the apportionment of congressional seats, states with more than one congressional seat undergo the process of redistricting, which involves the drawing of electoral district boundaries.

The methods of drawing new electoral districts vary from state to state. Some states have only one at-large district and require no redistricting. Some states have their districts drawn by a redistricting commission. The majority of states have their electoral districts drawn and passed by their state legislatures. 

The following maps show partisan control of each state’s upper and lower houses and the number of seats up for election in each state.

Of the states with redistricting controlled by their state legislature, some require gubernatorial approval, placing gubernatorial partisanship in an important role in the redistricting process.

The following map shows the partisanship of each US governor, as well as which gubernatorial seats are up for election in 2020.

In some states, electoral districts are drawn with the purpose of benefitting one of the major political parties, in a practice known as gerrymandering.

Across the country, various methods have been used to curb gerrymandering. In some states, independent redistricting commissions are used to avoid partisan control over the process. In the past couple of years, the state supreme courts in Pennsylvania and North Carolina have struck down congressional district maps for being too partisan.

But the redistricting process can still be affected by partisan control in states that have trifecta status. When one political party holds the governorship, a majority in the state’s upper house, and a majority in the state’s lower house, that state has trifecta status.

The following map shows which states have trifecta status ahead of the 2020 election.

With the mix of each state’s redistricting process and the partisan control of their state legislatures and governorships, the map of redistricting control looks like this.

The results of the 2020 election and the 2020 census could both make significant changes to that map.

Beyond potentially major changes in Montana and Virginia, other states could be affected by changes to their state legislatures.

In Arizona’s lower house, Republicans hold 31 seats to 29 for Democrats. If Democrats are able to gain control of the state’s lower house, it would disrupt a Republican trifecta in Arizona. In Iowa, Republicans hold a narrow lead in seats in the lower house, so with a few wins, Democrats could end a Republican trifecta in Iowa.

Across the country, state-level races will be critical in determining what party will be in control of each state’s redistricting process that could have significant political effects for the next decade.

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