Republicans stand to be the political winners coming out of the 2010 national census, as congressional redistricting will likely make the “average” lawmakers slightly more conservative while cementing GOP control of the House of Representatives, a panel of electoral experts predicted Monday.
Sweeping Republican gains in gubernatorial and statehouse elections last fall have given the party the clear upper hand as states redraw congressional boundaries — or eliminate seats altogether — in the wake of the new census numbers.
“On balance, that 218th seat in the House, the seat Democrats will need to secure a majority in the House, will move two points to the right from where it is today and [the gap] will probably get wider,” said David Wasserman, editor of the Cook Political Report.
Mr. Wasserman was part of a panel held at the Brookings Institute Monday looking at the early returns from the redistricting process. Several Republican-controlled states are coming under fire for drawing the new boundaries to benefit their party by diluting the influence of minority voters, who have historically tended to vote Democrat.
“One result will be more polarization,” said Norm Ornstein, longtime congressional scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He cited North Carolina Reps. Heath Shuler and Mike McIntyre were examples of Democratic House members who were “going to be on the chopping block in states where Republicans have gained a little more leverage.”
Some say this redistricting — always an intensely partisan affair — violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
“Across the country it’s fair to say that there are real concerns about the fact that the huge growth in the Latino population is not being reflected in the states where there are new congressional districts being drawn, and those populations feel that their voting strength is not being fairly reflected in those states where maps are being drawn,” said Anita Earls, a civil rights attorney.
Ms. Earls added that in Texas a dozen lawsuits in state and federal court had already been filed protesting that the increase in the state’s Hispanic population was not being reflected in Texas’ redistricting map drafts. Georgia and Mississippi, two other states where with Republican governors and legislatures, face similar legal challenges.
Michael McDonald, a political science professor at George Mason University, said the process of how districts are mapped is very “arcane.”
“It’s not a good system we have in place here,” Mr. McDonald said. “It’s possible now to actually run redistricting software through Web browsers. It allows the public to draw their own redistricting plans; you can see what the political consequences are.”
Ten states have already issued final redistricting maps, while another 33 are still debating the final lines. Seven states will not be shifting congressional boundaries.
Redistricting “has become more vicious,” Mr. Ornstein said. “Voters should choose representatives rather than representatives choosing their voters.”
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