There’s going to be a lot of prognosticating between now and November 2022 that will give an illusion of drama to what’s a foregone conclusion. You don’t need a crystal ball to foretell the outcome of next year’s midterm election; you only need to look at a map.
Specifically, this congressional map that’s poised to pass Ohio’s Republican-controlled Legislature. Former President Donald Trump won Ohio with 53 percent of the vote in 2020 — but under the map that passed the state’s Senate on Tuesday, the GOP is guaranteed 80 percent of the state’s seats in Congress. If the two remaining swing districts in the proposed map go their way next year, Republicans could control up to 87 percent of Ohio’s 15 congressional districts.
Ohio is just the most recent example that illustrates the GOP’s plan to determine the winners of next year’s races before a single vote has been cast. And it’s not clear from the outside that Democrats in Washington grasp the situation. There are two bills languishing in the Senate that would limit the harm from GOP gerrymandering — but no real plan to pass either of them.
The free-for-all is being made manifest in maps that threaten to block Democrats from power at both the state and federal levels over the next decade.
As things stand, it won’t take much manipulation for the Democrats to lose one or both houses of Congress next year. They hold the Senate only through dint of the vice president’s tiebreaking vote; Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California holds the gavel thanks to a House majority of less than half a dozen seats. And with more than 350 days until the midterms, The New York Times believes “Republicans are already poised to flip at least five seats in the closely divided House thanks to redrawn district maps that are more distorted, more disjointed and more gerrymandered than any since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965.”
That last bit is no coincidence. The current redistricting push is the first since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act’s preclearance requirements in 2013. Before then, many of the states racing to restrict voter rights had to submit their electoral maps to the Justice Department before they could be put into place. Now the free-for-all is being made manifest in maps that threaten to block Democrats from power at both the state and federal levels over the next decade.
If Ohio’s allocation of seats seems skewed, wait until you look at North Carolina’s. During the last redistricting cycle, state and federal courts eventually forced the GOP-controlled Legislature to redraw its maps twice. When voters went to the polls last year, when Trump won by just 1.3 percentage points, there were eight GOP-favored congressional seats and five that leaned toward Democrats.
But wouldn’t you know it: The new map passed this month in Raleigh looks weirdly like the original map the GOP drew a decade ago, even though minority groups have been responsible for nearly 90 percent of North Carolina’s population growth since then. If the state courts allow the scheme to stand, the GOP will control 10 or 11 of the state’s 14 congressional seats before a single race has been called.
This wouldn’t be the case if the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was in place. That bill would restore key parts of the Voting Rights Act that Shelby County v. Holder nixed. The same goes for the Freedom to Vote Act, which would limit the ability of state legislatures to draw wildly gerrymandered districts. If both of those bills were in place, Democrats might actually have a shot at holding the House and the Senate — and in doing so, prevent further erosion of small-d democratic norms in this country.
And while there’s majority support for them in the Senate, there’s no urgency to get rid of the one thing holding up passage of these bills: the filibuster. In the last month, the GOP has filibustered both bills, preventing them from even being debated. And there’s no sign that anywhere close to 10 of its members will be willing to give up the structural advantage the states are busy baking into the 2022 and 2024 elections.
Slowly but surely, more members of the Democratic caucus have come out in favor of at least reforming the filibuster rather than letting voting rights be quashed. But slowly isn’t good enough right now, not when maps in Ohio, North Carolina and other places are being locked in now.
Pundits and the consulting class are busy arguing over whether Democrats should pass popular bills or show bipartisan restraint to stay in power. Neither argument seems to accept that if voting rights legislation doesn’t also pass, the next 400-odd days may be the last chance Democrats have to have any role in legislating for the next decade.