The slow, uneven, and often obscure process of decennial redistricting that will reshape the U.S. House of Representatives (along with state legislative chambers) starting in 2022 has, so far, not generated many precise estimates of partisan impact. But it is generally understood that Republicans will make net gains thanks to their control of legislatures in many highly competitive states and their relative lack of interest in nonpartisan reforms that reduce opportunities for gerrymandering. Combined with the historic pattern of the White House party almost invariably losing House seats in midterms (barring a wildly popular president, which we do not have) and the tiny margin of current Democratic control, redistricting has reinforced the very high odds Republicans will flip the House in 2022.
But there is one very large state with a nonpartisan redistricting process that could help Democrats mitigate House losses: California. The Golden State has a voter-imposed “citizens” redistricting process that has all but wrapped up its mapmaking (a final report will be sent by the redistricting commission to the secretary of state Monday). As the Los Angeles Times reports, demographic changes are likely to boost Latino representation in California’s House delegation but could also expose Republican incumbents to some danger:
Latino voters would see a major boost in political clout under new congressional and legislative districts approved unanimously Monday by the independent citizen panel charged with redrawing the state’s political map.
Although the panel, created by voter initiative in 2008, does not take partisan balance into account in drawing district lines, the maps it produced all but guarantee that Democrats will retain super majorities in the Legislature and their current lopsided majority in California’s congressional delegation.
This result was produced with consideration of the factors the citizen panel is required to consider, especially compliance with Voting Rights Act provisions that encourage maximization of minority voting influence (yes, the U.S. Supreme Court has gutted key enforcement provisions of the VRA, but the act’s policy guidance to bodies like the California redistricting commission remains intact). Per the Times:
Nearly one-third of the state’s 52 new congressional districts would have a majority of Latino citizens of voting age under the new maps. That’s an increase of three districts even as California lost a seat for the first time in its history because its population did not grow as fast as other states’.
Initial analysis of the new maps, moreover, shows Democrats mostly holding safe seats (though a few have been consolidated) with a number of Republicans in marginal territory:
That’s in addition to the district of Republican Devin Nunes, who decided to resign his seat to run Donald Trump’s new media organization.
Three GOP incumbents who flipped House seats Democrats had won in their historic 2018 California sweep — David Valadao of the San Joaquin Valley, Michelle Steel of Orange County, and Mike Garcia of northern Los Angeles County — are in races rated as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report based on where analysts think they will run under the new maps:
Garcia, who won by only 333 votes in 2020, will be watched very closely.
So Democrats could make up for some of their likely House losses around the country by reflipping marginal districts in California. The big question is whether the natural midterm swing against the party controlling the White House might offset the improved circumstances Democrats gain from California’s redistricting. But even if California doesn’t save the Democratic House, the new district lines bode well for Democratic competitiveness — and better representation of Latinos — over the next decade.