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Redistricting - Why does it matter?

Part 1: Why Districts Matter

Before we get into redistricting, let's talk about why do district voting patterns matter?

Districts determine elections, big and small.

A Democratic or GOP majority in the state will determine whether representatives and Senators are Dems or GOP, and their party affiliations determine how they vote on any given issue, particularly the GOP. As Bill Clinton famously once said, “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line.”  

Tennessee is a “red” state. That’s why both our Senators are Republican and 7 of our 9 Representatives are GOP. In state government the ratio of Dem to GOP is even more lopsided. Of the 33 state Senators, 28 are Republican. Of the 99 members of the House, 72 are GOP. So the makeup of the state legislature will obviously affect what legislation is passed—or not.

The same is true of Congress. Right now the makeup of the House is 240 GOP to 194 Democrat (with 1 vacancy), enough for a comfortable Republican majority. The Senate is famously 52-46 with 2 independents. How many Senate votes can you remember in the past few years with 1-vote margins? How many were in the Democrats’ favor? Not many.

Most noticeably, state party affiliations will determine the Electoral College. If the state is a majority Republican, the Electoral votes go to the GOP candidate, regardless of the popular vote, as we so painfully saw in November. As of now Congress has the largest Republican majority since 1929.

Next time: how has this come about?

But As the population has grown, especially in cities, the overall demographics have shifted more and more Democratic, largely due to the influx of Latino and other immigrant voters. The growing population of Latino voters and other immigrant voters has tipped some districts Democratic or more heavily Democratic than they were before. That means that left alone, these areas are more likely to vote for Democrats most of the time.

If left alone, many districts will eventually lead to a Democratic majority in them, if they haven’t before, and therefore some states will flip blue.

Redistricting, or the redrawing of voting district boundaries within a state, occurs once every ten years (years that end in a zero), after the United States Census is completed. This is mandated by the Constitution.

The demographics of the US population have changed in the last 20-30 years because:

  • Immigrants have moved in, and people of ethnicities besides Anglo-Saxons have become eligible to vote. They tend to vote Democratic. They tend to have more children who become Democratic voters.

  • The Millennials, people 18-34 as of 2017, are now the largest segment of the population, even bigger than the Baby Boomers. Their political beliefs seem to be noticeably more liberal than their parents’. Many of them, for instance, accept LGBT rights as a “no-brainer” and gay marriage as “no big deal.”

  • A better educated population tends to be more liberal, particularly in areas of domestic policy. And more Americans have gone to college in the past 30 years than ever before.

Traditionally, party affiliation splits along socio-economic, educational, ethnic, and geographical lines. Rural areas vote GOP, cities vote Dem. Suburbs typically go GOP but that’s not always a given. Cities have much bigger populations than rural areas. So why aren’t more states blue?

Here’s why.

by Nikki Brock Wright

Robert Donati