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Districts in the Deep South won by President Obama, all majority-minority

The Voting Rights Act saw one of its main enforcement mechanisms gutted last summer in the controversial and partisan 5-4 Supreme Court decision Shelby County v. Holder. However, even without section 5 requiring many jurisdictions to pre-clear changes to the voting process section 2 remains. Through it and accompanying jurisprudence such as Thornburg v. Gingles and Barlett v. Strickland, states and other jurisdictions are effectively required to draw majority-minority districts under appropriate circumstances. Recently there has been debate about what impact these required majority-minority districts have on Democratic numbers in the U.S. House of Representatives through redistricting with some believing they result in a smaller Democratic caucus despite giving minorities more seats. In this diary I want to thoroughly dismantle that argument by mapping out plausible alternate outcomes in the absence of the VRA forcing majority-minority districts to be drawn and showing that the result is that Democrats lose many seats and are effectively shut out of contention for control of the house and especially many state legislatures.

To summarize I found that Democrats would have lost over a dozen seats in the house which would require them to gain around 30 for just a simple majority in 2014. This is largely because there are very few Democratic-drawn states to begin with and fewer with majority-minority districts. Those that have them see local political considerations augur against diluting minority strength, not the VRA. In many Republican-drawn states the majority-minority districts function to effectively pack in Democrats and protect neighboring Republican districts and thus would not be altered. However in the Deep South it would be open season on the few remaining Democratic districts. The party would also be permanently in the minority in many state legislatures with Republicans able to effectively set their minimum seat count above the number required to override vetoes. Below the fold I'll go over the states individually and map out eight of them.

First are the states where Democrats could potentially draw themselves more districts without the VRA district requirement, but the maps below are not of what the states could do without majority-minority seats. This is because Democrats already did not push for the maximal redistricting advantage even with the VRA requirement and local politics and good government sentiment would squash any attempt to dismantle or significantly dilute existing majority-minority districts. Looking at those few states where the party even had the opportunity to draw districts for itself we have:


The state has eight congressional districts and voted for President Obama with 63 percent of the two party vote. Thus one might assume an aggressive gerrymander could capture all eight seats for Democrats and one would be correct in that assumption, even while maintaining the two black-majority districts. However, Maryland Democratic pols placed a whole slew of demands upon the map: Dutch Ruppersberger wanted Aberdeen plus plus his home in northern Baltimore County, John Sarbanes wanted his home of Towson north of Baltimore, Annapolis, and some of the D.C. suburbs, Donna Edwards wanted parts of Montgomery County and pols in her district in Prince George's County didn't want their influence diluted in a primary, Steny Hoyer wanted College Park and black pols in Prince George's again didn't want their influence diluted, and finally it was taboo to split the heavily Republican Eastern Shore. When looking at the actual map it's obvious Maryland Democrats had no qualms about ugliness, but they still decided to vote sink tea party Republican Andy Harris in the Eastern Shore based 1st and make all seven other districts safe.

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(click through all maps for a larger image)

However it was possible to meet all these demands with a hyper-aggressive gerrymander that made the 1st district Democratic leaning:
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So removing the requirement for VRA districts does nothing to help Democrats here when it wasn't blocking an additional Democratic seat in the first place. Local politics in heavily black Baltimore and Prince George's County would have necessitated the drawing of two majority or near-majority black districts, but all of the other demands placed upon the map-makers, especially those of John Sarbanes and Dutch Ruppersberger (who are white), would have nixed targeting the 1st.


Democrats here hit jackpot when unpopular governor Pat Quinn nonetheless won reelection in the 2010 wave thanks to a too extreme opponent and thus gave them the trifecta to gerrymander the state. They passed a strong and effective, but not incredibly aggressive congressional gerrymander that aimed for 12 solid Democratic seats, 5 solid Republican seats, and 1 swing district. But even with the 4 VRA districts required in Chicago, they could have easily passed a more aggressive map that would have resulted in 14 solid Democratic seats to just 4 Republican ones:
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Districts 1, 2, 4, and 7 are the majority minority ones, but it's very difficult to unpack them any further. For one, the 5th and 9th to the north are already quite heavily Democratic while the 3rd to is held by Blue Dog Dan Lipinski. His ties to state house speaker Mike Madigan caused Democrats to actually move his district to the right in 2011 to insulate him from a liberal primary challenger and there would have been no desire by them to add more liberal minorities to his district. Thus even without any VRA requirement there just aren't many ways to unpack those parts of Chicago due to geography nor is there the political will to slice the Chicago suburbs into even more bacon strips combining disparate communities. So that's both Democratic-drawn states where the lack of required majority-minority districts might have increased the size of their caucus, but in both states that doesn't seem to come to fruition for reasons unrelated to the VRA.

Looking at states that weren't partisan gerrymanders, those drawn by courts, commissions, or the like, there are few that even have majority minority districts with only three worth mentioning:

The state has the model institution for combating gerrymandering with an independent multi-partisan citizens' commission. Thus the map without the VRA isn't going to look all that different in terms of partisan outcomes, but the biggest impact is the 21st district which is currently Democratic leaning and moves solidly into the Republican column when it sheds the heavily Democratic and Hispanic parts of Bakersfield. Republicans control that seat thanks to a fluke, joke of a nominee on the part of Democrats, but come 2016 this would likely represent a loss for team blue without the VRA. Other changes might occur, but I am at present unable to tinker around with California much given its size and the limitations of the otherwise highly useful and free Dave's Redistricting App.

New Jersey
There are two majority-minority districts in the state in North Jersey, but even if they were not required they would still be drawn. Democratic pols in the region would not settle for their being dismantled, but more importantly they provide very effective vote sinks for the Republicans who designed the map for 2012.

New York
The deadlocked legislature led to a start from scratch court-drawn map being implemented for the Empire State. Without the VRA forcing majority-minority districts, NYC would likely look a good deal different, however every single district save one is safely Democratic there and would remain so. The Republican-tilting 11th would likely see little change in partisanship as southern Brooklyn closest to Staten Island is already fairly Republican leaning to marginal territory. Therefore the net impact would simply be to elect some different Democrats out of NYC.

Next there are the states Republicans gerrymandered, which in total represented about half of all congressional districts and well over three times as many as Democrats did. Many of these states that have majority-minority seats, particularly outside the South would see little change without VRA districts such as:

Republicans are already pushed to the limit here thanks to the state's Fair District Amendment and the majority black seats function as very effective Democratic vote sinks so there would be no reason whatsoever to dismantle them.

It's the same situation as Florida with Republicans being stretched to the limit and the two majority black districts in Detroit already being optimally drawn for packing in Democrats.

Missouri is interesting in that a handful of Democrats crossed the floor to provide the numbers necessary for Republicans to override Democratic governor Jay Nixon's veto of their map and many Democrats at the time complained that this cost the party a seat in St. Louis, which is just not true when one tries to draw a different map. The 1st district must be about 45-47 percent black and extend into the suburbs which forced the 2nd district to become one that voted heavily for Romney, but even if the 1st doesn't have to be max-black it would barely get less Democratic, resulting in a 2nd district Romney easily carried by double digits. In short the only way Democrats are even competitive for a third district in Missouri is if they gerrymandered it.

North Carolina
Republicans drew the most aggressive gerrymander in the nation in North Carolina and as such they would have no incentive to crack the two heavily black districts they drew as they pack in Democrats so the neighboring seats can be won by Republicans.

The Ohio GOP argued that the VRA forced it to draw the heavily black 11th from Cleveland's east side down to Akron, but they would have done that regardless as it was the best way for them to pack it with Democrats and destroy the chances of then representative Betty Sutton of winning a fourth term.

Similar to Detroit, Philadelphia's black majority 2nd district is already an optimal Democratic vote sink for Republicans in a state where they nearly pushed the map to the limits and did so especially around Philadelphia.

Like many of the other states in this list, Virginia's Republicans needed the Richmond to Hampton Roads 3rd district as a Democratic vote sink to protect their neighboring districts and would still draw it in a way that just happened to be majority-black even without that being a requirement.

Finally there are the Republican gerrymanders which almost certainly would change without VRA protections for minority districts and incidentally they all happen to be in the Deep South.


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Republicans can rather easily slice apart the lone Democratic vote sink that stretched from Birmingham through the Black Belt to Montgomery given how solidly red the state itself is. While there are still a few pockets of Blue Dog strength, though they are dying out, they can be neutralized and I sincerely doubt the ability of even locally popular conservative Democrats to win districts that voted for Romney by 20 percent or more in a place as polarized as Alabama. In particular though, the 2nd district where Blue Dog Bobby Bright won an incredibly Republican open seat in 2008 then just barely lost in 2010 is no less Republican than the actual map and would have dissuaded him from running. The Democratic trending parts of the Black Belt are paired with Republican trending rural areas in the north of the state or the implacably Republican white suburbs such as in Shelby County south of Birmingham, which was the jurisdiction whose lawsuit brought about the end of VRA section 5. There would have been no reason for Republicans not to target the 7th district as all of their incumbents are protected and the state party has plenty of ambitious pols.


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Georgia Republicans actually implemented a mid-decade redistricting plan for 2006 and I believe they would be quite aggressive without the VRA. They already tried for a 10 to 4 advantage, but ran a mediocre candidate against Blue Dog incumbent John Barrow and lost. Here however it's very easy to defeat Barrow by removing heavily black and Democratic Augusta from his district which moves it to the right enough for him to have lost in 2012. In addition the heavily-black 2nd is an easy target by removing Columbus and Macon, while Georgia's massively Republican north is unpacked to flip one of the three black-majority Atlanta area districts. Every one of their incumbents retains his seat as well and the map itself doesn't look hideous to the casual observer. With all 12 of their districts voting for Romney by at least 16 percent this map would regularly send a 12-2 delegation to Congress.


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The state had to shed a district in 2012 thanks to reapportionment and if the VRA didn't protect the sole Democratic, majority-minority seat it would have been an easy one to target in 2012. At the time the black-majority district was based exclusively in the New Orleans area and thanks in part to Hurricane Katrina was by far the most underpopulated of the seven districts. It was also adjacent to two very conservative districts. Given how Louisiana itself is quite safe for Republicans aside from rare cases like incumbent Democratic senator Mary Landrieu, I see little reason why they wouldn't have targeted the last Democratic district. Here all but one district voted for Romney by 16 percent or more while the 3rd district did so by just under 14 percent, however it is trending Republican more so than the other five and has the strongest incumbent. As with Alabama, there are still pockets of local Democratic strength, but given how Sen. Landrieu is struggling to win as a three term incumbent I am doubtful Democrats would have any chance at these six districts barring another 2008 type wave. All six Republican incumbents are made safe and they avoid the member on member match up that occurred in 2012. At minimum Republicans could have made the Democratic district marginal.


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Perhaps more than the other Deep South states, Mississippi is the hardest to make every single district safe Republican. However Mississippi is probably the most racially polarized state in the country and even though Democrats have a solid floor of 40-45 percent in all four districts their ceiling is not much higher and likely sufficiently short of a majority for none of the Republicans to be threatened outside of a wave. Black turnout falls relatively more than white turnout in midterms so the three districts where Obama lost by 8 to 10 percent are going to be even harder in non-presidential years. While some may disagree that Democrats couldn't win a seat Romney won by just eight percent, that's somewhat beside the point. Even if Republicans do lose a single district to a Blue Dog, that's still a much better position than they're currently in where the last district is beyond safe Democratic. At worst, Republicans could make the 2nd district simply a swing district, but I don't see why they wouldn't target it if they could. The 4th gets about eight percent more Democratic and Gene Taylor probably would have won it in 2010, but with polarization catching up fast I strongly doubt even he could win a district that voted for Romney by 20 percent and his recent conversion to the Republican party to run for the seat again seems to indicate that he thinks so as well. All three Republican incumbents retain enough of their bases that they should be safe.

South Carolina

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In South Carolina Republicans can attack the one remaining black majority seat, but in doing so need to make every single district about as Republican as the state as even though Romney did worse in the state than Mississippi, it's less polarized and Democrats have a higher ceiling. If they're willing to draw the state into strips they can effectively flip house minority whip James Clyburn's 6th district without endangering any of the others. The 5th and 7th, the least Republican under the actual map, get no more Democratic and while the 1st becomes about three percent more Democratic, that's nonetheless a small enough amount that disgraced former governor Mark Sanford would have still won it in the May 2013 special election. With actual 2010 and 2012 election data rather than estimates, Republican professionals could draw a map that more effectively accounted for the state's regional trends, but here I tried to pair the Democratic-trending Black Belt with the Republican-trending areas of the state such as the heavily white northwest. Though some see their districts considerably altered and then freshman Jeff Duncan loses his hometown, all five Republican incumbents going into 2012 should have been perfectly fine in both the primary and general.


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The grand finale is Texas where I have the least doubt that the state Republican Party would go all out in the absence of required majority-minority districts. This is the state that got slapped down not once but twice in court cases over gerrymandering that went all the way to the Supreme Court in just the last decade. In reality the state has 24 solid red districts, 11 solid blue ones, and 1 swing district that elected a Democrat in 2012, but now Republicans could make 30 districts safe for their party while packing Democrats into just 6. Thanks in part to disproportionately low Hispanic turnout, Republicans can flip three Hispanic-heavy seats in South Texas and both of the ones in Houston and Ft. Worth. Additionally by combining the two heavily black districts in Houston into one they can flip one further seat. Every single one of their incumbents going into 2012 has a clear district to run in where they would be safe in the primary and general with all 30 being at least as Republican as Texas is overall. More up to date electoral data would allow one to draw a more precise map, but regardless it would take a lot for those currently 60 percent Romney seats in the large suburban counties to trend Democratic enough where they would be vulnerable. Amazingly enough, Republicans could have also quite easily cracked the El Paso district by having two districts divide it and the panhandle, but I doubt they would go that far. Whether or not this map might be overreach by the end of the decade, that doesn't dissuade me from believing Texas Republicans would be greedy enough to attempt something like it as they did with their blatantly VRA non-compliant map in 2011.

All in all the above states and districts would lead to a total loss of 13 Democratic seats and their being taken completely off the table. In addition one seat in California goes from one of the bluest seats held by a Republican to safely Republican by partisanship. Subsequently needing to gain 30 seats just for a bare-bones majority, Democrats would effectively be shut out of the U.S. House of Representatives for the decade and even in a 2006 size wave would have serious trouble trying to gain control of it.

Even worse than at the federal level, Republicans could engineer essentially permanent majorities in many state legislatures. In Georgia for instance Republicans have the bare number of seats for a veto-proof majority, but the bulk of Democratic seats only exist because they are VRA protected. Without black-majority districts, Republicans could easily make their floor a super-majority which would effectively destroy the benefits from Georgia's slow but steady blue trend at the state legislative level. In addition Republicans would have stood to gain considerably at the state legislative level in Alabama, Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin in 2012 by being able to pack and crack more majority-minority districts. Those legislatures would then be able to strongly influence the next round of redistricting in a perpetuating cycle.

Though it may have cost Democrats seats in the 1990s when majority-minority districts first started to be required and southern Democrats still regularly won conservative rural whites, that couldn't be further from the truth today when the VRA district protection is a crucial bulwark against Republican gerrymandering. There is no conflict between electing more Democrats and electing a more diverse congress with the VRA, because requiring majority-minority districts accomplishes both.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Elections on Sun Mar 09, 2014 at 01:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community, LatinoKos, Kos Georgia, and Daily Kos.

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