Top Democratic Redistricting Group Gears Up For Era Of ‘Perpetual’ Combat
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (D) spearheaded the push for Democrats to get more active in state-level redistricting fights.
The National Democratic Redistricting Committee announced plans Wednesday to train its resources on 13 states in the 2024 election cycle: Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Arizona, Virginia, Ohio and Wisconsin.
The announcement marks a new stage for NDRC, a group founded by former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2016 to narrow the GOP’s advantage in redistricting fights.
Although the completion of the 2020 U.S. Census resulted in the creation of new congressional and state legislative districts for the 2022 midterm elections, legal battles persist and elections for positions with influence over redistricting loom on the horizon.
“We are in a new landscape,” said John Bisognano, president of NDRC. “Redistricting has evolved to a place where it seems perpetual.”
“In an environment where redistricting is no longer cyclical, this really is a new endeavor,” Bisognano added.
Specifically, NDRC makes the case that greater vigilance is required in an era when supporters of former President Donald Trump have doubled down on their push for gerrymandered maps and have also begun questioning the validity of election results altogether.
“Representative democracy used to be something that was [a] given in this country. It’s something that both parties supported,” Bisognano said. “We find ourselves at the center of that battle as we speak. So the stakes are very high.”
At the same time, NDRC is celebrating the achievements of an organization that has been making up for lost time over the past seven years. Four longtime gerrymandering battlegrounds — Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire — now have what NDRC considers fair maps. In fact, the group celebratedThe New York Times’ conclusion that the map of House districts for 2022 was the “fairest House map of the last 40 years.”
“As a result of our work, Americans have the fairest congressional map in decades, and more fair state legislative maps than before. That is real progress in the fight for a representative democracy,” Holder, who is also chair of NDRC, said in a statement. “But Republicans are attempting right now to reverse that progress as a central part of their political strategy going into next year’s election and will continue to do so in the years that follow.”
With that in mind, NDRC divides its 13 target states into three principal categories: States where NDRC hopes to “protect” its current achievements, states where NDRC has ongoing efforts to “prevent” Republican power grabs, and states where NDRC wants to “propel” existing anti-gerrymandering reforms further.
The states in the “protect” category are Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. Michigan voters adopted a nonpartisan redistricting system in a 2018 ballot referendum. And Democrats in the other three states succeeded in securing competitive maps drawn by courts after the states’ respective governors and legislatures deadlocked.
To “prevent” GOP advances, NDRC is supportive of litigation against Republican maps in Alabama, Georgia, Texas, Florida and Louisiana.
In addition, NDRC hopes to “propel” Arizona, Virginia, Ohio and Wisconsin toward “fair redistricting and representative democracy,” as the group describes it. Arizona, Virginia and Ohio all adopted a watered-down form of independent redistricting that still gave state legislative Republicans significant power over the process.
Wisconsin, which has a nearly even partisan split in statewide elections, still has congressional and state legislative maps that are lopsided toward Republicans. The victory of Justice Janet Protasiewicz in the April state Supreme Court election, however, created a liberal judicial majority that is expected to be receptive to legal challenges to the Republican-drawn maps.
Finally, NDRC has a “watch list” of states where it believes there are opportunities that depend on the status of ongoing litigation. On the watch list are Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, New Mexico and New York.
NDRC employs three principal tools to advance Democratic Party interests in redistricting fights: lawsuits; support for electing sympathetic officials with direct influence over redistricting; and grassroots organizing to impress upon elected officials the extent to which voters of all backgrounds oppose partisan gerrymandering. Bisognano cited Pennsylvania’s state Supreme Court race in November as an example of an election where it plans to be active.
The very existence of NDRC is the product of a Democratic Party wake-up call following the wipeout it suffered in the 2010 midterm elections. The loss of countless state legislative bodies and governorships to Republicans, right before once-in-a-decade redistricting, helped keep the U.S. House out of Democratic hands until 2018.
NDRC and its allies set to work challenging many of those maps in the courts and trying to prevent another scenario in which the party falls asleep at the wheel. Today, it is one of many national Democratic groups that focus on state-level races and policy fights that liberals now acknowledge have national implications.
“Redistricting is certainly going to determine the makeup of the House,” said Bisognano.
Officially, NDRC is opposed to all partisan gerrymandering — regardless of who engages in it.
But it is still a partisan organization. The group issued mixed reviews of both a New York high court’s imposition of nonpartisan maps in May 2022 and a Maryland court’s ruling in March 2022 that Maryland’s Democratic state legislature needed to adjust its maps.
NDRC’s strategic ambivalence about Democratic gerrymandering continues apace. In its Wednesday press release, NDRC alluded to its hopes that New York Democrats will succeed in overturning a nonpartisan court-ordered map. Asked about successful Democratic gerrymandering states like Illinois and Maryland, Bisognano was circumspect.
“I would probably argue that those states are much more representative and it’s a very different thing than what you’re looking at in states like Texas and Florida where they proactively and aggressively gerrymander people of color out of districts,” Bisognano said.