Continuing the 2022 Conversation: Redistricting, Midterms and More
By Nathan Gonzales,
Inside Elections Editor and Publisher
Public Affairs Council Senior Political Analyst
Neither a global pandemic nor a historic freeze in Texas could stand in the way of the National PAC Conference. Thanks to technology and the Council staff, we were still able to have our annual politics discussion, just in a virtual setting.
Since we couldn’t continue the conversation in the hallways outside a hotel ballroom, I pulled a few questions from the chat that we didn’t get to in the session, and tried to answer them here, sans dad jokes.
Now that Trump is out of office, what Democratic messaging do you think is going to “stick” for 2022?
— Ashton Barry, Quorum
This is a key question ahead of an important set of midterm elections with the House and Senate majorities on the line. We have to remember that President Donald Trump drove energy and turnout for both parties in 2020. Democrats have been divided for years, but were united behind the core mission of defeating Trump. Now that that mission has been accomplished, Democrats are left with the quandary Ashton is bringing up.
Because it is fundamentally easier to rally voters and donors against something rather than for something, Democrats will look to highlight and promote other enemies. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado could slide into starring roles in Democratic ads and email solicitations. There will also be somewhat typical attacks on extremism on the right. That’s not going to match the fervor against Trump, but it’s something, and at least Greene and Boebert are relatively new to the overall political landscape and haven’t been overdone.
Some of the best news for Democrats is that Trump doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. Even though he’s not in office, the former president is consistently interjecting himself into the national conversation, playing in the 2022 elections, and keeping a potential 2024 candidacy on the front burner, which could keep some Democrats more engaged than if he retired quietly.
Now that Democrats are in power in Washington, their message will necessarily focus on promoting and defending their efforts. Getting people to turn out in favor of legislative accomplishments is not as powerful as exciting people against someone such as Trump. But Republicans are painting their own picture of the country under Democratic control, so Democrats better be ready to respond.
What do you think will be the major issues to impact turnout in 2022?
— Aimee Ramsay, Nucor Corp.
First of all, turnout will be down in 2022. I guarantee it. But it is always down in a midterm election compared with presidential years. A key question is whether turnout is down disproportionately between the two parties.
As Ashton alluded to in the previous question, both parties have to wrestle with energizing voters. Democrats don’t have Trump around to demonize to the same extent. And Republicans haven’t proven they can turn out the full Trump coalition when his name isn’t on the ballot.
Historically, midterm elections are a referendum on the president, and it usually goes poorly for his party. If people are dissatisfied with the direction of the country and they can’t vote against the president, they take it out on his party. And when one party is in control of Washington and is perceived to have gone too far legislatively or abused its power, then the other party can effectively run a check-and-balance argument.
These midterm elections could break from the historical norm if the country is sufficiently beyond the COVID-19 dread and is physically, economically, mentally and socially healthier. That could take the edge off of typical midterm voter angst. But if the COVID-19 recovery is largely done by the end of 2021, that would leave nearly an entire year for voters to focus on something else to be upset with Democrats about, which could boost GOP prospects.
Is there precedent for states to only use reapportionment data for redistricting in order to meet their constitutionally/statutorily mandated deadlines?
— Matthew Woolley, NFIB
This is a great question that I’m glad wasn’t asked during my session because I needed to do some homework.
To take a step back to bring everyone up to speed, redistricting is delayed this cycle because the U.S. Census Bureau is delayed in relaying relevant data to the states. The reapportionment data (which will confirm which states are gaining or losing congressional seats based on population) is supposed to be delivered by the end of April. But the more granular data that states use to actually draw the lines (including voting age, race, and housing occupancy status) isn’t scheduled to be delivered until the end of September. And there’s no guarantee that that deadline will be met, considering the ever-shifting goal posts.
So Matthew is wondering whether states can use the reapportionment data from this spring instead of waiting for the next set.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), one of the best resources for redistricting information, I think the answer to this question is decidedly murky. The Constitution doesn’t specify which data the states should use for redistricting.
Twenty-one states explicitly require the use of census data for congressional redistricting, 17 states have an implied basis or in-practice reliance on using the census for congressional redistricting, and six states permit the use of the census or other datasets for their redistricting, depending on circumstances, according to NCSL. Six states (Arkansas, Hawaii, Indiana, New York, Ohio and Texas) don’t fit neatly into those three NCSL categories.
Ohio is suing the Census Bureau to get the data released by the end of March, per usual, instead of the end of September, which would be too late for the state to meet its own deadlines for redrawing the legislative maps, according to the Associated Press. Other states could follow suit.
The bottom line is that I am not expecting a universal answer to redistricting questions. Because of our decentralized election administration and redistricting process, and differing timelines when it comes to primaries and filing deadlines, we are going to see a variety of responses across the country to the mess the Census Bureau is cultivating. As I said in the conference session, one of the most important pieces of advice I have is to ready yourselves for chaos in House races this cycle.
What are your thoughts on the constant litigation of the lines?
— Jennifer Pugh, American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC)
If we haven’t already, we have to accept that litigation is a permanent part of our electoral process. And I don’t use the word “permanent” flippantly.
Lawsuits and legal challenges were not new to 2020: Just look at the famous 2000 presidential election as well as other high-profile recounts. But the combination of the changed laws for voting during a pandemic and Trump’s (and the Republican Party’s) insistence that widespread fraud occurred (it did not), virtually guaranteed that the losing party in any particular race of consequence will challenge future results in court.
Litigation has been an unofficial part of the redistricting process for decades. The parties build a three-legged redistricting stool that stands on elections, drawing the lines and legal preparation. More specifically, the first step is to win as many state legislative chambers as possible in order to be in charge of drawing the lines, then draw the lines, and then be able to defend or challenge those lines in court. This round of reapportionment and redistricting is no different. Whichever party comes up on the losing end of a new set of congressional lines will challenge the new map in court, looking for some relief.
Filing lawsuits is not just sour grapes. People and parties have a right to make legal challenges. It becomes corrosive when people don’t accept the results of those decisions and continue to sow seeds of doubt and distrust in the entire political system.
Why diss Ohio? We will always be a contender.
— Elizabeth Bartz, State & Federal Communications
I made a mistake when I dismissed the Ohio Senate race. In my presentation, I should have mentioned Akron as the shining city not on a hill. As someone who drives across the entire state of Ohio multiple times a year to visit my in-laws in Indiana, I might have let my resentment cloud my political vision.
In all seriousness, Ohio is still important; it’s just not the reliable swing state it once was. Except for Sen. Sherrod Brown, no Democrat has won a statewide race in the Buckeye State in a decade. That doesn’t mean the races aren’t important. With the Senate divided 50-50 on Capitol Hill, every election matters, and the race for the open seat created by the retirement of GOP Sen. Rob Portman will matter in the fight for the majority. But all things being equal, and looking empirically, I can’t say the race starts on the battleground when Republicans have won virtually everything for quite some time.
Democrats could win key races in Ohio in 2022, but the state doesn’t start as the focal point of the midterm universe.
Nathan L. Gonzales is a senior political analyst for the Public Affairs Council and editor of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter with a subscription package designed to boost PACs with a regular newsletter and exclusive conference call. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.