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What the midterm election results mean for 2020's redistricting

Data: National Conference of State Legislatures; Note: Nebraska’s legislature is non-partisan, D.C. does not have a governor, and Georgia’s governor’s race remains undecided as of Nov. 9, 2018; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Democrats pulled off a slew of significant — yet still moderate — victories in state legislative and gubernatorial races after years of brutal losses as they attempt to chip away at Republicans’ sweeping control of the redistricting process before the next round begins after the 2020 census.

The backdrop: In most states, voting maps are drawn and approved by state lawmakers and governors every 10 years to reflect population change. Both parties have used their time in power to craft maps to disadvantage their opponents, but Republicans took it to the extreme in the 2011 redistricting cycle, preventing Democrats from netting more state legislative seats across this year's midterm elections.

Before the midterms, Republicans held 33 of 50 governorships and both chambers of state legislatures in 32 states while Democrats had only 14. (Three states were divided, and Nebraska has a unicameral, nonpartisan legislature.)

  • But Democrats flipped seven Republican-held governor seats in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Nevada and Wisconsin.
  • They also took full control of the legislature and governor's mansion in seven states, giving them a total of 13. However, none of these states have excessively partisan gerrymandered maps.

Meanwhile, Republicans' so-called "red firewall" held strong in hotly contested gubernatorial contests in key swing states like Ohio and Florida, where a recount was ordered Saturday. The race in Georgia still remains too close to call.

  • But in Wisconsin and Michigan, which are both battleground and gerrymandered states, incoming Democratic governors Tony Evers and Gretchen Whitmer, respectively, will be able to veto Republican-drawn maps.

What's next: Most governors and some state senators elected last week have four-year terms, meaning they'll be in office during the next round of redistricting. However, many other legislative seats will be again up for election during the 2020 presidential election cycle, giving both parties another round to battle.

  • In 2020, Democrats still would have to secure significant wins in red states to have larger control over redistricting.
  • Still, the modest rebound during this year's cycle will make it easier for Democrats to push through new laws to roll back restrictive policies and expand voting access.

The bottom line: Whichever party prevails in 2020 won't guarantee the end of partisan gerrymandering. Election reformers are continuously mulling other avenues to curb the practice, including legal challenges — some of which could very well reach the Supreme Court.

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