Oct 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

New gerrymander weapon

Illustration of two fists in blue and red punching either side of a cracking cursor arrow

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Partisan map-makers are considering not just voter registration but planning and zoning data to decide how new congressional districts can be drawn to help or hurt their candidates not just now but in the future.

Why it matters: High technology and the "big sort" of like-minded voters grouping together can make gerrymandering less conspicuous this year — even if it still exists.

What we're hearing: In Texas, Republicans added vacant lots to Democratic districts, expecting them to turn into high-density housing areas over the next decade, David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report told Axios.

  • That urban-style housing is more likely to attract Democratic voters, so Republicans want to keep them clustered in one place.
  • Such nonpolitical analysis also allows parties "to forecast how their gerrymanders will perform over time," he said.

There's also far more open-sourced redistricting platforms this time around, National Republican Redistricting Trust's executive director Adam Kincaid told Axios.

  • "It creates a volume of maps that are available to the public — and to legislators, if they look at them, and commissioners, if they look at them," he said.
  • Joe Kabourek, RepresentUs senior campaign director, told Axios advanced technology has also made it so "partisan actors can slice and dice districts with precision, and outside the sight of voters."
  • One sign: an uptick in uncompetitive districts without excessive geographic manipulation.

Yes, but: There's some dispute over just how much technology has advanced since the last redistricting in 2011, and whether it really makes a difference.

  • Kincaid said it's been overstated, and "the reality is that the technology now is about the same as that technology 10 years ago, and maps have been drawn to be durable for a very long time."
  • National Democratic Redistricting Committee president Kelly Ward Burton argued technology could be used to create fairer maps.
  • She accused Republicans of "doing the opposite, drawing maps that double down on and preserve the most egregious gerrymanders in the country."

Technology isn't the only reason voters may see fewer strangely shaped districts when redistricting is completed later this year.

  • Americans are self-sorting — increasingly living near like-minded voters.
  • This "big sort" makes it even easier to draw safe, smooth districts, since voters have naturally created politically homogenous communities.
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