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Five takeaways from the finalized House maps

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The House battleground for 2022 is now finalized. 

All 50 states have enacted new political lines by which the fight for control of the House will be waged. New Hampshire became the last state to fully adopt new maps. And while legal challenges to other states’ maps are still playing out, they’re not going to change anything before the November elections.

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Here are five takeaways from the latest redistricting cycle:

Democrats made some gains

Republicans may have gone into the redistricting cycle with a bigger say over the map-drawing process. But Democrats were actually the ones who increased their share of districts that lean in their direction. 

Under the new maps, there are 187 districts that lean Democratic – an increase of six over the old congressional lines. Republicans, meanwhile, ended the redistricting cycle with the same number of GOP-leaning districts that they started with.

The change for Democrats is largely due to aggressive map-drawing efforts in blue states like Illinois and Oregon. 

At the same time, a three-judge panel in North Carolina threw out a map passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature that it believed overly advantaged the GOP and replaced it with its own map that carved out one more Democratic-leaning seat.

Of course, legal challenges could change things up eventually. But the Democratic redistricting gains are set to stand for this year’s midterm elections. 

But Republicans still came out on top

While Democrats increased their share of favorable districts, Republicans are still poised to gain more ground overall.

That’s thanks in part to courts tossing out Democratic gerrymanders in blue states like New York and Maryland. The ruling in New York was a particularly tough one for Democrats, who saw their initial congressional map as a buffer against aggressive Republican gerrymanders elsewhere.

Republicans also pressed their advantage in states like Florida, where legislators approved a map pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis that created four more Republican leaning seats and cut away the number of competitive districts.

The ultimate outcome is that Republicans are now set to net three or four seats under the new lines. Given that the GOP needs to pick up just five seats this year to recapture control of the House, the party’s redistricting gains are likely to put them most of the way there.

The battlefield is shrinking

If there’s a central theme of the most recent redistricting cycle, it’s that House races are becoming less and less competitive. 

That’s not necessarily a new phenomenon. The number of so-called swing districts has trended downward for decades. In 1992, for instance, roughly 100 or so members of Congress were elected from these battleground districts. In 2022, that number looks to be somewhere around 40. 

The shrinking battlefield is largely the result of growing partisanship. Republicans, who control redistricting in more states than Democrats, drew new lines to protect their current holdings, while Democrats did the same in blue states. 

According to the data website FiveThirtyEight, there are now six fewer competitive House seats in this year’s midterm elections than there were the last time around. 

The result: candidates from both parties are more likely to find themselves running in more partisan – and, consequently, more favorable – districts. In effect, that increases the political payoff of running more partisan campaigns and disincentivizes bipartisanship and compromise in Washington. 

Minority representation took a hit

Emboldened by the most conservative Supreme Court in decades, Republicans used the redistricting cycle to challenge key tenets of the Voting Rights Act and its provision that every racial group must be given an equal chance to elect a candidate of their choice.

Consequently, the redistricting process largely failed to increase representation for people of color, despite the fact that those voters account for a growing share of the country’s population. 

In Florida, state lawmakers approved a congressional map that critics say dilutes the power of Black residents by effectively gutting the North Florida district held by Rep. Al Lawson (D-Fla.) and redrawing it into a solid Republican seat. 

Similar battles have played out in other states. In February, the Supreme Court halted a lower court’s decision to toss out Alabama’s new congressional map that it argued violated the VRA. The Supreme Court’s decision reinstated a Republican-drawn map that kept the number of majority-Black districts at one instead of two. 

And on Tuesday, the Supreme Court made a similar move with regard to Louisiana’s congressional map, putting a hold on a lower court’s order for the state to create a second majority-Black district. 

The map is still likely to change, but not before the midterms

With the Supreme Court’s decision to reinstate the GOP-drawn congressional lines in Louisiana, the maps in place today are the ones that the 2022 midterm elections will be conducted under.

But there are still some potential changes in the pipeline that could affect the country’s political lines for years to come. 

In one instance, the Supreme Court will soon decide whether to hear an argument from North Carolina Republicans that the state’s Supreme Court did not have the authority to toss out the map approved by the GOP-controlled legislature, because drawing new political lines is a legislative responsibility and not a judicial one.

There are other pending cases, as well, including one before a mid-level appeals court in Florida. And in Ohio, the new political maps are also likely to be redrawn in the coming years.

All that’s to say, the maps that will determine the composition of Congress this year won’t be in place for the next decade. But for now, the midterm battlefield is set.