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Redistricting and the 2018 Elections

Posted at 4:26 pm November 13, 2018, in 2018 Elections

BlogLogoWith last week’s gubernatorial elections finally settled, Democrats will pick up seven governor’s seats this year.*

That is a noteworthy—but not historic—number. In the 2010 midterms, for example, Republicans picked up five gubernatorial seats, while four years before that, Democrats had picked up six. The biggest turnover since 1970 happened in 1994, when Republicans gained ten seats.

Still, a six or seven seat swing is significant. And for one key reason, it may be more important this year than in any of the other years with big swings except 2010: redistricting.

Redistricting is the process by which states create legislative districts. It is a complicated (and often partisan) process and tends to work differently in each state. In almost all states, however, the governor plays a key role, whether by helping to draw the initial map or, more commonly, holding the power to veto it. The process will begin after the conclusion of the 2020 census; it is therefore important to note which party will hold power—including the governor’s seat—in each state early in 2021 when the census results become available.

Of the 36 governors elected last Tuesday, 34 of them will, barring impeachment or resignation, be their state’s governor in 2020.**

Of those 34, five will govern states in which the governor plays no role in the redistricting process: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Idaho. Three more of this year’s gubernatorial states—Alaska, South Dakota, and Wyoming—have only one congressional district, so unless there is a change based on the 2020 census, new maps in those states will only be needed for state legislative boundaries.

That leaves 26 states in which a governor elected last Tuesday has the opportunity to play a significant role in federal legislative redistricting. Perhaps most notable, the list includes all seven states that flipped from a Republican to a Democratic governor: Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.

There is nothing simple about redistricting and certainly a state’s governor is not the only important participant. But for 26 governors elected last Tuesday, redistricting will provide an opportunity to put their mark on their states’ federal representation for the next decade. Thirteen of those governors are Democrats and 13 Republicans.


* Republicans will only lose a net six because they will pick up Alaska, formerly held by Independent Bill Walker.

**New Hampshire and Vermont elect governors on two-year cycles and will therefore hold gubernatorial elections in 2020.


-Kristoffer Shields