Redistricting Madness: The Final Three

Two elephants fighting superimposed over antique maps of Florida, Missouri and New Hampshire colored dark blue, light blue and light red respectively.

As we close out the first week in April, just three states have yet to enact new congressional maps for this year’s midterms: Florida, Missouri and New Hampshire. The three laggards have one thing in common: despite Republicans having full control of redistricting, the process has stalled due to Republican infighting. Here’s what went down — and where things currently stand — in the final three states.

Florida

The Opponents

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis (R)
  • Republicans in the Florida Legislature

The Conflict

DeSantis and Florida’s legislative Republicans have been feuding over Florida’s congressional map since DeSantis unexpectedly stepped into the redistricting process. In January, he proposed his own congressional map that would elect fewer Democrats than any of the Legislature’s plans. The conflict centered around northern Florida’s 5th District, which stretches from Jacksonville to Tallahassee and is designed to give Black voters the opportunity to elect the representative of their choice. DeSantis claimed the district is unconstitutional, while Republicans in the Legislature maintained it is legally protected.

In an attempt to appease DeSantis, the Legislature passed a redistricting plan with two maps: one that shrinks the 5th District to just Jacksonville and would still likely give Black voters the ability to elect the representative of their choice, and a backup map that maintains the 5th District in its current form in case the first is struck down by courts. Undeterred, DeSantis vowed to veto the plan — which he did on March 29, citing a memo from his general counsel that argued the 5th District in both maps is a racial gerrymander in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

What’s Next

Following his veto, DeSantis announced the Legislature would return for a special session to pass a new map. The session is scheduled to run from April 19 to April 22. In a statement, the legislative leaders affirmed their intention to work with “Governor DeSantis during the upcoming special session on a congressional map that will earn the support of the legislature and the governor.” We’ll have to wait until the session ends to see if Republicans are able to resolve their dispute.

At the same time, two impasse lawsuits have been filed asking courts to step in to ensure a new map is in place in time for the 2022 elections. Arteaga v. Lee is in state court while Common Cause Florida v. Lee is in federal court. If Republicans fail to agree on a plan during the special session, these cases will likely take center stage in Florida redistricting. Even if the Legislature passes a plan and DeSantis signs it, that might not be the end of litigation, as any map that eliminates the 5th District as a Black-performing seat will likely lead to separate legal challenges.

Missouri

The Opponents

  • Missouri House of Representatives
  • Missouri Senate

The Conflict

Missouri’s redistricting started off smoothly enough, with the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives passing a congressional map in January that largely preserved the state’s status quo of two Democratic districts and six Republican districts. Conservative hardliners in the Republican-controlled state Senate, however, filibustered the map, insisting that the Legislature pass a gerrymandered plan that would dismantle the Kansas City-based district now represented by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D). The state Senate then paused redistricting discussions and moved on to other business despite a rapidly approaching deadline for candidate filing.

On March 24, just a few days before the candidate filing deadline on March 29, the state Senate finally passed a map. The state Senate’s plan preserves Rep. Cleaver’s district while implementing other changes to satisfy the hardliners, including making the suburban St. Louis district held by Rep. Ann Wagner (R) much more favorable to Republicans. But the state House refused to endorse the state Senate plan, instead voting twice to ask the state Senate to meet in a conference committee to create a compromise map, a request the state Senate has so far refused. Meanwhile, the candidate filing deadline has passed — meaning candidates have filed to run in districts that will not exist in November.

What’s Next

While the state House and state Senate try to work out a path forward, there are two ongoing impasse lawsuits in Missouri. Pereles v. Ashcroft was filed on behalf of a group of Missouri voters while Thomas v. Missouri was filed on behalf of a separate group of Republican voters. Filed in the same state court, they both ask it to intervene and ensure a new congressional map is in place in time for the 2022 election. The Thomas plaintiffs also ask the court to establish a new candidate filing deadline considering that the original deadline passed without new districts.

New Hampshire

The Opponents

  • Gov. Chris Sununu (R)
  • Republicans in the New Hampshire General Court (the state Legislature)

The Conflict

Republicans in New Hampshire approved a gerrymandered congressional map that radically overhauled the state’s two districts for the first time in over a hundred years. Currently, both districts are competitive, but under the recently-approved map, the 1st District would become solidly Republican while the 2nd District would become solidly Democratic.

One Republican not on board with this proposal, however, is Sununu. Throughout the process, he expressed hesitation with the plan, arguing that as a purple state, New Hampshire should have competitive House districts. True to his word, he pledged to veto the map shortly after it passed the New Hampshire Senate on a party-line vote. He then released his own proposed congressional map that maintains the competitiveness of the current districts. But so far Republicans in the General Court have shown little appetite for revisiting redistricting, as the deadline for bills to pass from one chamber to the other during the regular session has already passed.

What’s Next

With New Hampshire holding the latest primary in the nation — Sept. 13 — Republicans still have time to reach an agreement on a map that Sununu will sign. Like the other two states, there’s an impasse lawsuit, Norelli v. Scanlon, already underway in state court in case they don’t. 

Lawmakers in all three states could still reach an agreement and enact new congressional maps in time. But if they don’t, courts in each are poised to step in and take over the process — all because some Republicans wanted to pursue more aggressive gerrymanders than their colleagues. If courts end up drawing fairer maps than Republicans would have wanted, they may come to regret trying to push their redistricting power to the limit.