Congress: Reapportionment is Over; Now Redistricting Begins

Jeremy Empol, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs for the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues
Jeremy Empol, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs for the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues

According to the U.S. Constitution, in the first year of every decade the census (or count) of every person in the United States takes place. The following year, the states will be assigned a total-population number and their allotment of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. States then redraw the district lines based on their state laws.

This week, while a little late due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Census Bureau released the count and reapportionment of seats in the House. The verdict is: California will lose one seat, bringing the state down to 52; and Nevada remains a delegation of four. The total U.S. population is 331 million, up from 309 million in 2010.

If you follow presidential politics, this also shifts the state’s electoral votes — which will remain six for Nevada but moves to 54 for California. All in all, after both states invested considerable resources to ensure an accurate count, the result is a nominal change (although for California it shows a decline in population).

The Fun Kicks Off
Now the fun (and real hard part) begins. The district lines will be redrawn in both states. This also includes the state legislative lines for Assembly districts and Senate districts; however, their number doesn’t change unless the state acts. Both states offer different approaches to redrawing the district boundaries, and several laws must be followed in the process.

Nevada takes a traditional route, which includes having the Democrat-controlled legislature (and the Governor) enter a special session to redraw the lines.

In California, the state’s 14-member Citizens Redistricting Commission decides new districts. The commission has five Republicans, five Democrats, and four non-party affiliated voters. None can have connections to elected officials.

With a total population in hand, the number is divided by total seats in the House (435), and that is how many residents must be counted in each district. The new number is 761,000 versus 709,000, which is where the process begins.

Likely Scenario for Nevada
The likely scenario is a nominal change in Nevada’s four congressional districts. However, even little changes could have an impact.

The going theory for Nevada’s districts is that District 1 (held by incumbent Dina Titus) will shed a few of the Democratic precincts, which will add a higher number of Democrats to neighboring District 3 (Susie Lee). Nevada’s District 3 has been a swing district, meaning the incumbent has won with a voter margin below 5 percent of the vote (i.e. Lee’s first election was by 52 percent; 48 percent in 2020).

Nevada’s District 4 (Stephen Horsford) is slated to lose a portion of the rural communities he currently represents to gain a little piece of District 1 as well.

That leaves District 2 (Mark Amodei) in the northern part of the state to remain a reliably Republican district. However, with Washoe being a swing county (voted for Biden over Trump and has trended to favor Democrats in recent years — ever so slightly), the voter registration numbers have pushed the district more moderate. This will be the big question — what the numbers look like after redistricting.

For the congressional delegation and the current four occupants, credit unions are well positioned to maintain strong allies unless they seek a different office.

The Details in California
As mentioned, California’s redistricting commission will start to draw the lines for 52 districts. While there are several prognosticators out there as the whole state is reviewed, for purposes of this article we’re looking at which seat goes. That’s not an easy question to answer, but the answer lies in the data.

Each of the remaining 52 districts will have to absorb roughly 60,000 residents. Therefore, no matter which district is cut, it won’t be done pointing to one specific incumbent.

The next level down is: Where has the population shrank? The data points to the greater Los Angeles area — between downtown to the beaches and south toward Long Beach. This area covers several incumbents, some who are champions for credit unions. They include Alan Lowenthal, Linda Sanchez, Nanette Barragan, Maxine Waters, Karen Bass, Jimmy Gomez, Lucile Roybal-Allard, and Grace Napolitano. GOP incumbent Mike Garcia in District 25 is in this mix, which has more to do with his win margin.

According to the Cook Report’s David Wasserman, data estimates show that districts starting at about the Fresno area should shift down to start absorbing the new 60,000 voters. If this is true, the further south a district gets (until it reaches Long Beach and Orange County), it is likely to pick up some degree of more democratic voters. That is all but District 21 (David Valadao), whose district could become a few points more Republican. If this is true, all the districts will run out of space right as predicted around Long Beach/San Pedro, which means that the current District 44 (Nanette Barragan) would be without her district.

However, no one knows for sure and there are other factors.

First, the Voting Rights Act has limitations on eliminating majority-minority districts (a district in which a racial minority group comprises the majority of the population). In this case, Los Angeles County has several: Waters, Barragan, Roybal Allard, Gomez, Bass and Napolitano. Eliminating one of these entirely makes little sense and would cause complications for the commission. This is a factor, though, that cannot be mistaken. California currently has 40 of these districts, although not necessarily represented by a member of that group.

The commission is not supposed to take the current incumbent into consideration when determining lines. However, it is worth noting the seniority and age breakdown of a few of these Representatives (Waters is 82, Napolitano is 84, Roybal Allard is 79, and Lowenthal is 79).

The last factor is one noted by several political journals and experts — District 25 (Mike Garcia). This district is currently comprised of three valleys: Simi, Santa Clarita and Antelope. If the southern shift happens, this district could absorb the bulk of the loss, as the Antelope Valley would move toward District 23 (Kevin McCarthy), the Santa Clarita Valley could be shifted to District 29 (Tony Cardenas) — and possibly split with District 27 (Judy Chu) and Simi into District 26 (Julia Brownley). That would leave Garcia without a seat to run. Garcia won his first full term by just over 300 votes.

A Waiting Game
While the commission now gets to work, everyone waits. There are still other impacts to be had across California, especially in the Inland Empire and Orange County.

Right now, California has roughly 8 – 9 seats that are viewed as competitive. With redistricting, it is likely the state will have a few fewer competitive lines — which serves incumbents well. At the same time, some very seasoned incumbents may find their bases shifted, and as the state trends more “bluer” (more democratic voters), this may present some challenges.

The California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues’ advocacy team in Sacramento will be monitoring everything and helping to defend our champions and push against potential adversaries. If you have any questions on congressional affairs or campaigns, please email Jeremy Empol or Heather deNecochea

Author: Jeremy Empol, Vice President of Federal Government Affairs for the California and Nevada Credit Union Leagues

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