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Let the knives come out: Remapping process begins

December 20, 2010

If they wanted to make the event a little more ceremonious, the U.S. Census Bureau officials who will announce the final Congressional numbers for the next reapportionment at a press conference Tuesday might consider bringing a bag of knives to drop at the appropriate moment. The politicians, at least, would appreciate the symbolism.

There isn’t really much suspense left for Tuesday’s announcement, which will reveal the final numbers for divvying up the 435 House seats among the states. The South as a whole should pick up a net of seven seats, with Texas leading the nation on a pickup of four seats. Florida should pick up two seats, with pickups of one seat each for Georgia and South Carolina, and a loss of one seat for Louisiana. Most lawmakers will be more interested in the figures showing population shifts within each state, which won’t be released until next spring.

Nationwide, if the final numbers follow predictions, the states which voted for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election will pick up six seats (and therefore electoral votes), while the states which went to Obama will lose six.

Potentially of more long-term damage for Democrats are the huge gains made by Republicans in governorships and control of state legislatures in this year’s election, giving the GOP a huge advantage in next year’s remapping sessions. (The Republican advantage has been deepened in the South by a wave of party switches since the election, which Hastings Wyman will be reporting on later this week.)

But this does not mean that the process which gets its unofficial start tomorrow will always be a happy one for individual Republicans.

Consider Rep. Tim Scott, the African-American Republican who defeated the sons of Strom Thurmond and Carroll Campbell to win his Lowcountry South Carolina seat. South Carolina is one of those red states that will be picking up a seat, but that means Scott is likely to lose Horry County (Myrtle Beach) and end up in a district where a third of his voters are new. So the South Carolina pickup will be a boon to Republicans, but a headache for one of them.

Likewise, the addition of two more Florida seats should be good for Republicans generally. But the two amendments passed by voters this year aimed at making the remapping process more fair and transparent could also cause problems for a lot of personal Republican ambitions.

More unintended consequences could be in the offing next year with the release of the Census figures which affect how congressional and legislative district lines are drawn within each state.

Already, Census reports have painted a picture of a suburban American growing increasingly diverse, and therefore less politically predictable. The prime example of these changes in the ‘burbs is Gwinnett County, home to one in 10 Georgians, where 73 percent of the population were non-Hispanic whites before the last reapportionment, and less than half are today.

As generations of political mapsters have learned, it can be hard to draw lines that hold up for a decade, especially when you can’t be sure where your voters are.






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