Why the 2018 midterm elections will define Congress for a decade

And why Democrat votes count much less than Republican votes today.

Yes, it’s true: In many important swing states like North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin, 2 Republicans can out-vote 3 Democrats in elections for the US House of Representatives, because Republican votes are worth more. Why is a Republican vote weighted at almost 1.5 the value of Democrat votes in some states? In this article I will explain why, and why the 2018 midterm election may be the last chance before 2028 to make partisan voting more equal.

It comes down to a matter of congressional district boundaries, which can be skewed dramatically to favor one party, in a process called gerrymandering. You’ve likely heard a lot these days about the evils of gerrymandering, but it’s often difficult to understand how it works and why this 2018 midterm election is so critical.

You see, redistricting is done at the State level every ten years, and the folks elected to local State legislatures in the 2018 midterm election will be the folks re-jiggering the voting districts (redistricting) in 2021. If they do it fairly, great. But if the party in power skews the districts to give one party an advantage (which of course both sides try to do), then power shifts in those states. That power shift effects the national elections.

Key takeaway: Your State legislators, whomever is in office in 2021, will get to draw the voting districts for all elections from 2022 through 2030.

You mean the state representatives we elect today will affect the outcome of the 2024 and 2028 Presidential races?

Yes, it’s true. It’s not the US Representatives on Capitol Hill who set the boundaries for their districts. It’s not some impartial bi-partisan committee, or the judiciary, or a clever computer program managed by the Census Bureau. No, it’s the State legislators, the ones whose names you can barely remember, who have the authority to draw the voting district boundaries for our National elections.

Sometimes the State legislature will appoint a committee (which can be partisan, bi-partisan, or even non-partisan, such as in Arizona and California where a committee of non-politicians creates the district maps). Sometimes if the State legislature fails to act, or acts unfairly or illegally, such as violating Voting Rights Act provisions, the courts will step in. But the State legislature has the ultimate authority, so in general, whomever controls your State legislature will control your voting district boundaries.

Summary: The voting district boundaries drawn by your State legislators determine who has the real voting power for National elections to the US House of Representatives.

When do they do it?

You may think, well, the State legislature can change districts in any year, right? Not so much. The districts are generally only drawn after each National Census, which occurs every 10 years. The next Census is in 2020, so the legislators who are in office in 2021 will get to do the redistricting. Some states, like Texas, do permit additional mid-decade redistricting, but that isn’t common. So the folks you vote for this November will be the ones participating in the next redistricting tango.

How do they do it?

The only easy rule legislators have to follow is that each district must be made up of roughly the same number of people. The number of districts is based on population, and this is why it is driven off the Census data. The Census tells us the population of each state, where people have moved within each state, and the demographics and density of the population by region.

After that the methods get… weird. The party in power generally tries to draw boundaries that give them control for the next decade, until the boundaries come up again for Census-based redistricting.

Gerrymandering is the process of making those boundaries really one-sided, in ways that look truly unfair. Here is an example from my own district (Durham, NC), and one from Pennsylvania that famously looks like two Disney characters in a kicking match:

USGS Map of Durham NC District 1

Maps courtesy US Geological Survey

In Summary

OK, let’s put it all together: your State legislators draw the US Congressional Voting Districts after each Census. The next Census is in 2020, so those local representatives who are in office in 2021 will get to draw the maps. In most states, those maps will be in place for 10 years, until 2031. So whomever is elected in this 2018 midterm election will be deciding on the voting districts for the national elections in 2022, 2024, 2026, 2028, and 2030.

So make sure you vote in November!

Featured Image: “How to steal an election” by Steven Nass, Wikimedia Commons (published in Urban Milwaukee

Further Reading

“Why Wisconsin is Not a Democracy”



“At a statewide level, Wisconsin is a quintessential battleground where races are often decided by only a few percentage points. Contrast that to the state assembly map the Republicans drew: In 2012, they won 60 of the 99 seats in the Wisconsin Assembly despite winning only 48.6% of the two-party state-wide vote; in 2014, they won 63 seats with only 52% of the state-wide vote.”


“Without the excitement of a presidential race, most Americans stay at home for midterm elections. Most Democrats that is; Republicans have somehow figured out that the formula for success lies not in the fanfare of a Presidential election, but in the many races contested locally, at the state level.”

https://www.newsday.com/opinion/oped/a-primer-how-electoral-districts-are-drawn-1.3439300 (Defining terms like “cracking and packing,” etc.)

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