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The next political mapmakers face mainly the same partisan rules

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Reform, interrupted: The next political mapmakers face mainly the same partisan rules

Next year's redistricting landscape is, at best, a mixed bag for good-governance advocates. Although the mapmaking process has become fairer and less politicized in a handful of states over the past decade, partisan gerrymandering will still have a profound impact on representation across most of the country.

Democrats had high hopes of taking back enough power in state legislatures to have close to parity in the line drawing with Republicans, but they were totally shut down on Election Day. At the same time, while Virginians voted to bleed politics out of the process, Missourians voted to push their state the opposite way. And proposals to reform the system in six states died because they could not get on the ballot, yet another consequence of the coronavirus pandemic.

The result is a power dynamic for the next drawing of congressional and legislative boundaries that's only marginally different than a decade ago. The two parties will retain control over the process in 39 states, just three fewer than last time. And the GOP will run the table in twice as many states again, with only a hair less dominance over the Democrats than in 2011.

It is a far cry from a central aspiration of the democracy reform movement, which has a mantra about what it will take to fix the system: Voters must be able to pick their politicians instead of the other way around. And that can't happen if elected officials have the power to use contorted cartography to ensconce themselves in power for 10 years at a time.

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Job alert: Regional directer, Voting Rights Lab

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