The congressman running the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of the House GOP, just said openly that partisan gerrymandering could help his party retain control of the House in November.
Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) was asked to explain how Republicans would hold onto the House during an interview Tuesday on Politico’s “Off Message” podcast. He immediately pointed to gerrymandering, the process by which one party draws electoral maps to their advantage
“I think it starts with the congressional lines. After the redistricting in 2011, a lot of districts were shored up substantially. And that makes a difference. It doesn’t change the number of your majority, but it changes the composition of each district and gets people a little bit more comfortable,” Stivers said.
He added that the GOP would also do well in November because Republicans would have the necessary resources.
Stivers’ comments about gerrymandering are notable because Republicans rarely acknowledge publicly how significant an advantage they now gain from how congressional districts are drawn, often attributing strikingly partisan maps to the natural geographic clustering of like-minded people and accusing Democrats who challenge those maps of trying to unfairly grab seats they couldn’t win through elections.
An Associated Press analysis of the 2016 election found that Republicans picked up as many as 22 additional seats because of gerrymandering, while a Brennan Center for Justice study found gerrymandering accounted for an additional 16 to 17 GOP seats. Democrats need to flip 24 seats to take control of the House this November.
Republicans’ gerrymandering advantage arose out of their control of state legislatures, which run the decennial redistricting process required by the U.S. Constitution. In 2010, the GOP launched the extremely successful Redistricting Majority Project (REDMAP) to target state legislative races. Twenty legislative chambers were flipped from Democratic to Republican control that year, and the electoral maps drawn by the GOP-controlled legislatures entrenched Republican power over the next decade.
Several of the maps are now being challenged in court. The U.S. Supreme Court has never articulated a standard for when gerrymandering for partisan advantage goes too far, although it could do so this year.
Asked on the podcast whether he was conceding that Republicans enjoy an advantage because of gerrymandering, Stivers said, “You can say that.” But he went on to note that Americans had to initially vote for the GOP lawmakers who drew the congressional boundaries.
“The people elected them and they had to get there in the first place. Democrats sure didn’t draw the lines for them,” he said.
The National Republican Congressional Committee did not respond to a request for comment.