Gerrymandering doesn’t sell. It’s wonky and won’t generate clicks or move newspapers. 

But it happens every 10 years and changes election outcomes dramatically at the state and congressional level for several election cycles. 

This is something Republicans seem to understand and Democrats don't. Democrats focused, with mixed results, on evicting the incumbent president and securing a Senate majority while the most important electoral outcome came down the ballot. Way down the ballot. 

In most states, state legislatures are tasked with redrawing the maps for state legislative and congressional districts. They undertake this admittedly large task upon the completion of the decennial U.S. census. 

The census attempts to count every person living in the United States. States are then allocated congressional seats proportional to their new population. State legislatures draw maps according to those population numbers. 

Here is where it matters that Democrats struggled massively down the ballot in 2020. The party did not flip a single state legislature as of Monday morning after the election (though Democrats in Arizona hope they managed to do so in their state where votes are still being counted).

Overall, though, that means the majority of maps drawn by state governments will be redone by an emboldened Republican majority.

The new maps will almost certainly favor Republican lawmakers to secure a longer-term majority for the GOP. The congressional races in 2022, the first with the new maps, will become incredibly competitive for Republicans to retake the House of Representatives. 

Outside of state politics enthusiasts, most voters probably did not understand the massive impact their vote for state representatives had this year. 

Swing state voters in Wisconsin handed their state's 10 electoral college votes to Joe Biden after voting for Donald Trump in 2016. But, they did not vote in the number of Democrats in the state legislature that would have changed their lower chamber. So, Wisconsin Republicans will redraw the Badger State’s map; maps that Democrats have criticized in the past decade as being unfairly gerrymandered. 

In states where the maps were thrown out in recent years and had to be redrawn to be more representative, specifically North Carolina and Pennsylvania, Republicans managed to retain control of the state legislatures, giving those lawmakers the chance to once again draw the lines around new districts.

Meanwhile, in states like New Hampshire and Montana, voters changed the makeup of their legislatures, creating new government trifectas for Republicans.

So, what does this actually mean? 

It means that in diverse states that have voted statewide for Biden, a Democrat, Republicans will have disproportionate power to shape political discourse for a decade. It also means that marginalized groups in big cities, typically more diverse and more liberal-leaning, will continue to have less influence on politics in their own states. 

In Democratic states like Maryland where the map has also been ruled unconstitutional, conservative voters in the more rural parts of the state will not have representation that reflects them as the Washington, DC suburbs are included to dilute their voices. 

In several states, governors can veto the maps as drawn by the legislature. This provides some checks and balances on the statehouse in places with split governments like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Still, others will see just a rubber stamp of the map, regardless of how partisan the gerrymandering might be. 

It’s politics as usual across the country, allowing parties to hold on to power and majorities in state lawmaking — sometimes veto-proof supermajorities. 

There are signs that some voters are done with politics as usual, though.

In 2018, the state of Michigan voted overwhelmingly to change the way its maps are drawn. Instead of allowing the state legislatures to control the boundaries, they voted to allow an independent commission to oversee redistricting. The commission includes four Democrats, four Republicans, and five Independents and they will work together for the first time on the new maps in 2020.

After the districts are redrawn, perhaps several other states will see ballot initiatives to change the power that state legislatures have to reapportion representation. But the majority of states have done it this way for a long time and it’s certainly politically advantageous. It may be difficult to find the political will to change something that has worked politically for so long. 

Still, elections have consequences, as many politicians are fond of saying. For voters, those consequences may be felt long beyond the presidency of Joe Biden and well into the next decade of representation. 

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