A handful of under-the-radar elections in a few states could decide the next 10 years of American politics

  • All 50 states will have their legislative and congressional districts redrawn next year. 
  • Republicans will have the power to redraw 3-4x times more districts than Democrats. 
  • Democrats can fight against unfair redistricting, if they win key local races in Ohio, Texas, Kansas, and Missouri on Tuesday. 
  • Zachariah Sippy is a student at Princeton University in New Jersey and an analyst at the Princeton Election Consortium. 
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Since the start of the 20th century, only twice has Ohio failed to support the presidential candidate who won the electoral college. Which has resulted in  the common political adage: "as Ohio goes, so goes the nation."

This seems not to be the case for 2020. In fact, it seems possible, if not altogether probable, that President Trump will manage to win the Buckeye state, while losing the presidency. FiveThirtyEight, for example, lists Ohio with only a 1.1% chance of deciding the election. 

But while Ohio has been a battleground on the national arena, it has been far more homogenous on the state level. In 21 of the last 25 years, Republicans have controlled the state House, state Senate, governorship, and state Supreme Court. With single-party control in 2011, the Ohio GOP was able to abuse the decennial redistricting process to draw new legislative and congressional maps in a hyper-partisan fashion. 

This is called "gerrymandering," or the practice of drawing districts — many of which come in odd shapes and sizes — for political advantage. The anti-democratic practice is not unique to Ohio. Also in 2011 Republican state legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan, Texas, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania drew district plans that disproportionately favored their party. 

The effects of unfair district maps are glaring. Democrats won the popular vote for the US House in 2012, only to be in the minority. Or take a look at the current congressional delegation from North Carolina, where Democrats represent only 3 of the 13 districts, despite winning 49% of the vote in 2018. Most egregiously, just two years ago, Democrats won a majority of votes for the Wisconsin State Assembly, but carried only 36% of the seats. 

In response to the "Great Gerrymander" at the start of the decade, there have been a wave of reforms and judicial rulings to stop unfair redistricting. In states like Pennsylvania, Florida, and North Carolina, respective state Supreme Courts ordered new, fairer district maps in place. Meanwhile in Michigan, Colorado, and Utah voters passed referendums to establish an independent nonpartisan redistricting process. 

But in 2018, the Supreme Court left the door open to partisan gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford. And next year, Republicans are poised to take advantage of this. In fact, Republicans could be in a position to gerrymander 45% of all congressional seats in 2021.

The threat of a Republican gerrymander next year is not an absurd fear caused by liberal paranoia. In fact, the President of the Kansas Senate, Republican Susan Wagle, "guaranteed" that if she maintained super-majorities in the state legislature, she would gerrymander away Democratic US House Rep. Sharice David's  district, and ensure that all of the congressmen from the state were Republican. Democrats need to flip just one seat in the Kansas House in order to prevent an unrepresentative map. 

In Ohio, the most important election is for the state Supreme Court. Currently, Republicans effectively have a 5-2 majority on the bench. However, Democrats have a chance this fall to win two more seats, which would grant them a narrow 4-3 majority. With control of the Ohio Supreme Court, Democrats could provide a check and balance on the Republican-dominated legislature and redistricting commission. 

While Trump and Biden together have poured more than $10 million into advertising in Ohio, these Supreme Court races have comparatively gone under the radar, even though they are far more impactful . All four candidates combined have raised around $3.8 million. A Democratic Court would ensure that next decade's new state legislative bounds, and fifteen congressional seats are fairly drawn.

Texans do not face one particularly important election, but rather 150. Democrats are just nine seats short of flipping the State House of Representatives. Despite losing the statewide vote, Rep. Beto O'Rourke in his 2018 Senate bid actually won a majority of Texas House seats. With a majority in the Texas House, Democrats would wield a veto against a Republican gerrymander in the country's second most populous state, with literally dozens of congressional districts at stake. As the state begins to purple, the effects of fair maps, or the lack thereof, will have national ramifications. 

In Missouri, voters in 2018 by a supermajority established a nonpartisan office to draw state legislative seats. But Republicans in the state legislature immediately attacked the results of the referendum. This November, Missourians face a new ballot measure that would undo the reforms of 2018. Amendment 3, if passed, would re-open the door to a legislative gerrymander in Missouri next year. 

Ohio, Texas, Kansas, and Missouri are all in the same boat. None of them will play a decisive role in determining the next president. But lesser-known elections in these states will decide if there are fair districts, and a representative Congress in the future. A vote for fair redistricting now carries weight for the rest of the decade.

Zachariah Sippy is a student from Lexington, Kentucky. He studies political history and legal philosophy, as an undergraduate at Princeton University. He is currently taking a leave of absence between his sophomore and junior years. 

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author(s).

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