(CNN) – When Ohio Governor Ted Strickland takes the stage in South Port, Ohio Saturday afternoon, you might want to listen – because whether he wins his race could have a direct impact on you, even if you never plan to live in Ohio.
That's because the numbers crunchers at Election Data Services estimate that next year Ohio is going to lose two seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. It's up to the Ohio state government – including the governor - to decide which two House members will go: Democrat or Republican.
Imagine if ten days from now the Republicans win control of the House, but only by a one-seat majority. Republican John Boehner becomes Speaker. But if a Democrat holds the governor's mansion in Ohio and the governor insists that when his state loses two seats both must be districts held by Republicans. That means just through redistricting in Ohio alone the Democrats could, in theory, take back control of the House. That would affect your life – everything from education policy to health care and taxes goes through the House, and which party is in control makes a big difference. It could all hinge on who gets elected governor in states far away from you.
The scenario I painted above is highly unlikely – in part because Republicans will probably retain control of the Ohio state senate and they would force a compromise with their governor.
But there's more to this chess game. Ohio isn't the only state that stands to lose seats and some states will win seats. For example Texas is poised to gain four seats – Republicans control the legislature in Austin and there's a tight race for the governor's seat. Florida stands to gain two seats through redistricting – Republicans control the legislature in Tallahassee and there's a close contest in the gubernatorial contest. New York is likely to lose one seat – Democrats control both state houses, and a Democrat is poised to win the governor's mansion.
In all 18 states will either gain or lose representation in the House of Representatives – totaling a change of 24 seats. (There's a complete list at the end of the article). In most states it's all up to the legislature and the governor vetoes or approves the map. Some states have a different process to try to minimize political games but that's hard.
"If one party has complete control of the process they will tilt the table to their favor so their state will be more likely to elect Democrats or Republicans for entire decade," until redistricting begins again, explains George Mason University Professor Michael McDonald who is an expert on the process.
So imagine another scenario: on election day Democrats eke out a win and retain control of the House by five seats. But Democrats lose governors and state legislative races across the country. Once redistricting happens next year and those elected state officials could wipe out the Democrats' majority by adding many new seats Republicans will control and eliminating seats Democrats are certain to control. So then Democrats in Congress would lose their majority because of which politicians are elected in a state you've never even visited.
Sound unfair? The process is required by the U.S. Constitution to ensure that every member of the House has an equal population district. It's the main reason we conduct a Census every ten years, so we can rebalance districts based on where people are living. These new district lines last for ten years, until the next census.
When a state has to change even one seat – all the districts in the entire state stand to be redrawn. Remember every district has to have population of equal size. That means the whole deck is reshuffled.
There are very clever ways to draw districts to ensure that one party or another is all but certain to win there. "A long time ago people figured out you could do more than rebalance populations' so politicians can "manipulate the boundaries to their favor," says Professor Michael McDonald, a redistricting expert with George Washington University says, who explains manipulation for political gain is well ingrained into our politics." This is what's called gerrymandering. So the party that controls a state can tilt the balance of power in Washington DC.
The list of states which will gain or lose seats is released in December. But the firm Election Data Services
crunched the preliminary census numbers and estimates the following states will see changes;
South Carolina +1
Washington State +1
New York -2
New Jersey -1