October 23rd, 2010
02:44 PM ET
12 years ago

Why It Matters: How Elections Outside Your State Can Impact You

(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;

Texas +4
Florida +2
Arizona +1
Georgia +1
Nevada +1
South Carolina +1
Utah +1
Washington State +1

Ohio -2
New York -2
Illinois -1
Iowa -1
Louisiana -1
Massachusetts -1
Michigan -1
Missouri -1
New Jersey -1
Pennsylvania -1

Filed under: 2010
soundoff (13 Responses)
  1. Christopher

    The fact that politicians in power are even allowed to re-draw congressional districts for the benefit of their own party speaks volumes as to the corrupt nature of our politics. The fact that Americans only complain about it when the OTHER party is doing it speaks volumes as to the corrupt nature of our own values.

    October 23, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  2. willie flpyd

    Too bad so many citizens don't realize this. That is just why the likes of Angle, Fiorina, and worst of all from my home state of SC-Jim Demented!!

    October 23, 2010 04:28 pm at 4:28 pm |
  3. barry

    Thanks for the lesson CNN. I am really excited now. I just went and donated to Kasich campaign. This will be great not only will we get rid of a Obama supporting Govenor we get rid of two more of the job killing policy supporters. You made my day CNN this is looking better all the time for the majority of Americans.

    October 23, 2010 05:18 pm at 5:18 pm |
  4. Jerry

    It is inaccurate to say all districts are equal. The average district in many states is over 3/4 million. However, in the smallest states which are required to have at least one Congressman per state, representation is for a population of little over 1/2 million. This means that Alaskans, South Dakotans, and others have a louder voice in the House. What would be better is if districts were determined by a national commission that is non-partisan and could draw geographically compact districts across state boundaries to create equal representation. Of course, if step to democracy will be opposed by the special interests that the two major parties represent.

    October 23, 2010 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  5. Marie MD

    Anyone who thinks that the clueless teabaggers running for office outside our state don't count are in a coma.
    These are the people who are going to be passing laws and voting on issues that are going to affect all of us.
    Of course it matters who gets elected. Look at boner like a baby wanting to be speaker of the house, never mind that he is unqualified for the position. bachman calling for revolution. dimwit from SC calling for the President's waterloo. angle is against social security, medicare, department of education, EPA and having women bear their rapist's child. o'donnell . . . she's just stupid. miller is a con artist from Kansas.

    October 23, 2010 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  6. D. Bunker

    This is why sane and rational Americans need to stand up and make our voices known. The vast majority of Main St. America do NOT want the American Taliban to take over. Get out the vote and ignore the phony landline polls our so-called "liberal" media is pushing to discourage non-teatard voters.

    October 23, 2010 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  7. pw

    I lived in maryland, the last time we did redistricting was back in 2000.

    October 23, 2010 09:31 pm at 9:31 pm |
  8. Liz the First

    There may be a few individual republicans who are not too bad, but the republican philosophy itself is what is dangerous to our national health. their alliance with the richest of the rich and big corporations is destroying the middle class and creating more poor people. their desire to eliminate all regulations on business would bring us back to the bad old days of sweatshops and dangerous products, not to mention a massive increase in pollution. we're moving forward now, making things better for everyone. the republicans want to make things better for the top 1% at the expense of everyone else. giving them control of the country now when we're recovering from the last round of their devastating policies would be insanity. republicans cannot and will not govern. all they know how to do is rule and they are out to destroy the two-party system so they can have power in perpetuity. (that means from now on for all you teabaggers.) people who actually love this country and our democracy are voting Democratic this year.

    October 23, 2010 10:16 pm at 10:16 pm |
  9. La Piovra

    If you are a Floridian, vote Yes on Amendments 5 and 6, and end these games.

    October 23, 2010 10:51 pm at 10:51 pm |
  10. glenn

    The CNN reporter could have led with a mention of the Republican candidate. Or a mention of both the Republican candidate and the Democrat candidate. But she chose instead to mention only the Democrat candidate. Why?

    October 24, 2010 12:17 am at 12:17 am |
  11. Marry

    I am sick of the Republicans promising things they have not delivered in the past, refuse to work on now (Ms Palin: Hell no!) and have no idea how to work on in the future. Step out of the way if you aren't prepared to help solve the problem. And that goes for both sides of the aisle."
    Please, my dear friends go out and vote! But, don’t be bought, or fooled! Please, vote informed, responsible, smart in your very own interest and in the best interest of the country (that you love?).

    October 24, 2010 03:19 am at 3:19 am |
  12. rob

    The first paragraph of this story is a not so subtle declaration of CNN's Correspondent Jessica Yellin's preference. Why should we be directed to "listen" to Strickland unless she feels we better consider the consequences of a Republican takeover. The first sentence of the third paragraph is also telling, "Imagine if ten days from now the Republicans win control of the House". Ms Yellin, it does not take imagination to realize a Republican takeover of the house, the only question now is by how many seats the Democrats will LOSE.

    Classic "Whisling past the graveyard".

    October 24, 2010 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  13. pmc

    Vote the party of NO out so they will time to drink enough tea after the elections day I know for sure GOP_TEA/party will be surprised to see they expectations drop to lowest they need to reserve their tea in case they have to at home if not in the hospital.

    October 24, 2010 08:39 am at 8:39 am |