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Independent commissions add another wildcard to redistricting fight

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Erin Doherty hugs her mother Susanna Dew, 61, who is voting for the first time in her life, as they wait in line at a polling place on election day in the Mid City section of New Orleans,
Erin Doherty hugs her mother Susanna Dew, 61, who is voting for the first time in her life, as they wait in line at a polling place on election day in the Mid City section of New Orleans, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.Gerald Herbert / AP

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Census Bureau will release the official data that states will use to begin their decennial redistricting process.

And it all kicks off a partisan brawl over how these districts are drawn — especially as Republicans count on a strong showing in state legislative races last year to help them win control of the House in 2022.

But as Republicans have worked toward maximizing congressional gains in states where they have political control, some Democrats and Democratic-leaning states have pushed for recent years to take redistricting out of politicians' hands — and give it instead to commissions or neutral actors.

That raises the question: Are Democrats are going into this redistricting fight with one hand tied beyond their back? Take Democratic-controlled Colorado and its new commission, which produced a preliminary map that could result in a 5-3 Democratic majority or 4-4 tie, instead of 6-2 advantage or better if there wasn't a commission in a state President Biden won by 13 percentage points.

“Politics is about power. That’s what it’s about. You use it to your benefit,” one disappointed Democratic strategist told the Colorado Sun. “If you’ve got the fastball and it’s going at 105, why do you start throwing a breaking ball?”

Indeed, political analyst Kyle Kondik writes that if commissions didn't exist — especially in Colorado, California and Virginia — Democrats would control of the drawing of more congressional districts where they have full political power.

But the National Democratic Redistricting Committee’s numbers suggest Democrats are at least in a better position than they were heading into the 2011 redistricting because more states handle redistricting through independent commissions or have laws or customs that check full-party control.


After 2011 Redistricting

  • Independent Commission and Reform States: 88 districts
  • Republicans: 213
  • Democrats: 44
  • Mixed: 83
  • Single-Member Districts (no redistricting): 7

During 2021 Redistricting

  • Independent Commission and Reform States: 173
  • Republicans: 164
  • Democrats: 46
  • Mixed: 46
  • Single-Member Districts: 6

"We believe that if the maps are fair, Democrats will do just fine," Kelly Ward Burton, the NDRC’s executive director, told NBC News.

Yet Republicans watching the redistricting fight say that in states where Democrats have full political control — like in Illinois — Democrats will try to maximize their gains. And they also argue that the unelected bureaucrats staffing many of these commissions will hardly be friendly to the GOP.

That brings up another component to these independent redistricting commissions: Many of them are created differently, with different rules and personnel makeups.

The Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman says, for example, that Democratic strategists are concerned about how Republicans might have advantages with the commissions in Arizona and New Jersey, while Republicans are wary about the commissions in California and Michigan.

Which all means the redistricting process will be important to watch over the weeks and months ahead, particularly as states spring to set up maps for upcoming elections.

Divide, divide, divide

There’s been one key theme from recent statements former President Trump has blasted out to reporters and allies — stoking division within the Republican Party.

He’s doing it on infrastructure, floating primary challenges against Republican-backers of the bipartisan bill.

He’s doing it in key races like Georgia’s 2022 gubernatorial election, reveling about how sitting GOP Gov. Brian Kemp “was booed off the stage Saturday at a Georgia Republican Party event.”

And he’s doing it on Jan. 6, revealing he spoke to the family of Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed by police while trying to climb into an area off of the House Chamber during the attack on the Capitol, while trying to frame her as a martyr and the Jan. 6 rioters as mainstream.

It begs the question, is his goal to divide the GOP, or purify it?

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

16 months: How long after the deadline for Congress to report stock trades that Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul revealed his wife bought the stock of a pharmaceutical company that makes a Covid-19 treatment.

10: The number of provincial Afghan capitals the Taliban has seized.

36,314,608: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 157,192 more than yesterday.)

622,365: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 492 more than yesterday.)

353,205,544: The number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S., per the CDC. (That’s 654,600 since yesterday.)

50.3 percent: The share of all Americans who are fully vaccinated, per the CDC.

61.3 percent: The share of all American adults at least 18 years of age who are fully vaccinated, per CDC.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

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The Food and Drug administration is poised to allow immunocompromised people to receive a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that pregnant women get the vaccines.

A federal judge granted House Democrats only limited access to former President Trump’s financial records.

The New York Times reports that a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta who resigned in January did so because he was warned he would be fire by then-President Trump for not endorsing his baseless claims of election fraud.

And the Washington Post obtained a transcript from the FBI’s 2018 interview with Rudy Giuliani about comments he made during the 2016 election.