Salena Zito

   Yet Republicans could carve three North Carolina Democrats out of their seats and eliminate Democrat districts in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Missouri.

   Every state (except for the seven with a single House seat each) will redistrict.

   So far, eight have finished, leaving 35 to go.

   There's no firm time-line, according to Wasserman, because “every state has its own set of candidate-filing deadlines.” The process will more or less be completed by mid-2012, save for a few lawsuits.

   In 2010, Republicans won an impressive 12-7 shift in battleground-state Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation. So look for redistricting to protect that advantage, most likely by merging Democrats into heavily Republican districts. 

   In Northeastern Pennsylvania, for example, that means taking Democrat-heavy Scranton out of Democrat-leaning House District 11, now held by Republican Lou Barletta, and adding it to GOP-heavy District 10, held by Republican Tom Marino, ensuring the re-election of both freshmen.

   One quirk this time is the rise of independents: More voters identify themselves as independents, not Republicans or Democrats, and switch party preferences from one election to the next.

   That means “the effects of gerrymandering may now only be felt for an election or two … and not for the entire ten years,” said political scientist Jeff Brauer. He said that “certainly was one factor” in the past decade’s shifts in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation.

   Wood says average citizens should pay attention to redistricting: “They are often confused to find that they are in a new district, with a new representative, and are even more baffled when they see that their neighbor is no longer in the same district they are.”

   Wasserman says redistricting’s technology has evolved from giant maps laid on gymnasium floors in the 1970s to today’s iPod apps, which creates its own unique problems.

   “So in James Carville-Mary Matalin type households,” he jokes, referring to a politically split family, “mapmakers are being tempted to split the living room from the kitchen.”

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.