By Janet Eckhoff
Partisan gerrymandering employs two different tactics to force the other side to waste votes:
- Packing: Concentrating one party’s votes into a district, resulting in wasted votes in lopsided victories.
- Cracking: Splitting up one party’s votes among several districts that lean safely to the other side.
Key Take-Aways from Rat Fu**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal American’s Democracy by David Daley
- Rat Fu**ked – term used during Watergate to describe political sabotage.
- GOP had a simple plan – to take control of redistricting in states where the legislature had control of drawing maps. 37 of 50 state legislatures have primary control over redistricting
- Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) in 2010 laid out mission: Control the redistricting process in states that would have the greatest impact on determining both state legislative and congressional district boundaries.
- Their research showed that only 25 congressional districts were truly “swing” districts. Only $115 million had been spent from 2002 to 2008 in those districts. Inexpensive compared to presidential elections.
- RSLC became the redistricting vehicle. Key members developed a Power Point presentation and took it on the road to raise money – Wall Street donors, oil magnates, hedge-funders, Washington lobbyists and trade associations. Got the support of American Crossroads. Karl Rove told potential donors, ” People call us a vast right-wing conspiracy, but we’re really half-assed right-wing conspiracy. NOW ITS TIME TO GET SERIOUS.” Resulted in a 3 TO 1 fundraising advantage over DLC.
- Fed their money to state elections. 2010 was also going to be a GOP blowout. (ACA backlash, death panel hysteria). Money goes a lot farther in state races. And can push policy change more effectively off-the-radar on the state level. Targeted state districts by how much money would be needed to turn them red.
- An added advantage was 2010 was a midterm and Democratic turn-out for midterms traditionally lags significantly behind Republican turnout.
- “Democrats plain got skunked on the state houses”
- Winning in 2010 was only the first part of the strategy. Now district by district, and state by state, new maps had to be drawn. These maps were the true spoils of the 2010 GOP victories.
Examples of GOP control of redistricting at state level:
- in 2010 there were 1.2 million more registered Democrats than Republicans. In 2008 Democrats took 12-7 advantage. Reversed and grew to 13-5 GOP advantage in 2012 after redistricting.
- NC: Redistricting proceeded along two paths – one public and the other behind closed doors.
- Many more examples in the book
- Inexpensive map-drawing software used by map drawers.
- Can include census data, social media, magazine subscription, on-line purchase info, total population, male/female, white, racial, election results going back a decade, growth population estimates, party registration and voter turnout. Available at the block level.
- Map drawers were able to determine not just the Republican majority to win the district in a normal election. But also, the advantage needed to win in presidential sweep of opposite party. Give GOP just enough advantage to win in an opposition sweep.
- While each state has specific regulation for redistricting maps – districts to be contiguous, compact, try to follow city and country lines, etc. – the districting software could help stretch the regulations as far as possible to meet the local state laws and meet the map makers political needs.
Democrats believed changing demographics would make the party’s ascent inevitable – Demographics would win out. So far, they have been wrong.
- In 2014 election Democrats were virtually wiped out almost everywhere beyond the two coasts.
- Republicans controlled 32 of 50 governorships, a gain of 10 since 2009
- Republicans doubled their advantage in state legislatures, holding 33 of 49 state houses and 35 of 49 state senates.
- Democrats held 816 fewer state legislative seats than before Obama took office
- Thins the bench for future stars for higher office.
- Democrats had the advantage of numbers and demographics but were out-organized, and out-energized
Partisan vs non- partisan redistricting
- Non-partisan reverses polarization, bends to compromise, levels the playing field
- Partisan – only competition is the primaries, leads to further partisanship
Democrats virtually ignored redistricting, not part of planning or strategy. (It has been pointed out that Obama administration was dealing with the worst economic recession in modern times. But this doesn’t really explain why the party and seasoned congressional leaders ignored the issue)
Redistricting issues have been below voters’ radar. But are now starting to emerge. And various groups are supporting redistricting issues:
Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California developed a new way to measure the effects of gerrymandering: the efficiency gap.
- For each district calculating how many votes the winner got above 50%; anything higher was wasted
- Count the loser’s votes, because all of them were wasted.
- Calculate all the waste by party
- Calculate the difference between each party’s wasted votes, that’s the efficiency gap.
- The math is verifiable and simple
- Federal district court in Wisconsin found that Republicans had gerrymandered the state legislature. The case was argued before the Supreme Court on the first day of the 2017-2018 term.
Moon Duchin, a mathematician at Tufts University, who has done research using geometry to measure points between various shapes could help measure ‘compactness.’
- Formed Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group
- Trains mathematicians in mapping and civil rights to be expert witnesses in gerrymandering\
iVOTE: Instead of focusing on challenges in court to voter suppression, iVote is ‘flipping the script’. Going on the offense to secure and expand access to voting:
- Automatic voter registration – has the potential to bring in new minority and young voters
- Secretaries of State – We can protect voting rights by electing secretaries of sate who is will put an end to voter suppression.
Let America Vote: Fight back against voter suppression.
- Currently standing up for voters in Georgia voter purging, endorsing gubernatorial candidates in NJ, VA and GA, fighting against Trump’s assertion that 3 million voter illegally. and against the Kobach Commission.
During President Obama’s final speech to the American people he announced that he and Eric Holder were going to be working on redistricting. In July 2017, Politico reported “Obama returns to politics with redistricting group fundraiser” on behalf of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee he chairs with Eric Holder. The goal is to “coordinate Democratic efforts in state races and lawsuits to push back on Republican success in gerrymandering over many cycles. In many statehouses and Congress, that’s left Democrats at a baked-in disadvantage.”
According to NBC, the effort will coordinate under one roof all the party’s redistricting efforts. “Unlike past efforts in either party, that centralization will allow the group to coordinate Democrats’ full slate of redistricting efforts — from lawsuits, to electoral campaigns, to ballot measures designed to change the redistricting process, to the data-heavy art and science of the actual map drawing.
“Having all of those tools in one place — that is a major innovation. That has never been done before,” said Kelly Ward, the NDRC’s executive director.”
Other Actions to promote non-partisan redistricting:
- A huge ‘backlash’ Democratic turnout in 2018 would be required to overcome the Republican advantage in gerrymandered congressional districts. Focus must be on vastly increasing Democratic turnout in midterm election.
- Fight gerrymandering in courts.
- Fight voter suppression efforts
- State level referendum to make redistricting non-partisan
- Educate our voters