The data from the Census Bureau, due to be released later this week, will kick off the reassignment process and will have a major impact on what the American political landscape will look like over the next decade. Despite dozens of legal disputes likely to be fought over these new cards, the Republican gerrymandering will rock the Democrats for the next decade, as Eleveld notes, “Things are piled so much in favor of the Republicans … dominating the process, dragging 187 congressional wards to the 75 districts of the Democrats. “
Data from the 2020 census will be used to create these maps, which have the power to significantly influence our politics and whose voices are represented in the powers at the state and federal levels. Two aspects of the process that Leeper said should be considered in the coming year are the drastically delayed / postponed schedule of this redistribution cycle and the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, two major Supreme Court cases (Shelby v Holder and Rucho v Common Cause) over the past decade have changed the legal position in the country since the last round of reallocation. What does that mean? Well, we now have a more compressed timeframe for drawing the maps as the state constitutional deadlines dictate when the maps must be completed. “Hit the ground will be all the more important on this front,” said Leeper.
Redistribution affects people’s daily lives, and Wolf provided a clear breakdown of how Gerrymandering draws invisible lines of power in our states:
Gerrymandering and redistricting as a whole are incredibly important in determining who has a say in legislation and even runs the legislature itself. We have had several legislatures over the past decade – especially in swing states – where the majority of voters could not vote for a majority of MPs because of gerrymandering, so the party that received fewer votes continued to have a majority of seats. Whoever draws the cards can completely determine who exercises political power.
After the 2010 election, Republicans had a great redistribution setup, pulling many state legislative and congressional districts in their favor. This has particularly affected elections in swing states like Michigan, Wolf said, adding that “even if voters consistently vote in one direction, it is just not enough to get past these very unfair districts and get a majority chamber Select.”
The pandemic is also expected to have complicated this final round of census data by making it more difficult to go door-to-door and gather the information the census needs. This delay in the transmission of the data leads to a delay in the processing of the data, which complicates the situation for some states, which have a constitutionally mandated deadline by which to finalize their maps. “You have maps that need to be completed, but there is much less time to complete the process,” said Leeper. “
Wolf pointed out the importance of public participation during this process, especially when we hold our elected officials accountable:
We want our elections to be fair … and redistribution is very important [in that]. We have a system where we let elected officials choose their own districts and their own voters. There’s this adage that it shouldn’t be – it should be the other way around, that voters choose their representatives. So we need to reform the institutions that we have now and the way that ordinary people can get involved – you know, there is an effort to use electoral initiatives or legal processes or even to make people aware that, “Hey, there’s a hearing in your legislature next month and you need to come up and make your voice heard.”
So there are all of these ways that voters can get involved. It is really important to do this now because as we discussed earlier, this is done in a very compressed time frame. And lawmakers rely on the public not knowing what is going on and not showing up for these meetings and being unable to raise awareness that they are up to no good. So when people mobilize and especially get the media attention on what’s going on in statehouses, it can have a really big impact on the process.
Zelaya asked Leeper how she and other activists prevent burnout and fatigue by advocating fair cards. Leeper stated that she and others draw hope from previous victories they had on the matter. Despite the damaging rulings of the Supreme Court, fair card proponents have also organized themselves to form many successful, citizen-led, independent redistribution commissions over the past decade. In addition, demanded Leeper, we must further increase awareness of this issue and campaign for independent redistribution commissions in our place of residence:
If you want to make permanent changes, change the system under which you are working. Otherwise you will play Whack-a-Mole with these cards every ten years. Make permanent changes. But as for the change you can make now, I would only impress people if you have been interested in any subject in the past four years, if you think you will be concerned with a political subject, or anything, what is more localized, like your school board or what is going on in your town, is the redistribution that you have to take care of. Because it is everything – it touches every other topic. So this is not the time to lose steam. Think about how you care about these things and how you would like them to get better. Redistribution is your time to speak up. It’s time to go to your legislature or drawings and submit draft cards. Check the submitted cards to make sure they are not partisan gerrymanders.
Two methods, cracking and packaging, are used to turn wards into gerrymanders. Cracking describes the act of splitting a district into parts of several other districts in order to “break up” different constituencies and dilute the voting power of the opposing party’s base. Packing involves the concentration of certain neighborhoods or cities in one district in order to reduce the opposing party’s voting rights in other districts. In addition to understanding these concepts, Leeper also mentioned the CLC Redistribution Guide as an important educational tool to help educate readers about the key elements of Fair Maps. PlanScore.org, a project of the CLC, is another resource that can be used to assess the fairness of electoral district maps.
Wolf says it is important to be vigilant about what is happening in the US Supreme Court. Relying on the radical theory of federalism advocated by many Republicans, the Supreme Court could abolish control that state or state court governors or state voters currently have to create some of these independent redistribution commissions or veto bad cards. Much is at stake, he stated:
We can see states that are currently battling bad government, like Pennsylvania or Wisconsin. If that happens, those Republican lawmakers would not be controlled and could overtake Gerrymanders again. There are other pitfalls that could happen in the next few years beyond these next mid-term elections. In the next mid-term election, the Democrats have very little room for maneuver – they only have a majority of five seats. So if the Republicans put those max cards in [these swing states], there is a very definite possibility that this alone could determine control of the house.
This would determine the allocation of federal funds and any consequential consequences, Zelaya added. Leeper also pointed out the disproportionate impact on color communities and voters with disabilities if manipulated cards are allowed to remain standing.
Historically, redistribution has been a very partisan issue: one party comes to power and the other will suddenly find that it loves to talk about redistributive reforms, but once that party regains power they often lose interest in the issue. But we’re seeing some change in the past few years at both the national and state levels, Wolf said, citing Virginia as an example. Before the Democrats in Virginia finally took a majority in both houses of the legislature in 2019, Republicans had passed a redistributive reform of the constitutional amendment that legally had to be passed twice before it could be considered by voters and possibly become law. Many wondered if the Democrats, who have just gained full power, would give up their support for the measure. To the surprise of some, Democrats in the Legislature allowed this amendment to be put to the vote, and while the party was divided on it, Republicans gave the minority enough votes to pass it. It was approved by Virginia voters in 2020.
Wolf thinks something is changing, albeit slowly. “Hopefully we’ll see more of this when the public starts making demands on the legislature … [need to actually] blame them when they come to power, ”he postulated. “There is a chance that things will get around the corner. So far there has been a strong expectation that people will talk about things when they run out of power and then do something else when they finally get it. “
Leeper and Wolf gave tips to those looking to submit cards for their states’ redistribution processes, recommended checking sample cards for partisan bias and ensuring that what they draw is truly representative of a state’s established communities, and cited one case in Arizona, in which two indigenous communities were merged into one district without consultation and vehemently opposed it. Wolf recommended Dave’s redistricting app, which allows individuals to easily draw their maps.
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