It’s hard not to be bitter in the wake of the Supreme Court’s intellectually dishonest refusal to protect the legitimacy of democratic governance.
For one thing, over the past couple of years, as I have delved more deeply into the research, I’ve discovered that gerrymandering–aka partisan redistricting–does more than skew election results. A lot more.
I’ve previously pointed out that here in Indiana, where partisan redistricting has carved up metropolitan areas and subordinated urban populations to rural ones, gerrymandering has given us distribution formulas favoring rural areas over cities when divvying up dollars for roads and schools, among other inequities.
Fifty-four thousand votes out of nearly 4 million. That’s what separated Stacey Abrams from Brian Kemp in Georgia’s 2018 gubernatorial election, a sign of how closely contested this once reliably red, southern state has become.
Earlier this month, however, Georgia’s legislature responded to the state’s closely divided political climate not with thoughtful compromise but by passing one of the most restrictive abortion bansin the United States.
An April poll by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that 70% of Georgians support the landmark Roe v Wade decision that legalized abortion. The new state ban is opposedby 48% of Georgians and supported by only 43%. So why would the legislature enact such an extreme measure?
For that matter, why would Ohio, Alabama, Missouri and other states establish similar “fetal heartbeat” laws that are far more restrictive than their constituents support?
One important answer is gerrymandering: redistricting voting districts to give the party in power an edge – making it almost impossible for the other side to win a majority of seats, even with a majority of votes. Sophisticated geo-mapping software and voluminous voter data turned this ancient art into a hi-tech science when the US redistricted after the 2010 census.
Give credit where it’s due: the GOP has been far more adept at using these new tools than the Democrats (probably because Republicans recognize that they are increasingly a minority party and must cheat if they are going to win).
As the Guardian reports, gerrymandering has allowed the GOP to control state legislatures with supermajorities even when voters prefer Democratic candidates by hundreds of thousands of votes. Gerrymandering thus nullifies elections and insulates lawmakers from democratic accountability.
Despite lacking any mandate for an extreme agenda in a closely divided nation, Republican lawmakers have pushed through new voting restrictions, anti-labor laws, the emergency manager bill that led to poisoned water in Flint, Michigan, and now, these strict abortion bans. Electorally, there’s little that Democrats can do to stop it.
The article outlined evidence of extreme gerrymandering in several states where legislatures have passed laws not supported by voters.
In Ohio, the article pointed to “zero evidence” that voters hold extreme opinions on abortion, and noted that polls show more voters opposed to that state’s new “heartbeat” bill than supportive of it. A University of Chicago study showed that barely half the total vote in Ohio gave Republicans more than 63% of the seats– simply because the maps were “surgically designed” to ensure that few seats would be competitive.
There’s a lot more data, and I encourage you to click through and read the entire article. But (as I have repeated endlessly) the bottom line is simple: the only way to overcome the unfair advantage Republicans have built for themselves is massive turnout. As I posted yesterday, unusually high turnout in the 2018 elections was enough in many districts to overcome built-in advantages as high as 5-8 points.
We need to remind discouraged voters that gerrymandering is based upon prior voting behavior. If people who rarely or never vote show up at the polls, a significant number of supposedly safe seats can change hands.
It has never been more important to get out the vote. America’s future–and that of our children and grandchildren–depends upon it.