MARK KARLIN, EDITOR OF BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
Republican legislators have vigorously and successfully used underhanded tactics to gain majorities in statehouses and Congress, even when the majority of statewide votes are Democratic. Although the GOP employs many strategies to suppress non-white voting, its most successful tool has been gerrymandering.
After the national Census, state legislatures are responsible for carving up state legislative and congressional districts. In 2010, the cast was set, according to a revealing article in Salon about the way in which Republicans worked to ensure a majority in most statehouses and in Congress:
It [the redistricting strategy] proved more effective than any Republican dared dream. Republicans held the U.S. House in 2012, despite earning 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic congressional candidates, and won large GOP majorities in the Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina state legislatures even when more voters backed Democrats.
By diluting the Democratic vote in several districts, while drawing the district lines to include more Republicans, an artificial majority can be created that mocks democracy.
Granted, gerrymandering is just one of the techniques Republicans use to maximize their voters while minimizing Democrats and independents. Their bag of tricks is diverse and profoundly effective. One can even include the Trump and GOP anti-immigration stance as a vehicle for keeping the vote from non-whites. After all, if the Dreamers or other non-white immigrants were to be granted a path to citizenship, they would eventually become voters -- and likely a majority would become Democrats.
Behind Donald Trump's slanderous and baleful rhetoric on denying immigrant status to individuals from non-white nations is also a long-term investment in diminishing the growth of a non-white voter base.
Nonetheless, gerrymandering is perhaps the most powerful tool in ensuring a minority of white voters can prevail when there is a majority of Democratic voters of color and liberal whites. Recently the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the egregious gerrymandering in the statehouse there. According to a February 5 article in Vox:
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled last month that the state's US House of Representatives map was based on a Republican partisan gerrymander that violated the state's constitution — and struck the map down. But the state GOP made a last ditch appeal to the US Supreme Court, hoping justices would stay the decision....
The new Pennsylvania map has the potential to be a very big help to Democrats' efforts to regain control of the House of Representatives in 2018, because the state's old map was one of the most biased toward Republicans in the country.
Given the usual tenacity of the GOP, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (Republican) would not turn over the state Supreme Court files to the courts that would assist in drawing a fairer US congressional map for Pennsylvania. Moreover, a Daily Kos article reported that a Republican state representative is seeking cosponsors to try and impeach the five state Supreme Court judges who voted for eliminating the gerrymandered redistricting. This is an indication of how seriously Republican legislators and their advisers value the gerrymandering tactic as a means of controlling government at a state and federal legislative level.
A federal judicial panel has called for the elimination of racial gerrymandering in North Carolina and proposed fairer legislative districts, but the Supreme Court issued a partial stay concerning racially discrimantory gerrymandering. Activists are calling for state courts to step in and ensure justice is done in redrawing all district lines to reflect voting populations. The US Supreme Court has two more gerrymandering cases it is considering, in Wisconsin and Maryland. After those rulings, the courts position should be clearer on what distinction it draws between racial and partisan gerrymandering.
A New York Times article reveals that the gerrymandering in Pennsylvania is strictly partisan:
The judges [on the three-judge panel that struck the gerrymandering down in Pennsylvania] noted that the legislator responsible for drawing the map had not disguised his intentions. "I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats," said the legislator, Representative David Lewis, a Republican. "So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country."
The Salon article traces the current plague of gerrymandering back to a 2009 Republican Legislative Campaign Committee national conference that featured a presentation on "Redistricting 2010: Preparing for Success." This speech, Salon contends, began a coordinated effort to draw legislative maps to favor Republicans. The result was devastating:
Indeed, even while Democrats sense momentum as we draw closer to the 2018 midterms, the path back to power is steep. Republicans control nearly 70 percent of all state legislative chambers. Democrats have not flipped a congressional seat from red to blue during this entire decade in such ostensible swing states such as North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Those states alone currently send 49 Republicans and 20 Democrats to Washington -- a 29-seat edge that's larger, all by itself, than the overall current GOP House majority.
Democrats bled nearly 1,000 state legislative seats nationwide during the Obama era. They hold fewer than 40 percent of the lower-House seats in those five crucial purple states.
The fact that Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by more than 3 million votes and still lost the presidency is due to the structure of the electoral college, not gerrymandering. However, that popular vote victory (despite the electoral loss) is symbolic of the evolving demographic trends in the United States, which are moving toward a more diverse -- and less white, Christian and patriarchal -- nation. Republican gerrymandering is a bulwark against the goal of an inclusive democracy.