Former Attorney General Eric Holder this morning announced the formation of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), to combat gerrymandering, euphemistically referred to as "redistricting." Holder will head the group, supported by soon to be ex-president Obama, among many others, including Congressman Mark Schauer (D-MI) and representatives of the Democratic Governors Association.
The event was held in a crowded room at DC's Center for American Progress (CAP). It consisted of Holder's announcement and discussion of NDRC's formation followed by a one-on-one follow-up interview by CAP president Neera Tanden. She compared this country's map of electoral districts to a "complicated jigsaw puzzle" and the many blatant partisans drawing them up as "kids guarding candy jars." These districts are drawn up at every level from federal (congressional) to state to city to town.
The basic stimulus for the formation of NDRC, said Holder, was the upcoming US census, on the basis of which, every 10 years (most of the time) electoral districts are drawn up. Quoting Tom Paine at least, among many others who have reiterated the statement, Holder said that "voting is a basic right without which all others are useless." We all know that lives were sacrificed or at least offered up to spread the franchise as far as it can go: beyond property-owning white men to all white men to women to Native Americans and to blacks, the most sinuous path of all, the one most often threatened and interfered with, by gerrymandering among many other devices I have written about before (see my book "Grassroots, Geeks, Pros, and Pols . . . " [Columbus: CICJ Press, 2012]).
Holder called the recent 2016 election the worst impediment to voting rights so far, hardly reflecting the voters' choice, which was adamantly reflected in HRC's popular vote total that exceeded Trump's by nearly 3 million votes. Something is rotten, rippled through the audience.
The former Attorney General noted a fact most of us are aware of: that in 2012 Democratic Representatives amassed 1.4 million more votes than did Republicans, and yet the latter occupy a "huge majority" of the seats. Those up for grabs every two years are few. Incumbents retain their seats 97 percent of the time, with only 10 percent of the seats in realistic contention, according to CAP. Politicians choose their constituents rather than the inverse situation that democracy requires. In 2014 Democrats lost 1,000 elected positions to the GOP.
Holder pinpointed gerrymandering as the principal cause and a dire situation that has attracted the attention of President Obama and should in turn involve all of us who want to fight for fair elections. We can participate at many levels, including joining the politics dance ourselves by running for office. As Obama noted in his farewell speech the other day, all it takes is a clipboard and some signatures [and chutzpah, he didn't add].
The goal, of course, is to win back our democracy out of the hands of the alt-right, who have already taken the initial steps to gut Obamacare, after unsuccessfully trying to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics. Electoral districts are largely drawn up by state legislatures, with some input from the public. The GOP holds a trifecta, both governorship and control of both legislatures, in 25 states, compared with 11 by Democrats. The rest of the systems are hybrid.
Holder called the NDRC's resistance agenda the "first of its kind." The focus will be on states and down-ballot races, a strategy obviously tried and true for the Tea Party and its successor, the alt-right, as obstructionism has been and also will be, if legislators are wise enough to form needed pluralities or majorities. The Democrats' mistake has been focusing too much on presidential elections rather than farther down the ballot, where huge power is concentrated.
Key states where NRDC's work will begin are Virginia and North Carolina, where "the greatest impact is possible." The Tar Heel State's electoral map has been drawn up on the basis of racial considerations "with mathematical precision," wrote the judge who ordered fairer divisions. New maps will be drawn up for a special election scheduled for 2017, according to CAP. Racial quotas in Virginia's districts were also overruled in 2015 because of "packing" most voters of color into 12 out of a total of 100 districts in the state's House of Delegates." (The opposite illegal activity, "cracking," involves spreading minority voters throughout districts in such small numbers that no elected official will reflect their interests. This motivation accounts for the current map of electoral districts' resembling the "complicated jigsaw puzzle" Tanden had earlier mentioned.)
Other states will also be considered, both controversial and otherwise, said Holder; in all 50, voters will be reminded of the importance of their votes. He framed his words as a clarion call for reform before considering questions from Tanden and then the audience.
All of this GOP ingenuity culminated in its iron grip on our governments despite the huge population shifts in progress, noted Holder to Tanden. We must get back to our democracy as it existed in the thirties, forties, and fifties, he said, when Democrats were concerned with all levels of government.
As far as actions we can take to keep the census clean, that area is already enmeshed in a hive of GOP activities that involve what Holder called "blocking and tacking," both efforts that obstruct an accurate census. We must make redistricting "a sexy thing," a project greatly enhanced by Obama's involvement and needing to progress rapidly. The newly formed NDRC website (https://signforgood.com/NDRCPac) has already collected a sizable amount of funding in less than 24 hours. Further outreach will extend to publics at airports and other venues where [if it's not too late] the public will be convinced to work hard to preserve all of the achievements of the Obama administration.
"This is not a time for despair and defeat," Holder told the audience, later more directly invoking the hope in Obama's signature exhortation "Yes, we can."
The GOP governing philosophy has no place in the twenty-first century, he said. The 2013 Shelby County v Holder Supreme Court decision, which gutted the most vital sections of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, was "a result of ideology and naively extreme." With section 5 in place, the Department of Justice was able to effectively oppose many attempts at violating voting rights between 1965 and 2013. "We must break the mold . . ., " he said. "We will work with the establishment but be lean and mean, taking "guerilla actions." And if we're consistent, we can have a serious impact in 2020--2021. Progressives are looking for ways to fight back. Race-based gerrymandering is unconstitutional.