How A Cure Gerrymandering Left American Politics Sick In New Ways

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How A Cure Gerrymandering Left American Politics Sick In New Ways

In Virginia, members of a bipartisan panel were tasked with creating a new map of the state’s congressional districts. But politics came in the middle. Short of matchsticks, accusations and even tears, he conceded defeat.

In Ohio, Republicans who control the legislature ignored the state’s redistribution commission, choosing to draw themselves a highly gerrymandered map. Democrats in New York are likely to take a similar path next year.

And in Arizona and Michigan, independent mapmakers have been cornered by pressure campaigns disguised as spontaneous, grassroots political events.

Partisan gerrymandering is as old as the republic, but good governance experts thought they had struck a solution with independent commissions, advisory groups and external panels. The hand-drawing process of lawmakers under pressure to win elections, the thinking went, would make American democracy more fair.

But as this year’s once-in-a-decade redistribution process descends into trench warfare, both Republicans and Democrats have Throwing grenades at independent experts trapped in the middle.

State by state, the parties have largely abandoned their commitments to representative maps. Each side recognizes huge stakes: redistribution alone can determine which party controls Congress for the next decade.

In some states, commissions with poorly designed structures have fallen victim to deep political divisions, leading the process to the courts. In others, the panel’s authority has been eroded by state lawmakers, who have either forced commissioners to draft new maps or have chosen to create their own.

New York Democratic state legislators, who can override the state’s independent redistribution commission with an overwhelming majority of votes, have disregarded a draft proposal that the commission made public in September. In Wisconsin, where a court battle over redistribution is already underway between Republicans who control the legislature and Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, state Assembly Speaker Robin Voss rejected the governor’s People’s Maps commission.

“There is no such thing as a nonpartisan commission,” Mr Vos, a Republican, said at a hearing last month. All commissioners are partisan, he said. “If they vote, they vote for either of the two parties.”

For decades, well-meaning people saw independent commissions as an important way to eliminate the gamesmanship that plagues many voters and distorts American politics: preserving power, devaluing people’s votes. The polarization and rigidity that fuel it all.

Admittedly, independent panels were never completely separate from politics. The changes were often supported by Democrats, who felt those partisan leanings to be set in stone by the Republican majority in state houses and by maps drawn up by the GOP.

But in the current environment, the fix has often fallen short.

Some independent commissions have had success: Colorado recently passed a map viewed by redistribution experts as even, and early drafts from Arizona were also given high marks for fairness. Even in states like Virginia where the process has been rocky, nonpartisan groups working to end gerrymandering they say have improved commissions.

“If politicians are given leeway to make partisan maps, they are going to do it,” said Eli Marcella, a research analyst at Representatives, a nonpartisan group focused on redistribution and electoral overhaul.

During the 2010s, Democratic groups in states, where the party was locked into state minorities, tried to create external redistribution bodies to grab some power from Republicans, with some success.

After Michigan voters created a commission through a ballot initiative in 2018, the state’s Republican Party sued to block its formation. The party lost.

Last week, Utah Republicans adopted their own maps, ignoring proposals from a redistribution commission that voters approved in 2018. On Monday, Washington state’s redistribution commission missed a deadline to finish its maps, sending drawing authority to the state’s Supreme Court.

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And in Iowa, where nonpartisan career staff members in the legislature have been drawing maps since 1980, Republican state lawmakers rejected a proposal earlier this year that would have given Democrats an advantage in two of the state’s four congressional seats. Lawmakers later approved a second map proposed by staff that included former President Donald J. All four districts were taken over by Trump.

When Michigan’s commission began its work this year, a new group called Fair Maps emerged, which had several former Republican officials on their payrolls. State GOPs and Fair Maps held training sessions where they instructed colleagues to lobby for preferred maps.

During a virtual training session in October, Meghan Reckling, an official at Fair Maps in Michigan, who is also a Republican county president, talked about pushing for a “maple map” (all map proposals from the Michigan Commission are named after trees). Instructed the participants because it was best for the party.

“We can recruit good candidates, raise funds, share our message with the residents of those districts, and hopefully have a way to get most of the congressional delegation out there with Maple Maps,” she said of the training. As stated during, the audio was reviewed by The New York Times.

Democratic officials offered similar training. An email from the Washtenaw County Democratic Party urged supporters to flood an online comment section to endorse “Cherry Map.”

Officials from the Democratic and Republican state parties argued that they were helping ordinary citizens in the process.

“All of our comments, ‘Let’s make the maps fair,’ are all geared toward, ‘This is how we make a map that will make sure we all elect Democrats,'” Michigan President LaVora Barnes said. Democratic Party.

Michigan Republican Party spokesman Gustavo Portella insisted that Fair Maps was not part of the party.

In Arizona, where voters in 2000 approved a constitutional amendment to create an independent redistribution commission, the public comment process this year was filled with nearly identical comments, pushing partisan narratives on both sides, which the Center A report by the For Public Integrity was identified. And it started before the lines were drawn.

Many of the comments can be traced to a Telegram account belonging to a conservative group called the Arizona Red Roots, as well as a Facebook post by a local Republican women’s club, identified in a report by the Center for Public Integrity.

Erica Shupak Newberg, an independent chair of the Arizona Commission, said the campaigns were easily recognizable – and welcomed.

“If an organization is able to rally a sentimental group, I want to know who they are,” she said. “I want to know the numbers because this is a community of interest.”

Some redistribution commissions have tried to protect themselves from lobbying and influence campaigns. In Colorado, the secretary of state’s office accused three people with ties to the state’s Republican Party of trying to influence redistribution without properly registering as lobbyists.

“There was certainly a battle for the influence of the 12 commissioners,” said Democratic Commissioner Simon Tafoya.

But as in Arizona, members of the commission in Colorado noted that it was easy to recognize the influence being exerted by either party, and noted that the presence of unaffiliated members on the commission had nothing to do with either party being partisan. This was helped to offset any attempts at coordination by the members. an outdoor campaign.

Bill Lyons, a Republican member of the Colorado Commission, said, “You can’t take politics out of redistribution.” “There is no way to redistribute a zero-sum game.”

Perhaps nowhere was this difficulty more evident than in Virginia. The state’s 16-member commission was split between eight legislators and eight citizens, with equal representation from Democrats and Republicans and no independents.

Since its inception, the commission has struck an 8-to-8 deadlock on nearly every vote, from procedural rules to the design of potential maps. At one point, three Democratic members walked out of a meeting to prevent a quorum.

“Virginia is a bipartisan commission, but with partisans elected by the political leadership of the two houses in the General Assembly – so it is not only partisan, but it is hyperpartisan,” said Democratic state legislator Marcus Simon, who sat on the commission. “So you’re getting the most credible parties the other side has to offer and sending them to a duel, as opposed to compromising.”

The commission went further downhill when Mr. Simon accused former Representative Tom Davis, a Republican, of receiving aid on the proposed map from the National Republican Redistribution Trust, which was part of the party’s efforts to influence redistribution across the country. The group was central. The commission’s Republicans had accepted Mr Davis’s map as one they wanted to consider, leading Mr Simon to accuse him of “collusion”.

Mr Davis said in an interview that he had drawn the map himself but that the Republican group had helped him submit it because, he said, he was “a bit of a technophobe”.

The commission’s work ended in a stalemate, and the process was referred to the Virginia Supreme Court. Last week, both sides in Virginia nominated candidates to help the court draw up the maps.

Among the Republican candidates: Adam Kincaid, executive director of the National Republican Redistricting Trust. The court rejected his nomination.

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