Gerrymanders and Double Standards

May 20, 2021

Former Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama have covered the National Democratic Redistricting Committee—formed by Mr. Holder in January 2017 and joined by Mr. Obama in December 2018—with the rhetoric of righteousness. They claim to oppose “extreme partisan gerrymandering” and are pushing for redistricting reform because, according to the former president, it’s an “opportunity to bend the great arc of history toward justice.”

Messrs. Obama and Holder want to leave the impression they genuinely seek “fair maps and more representative democracy” and aren’t simply prettying up a partisan power grab. But do they criticize Democratic redistricting hijinks? So far, they haven’t. And I bet they won’t.

Take Illinois, which will lose one of its 18 seats under redistricting run by Messrs. Obama and Holder’s party. Democrats are circulating a map that’d likely take the delegation from 13 Democrats and 5 Republicans to 14 Democrats and 3 Republicans. GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger’s district would be split among adjacent ones while two Republicans, Rodney Davis and Mary Miller, would be paired. A new downstate Democratic seat would be created by linking strongholds in East St. Louis, Decatur, Springfield and Champaign-Urbana in a district that resembles a snake digesting four pigs.

This seems particularly unfair when you consider that though Republicans won 41% of the votes in Illinois’s 2020 congressional races, they only hold 28% of the seats. And now the Democrats want to knock that down to 18%. Yet not a peep of protest from Messrs. Obama or Holder about these shenanigans.

Then there’s New York. Census data cut it to 26 seats from 27—but Democrats are manhandling the process. Voters approved a constitutional amendment in 2014 creating a 10-member bipartisan commission to prepare maps and set standards, including an explicit requirement that districts “not be drawn . . . to favor/disfavor candidates or parties.” The legislature can reject the commission’s plans, but only by a two-thirds vote, and may produce its own plans only after rejecting two such commission maps.

Still, legislators didn’t approve the $4 million for the commission’s necessary expenses until last month—and as of Monday the group still hadn’t received any money. Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to gut the requirement of a supermajority override while talking of moving the state from a 19-to-8 ratio of Democratic to Republican seats to 23-to-3. Once again, the former president and attorney general have been silent about this Democratic gerrymander.

And there’s Maryland. It was represented by two Republican and six Democratic representatives in 2011. During redistricting, the Democratic-controlled legislature dismembered one GOP district—the Sixth—that ran from the state’s western panhandle east to include rural counties north and west of the Washington and Baltimore suburbs.

Democrats added half the Sixth’s voters into a district with 350,000 D.C. suburbanites on the western side of liberal Montgomery County and lopped off more rural areas in the district’s north and east, connecting them by a slim corridor to eastern Montgomery County. They then put remaining rural precincts on the east into the state’s other Republican seat. This created districts for two white Democrats while making it impossible to create another majority-minority seat that would likely have been won by a black Democrat. Widely criticized as—in the Washington Post’s words—“highly partisan and racially charged,” the strategy nonetheless succeeded.

And it could work again. Democrats could demolish the state’s last Republican seat, which is centered on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, by distributing much of it to shore up white Baltimore-area Democrats. In the process, they’d create a majority-minority seat elsewhere in the state. Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed a committee of three Democrats, three Republicans and three unaffiliated voters to draft neutral maps. But with Democratic supermajorities in both legislative chambers, Maryland is ranked at “extreme” risk for redistricting abuse by Represent Us, a bipartisan reform group. Yet Messrs. Obama and Mr. Holder—surprise!—haven’t made their voices heard about this possible redistricting abuse.

There are other Democratic states whose redistricting appears highly partisan. Oregon is one. Republicans received 42% of all the votes cast in its 2020 congressional races yet won only one of the state’s five seats. Forty-seven of California’s 53 congressional contests in 2020 were between Republicans and Democrats. GOP candidates took 38% of the vote yet won only 11 seats, 23% of the total, instead of the 18 seats their vote share suggested. The NDRC attacks similar disparities, what it calls “skewed math,” when they disfavor Democrats, so you might expect the former president and his former attorney general to at least raise questions. But there’s no chance in the world they will.

The truth is both parties use redistricting to enhance their position. However, only one pretends to be holier than thou in the process.



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