The Redistricting Majority Project headed by the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC), also known as REDMAP, is designed to win state legislative seats that impact congressional redistricting. Before we delve into this, a history of redistricting is in order.
The number of each state's congressional House seats are determined by the census, which is taken every ten years, in a process known as reapportionment. As each congressional district is supposed to reflect changes in population and contain roughly the same number of people, they are generally redrawn by the state legislatures after each census.
The idea of the congressional district did not come into the American lexicon until around 1842 when Congress passed its first redistricting standards. Currently, the U.S. abides by the 1941 and 1967 laws which govern redistricting.
The individuals that are in charge of redrawing district maps are legislators themselves which creates a conflict of interest. It can result in gerrymandering — the process of redrawing boundaries to favor one electoral party of another.
One of the more infamous cases of gerrymandering occurred in 2003 in the state of Texas. Former House majority leader Tom DeLay along with other Republicans, redrew the Texas congressional map so that it added five Republicans to the state’s delegation. The plan sparked outrage by Democrats who fled to neighboring states in protest.
Sections two and five of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 specifically address redistricting. Section two prohibits voting practices and procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership of a minority group. Section five of the VRA applies to sixteen states with past discriminatory voting laws. These states must submit redistricting plans to the United States District Court of District Columbia, or to the Attorney General. The proposed redistricting plans must prove that they will not be discriminatory in purpose or effect.
Supreme Court challenges to the VRA face an uphill battle. The Tom DeLay case was grouped with two other cases and submitted to the Supreme Court on the basis that it was in violation of section two of the VRA. The Supreme Court held that the DeLay plan was constitutional, but that one section of the plan was not.
In part because of the outcome of the DeLay case there is little fear that accusations of violating the VRA will have any actual adverse affect on districts that have been redrawn.
In 2010 the RSLC planned to win control of state legislatures with an eye to which states would be most likely to gain seats based on the 2010 Census data.
This is from their website:
“Controlling the redistricting process in these states would have the greatest impact on determining how both state legislative and congressional district boundaries would be drawn. Drawing new district lines in states with the most redistricting activity presented the opportunity to solidify conservative policymaking at the state level and maintain a Republican stronghold in the U.S. House of Representatives for the next decade.”
“Democratic candidates for the U.S. House won 1.1 million more votes than their Republican opponents.”
So despite the fact that Democrats won more popular votes, they did not gain the majority due to redistricting. This is freely admitted by the website.
The site goes onto to explain how this was done through redistricting. The RSLC pumps money into state house elections. In the instances of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, despite the fact that voters elected President Obama and Democratic senators, they retained Republican representation in the louse and control of the legislature .
To be clear, Democrats are guilty of gerrymandering as well. One look at the state of Illinois' congressional map will tell you this. This link gives you a good idea of what a gerrymandered district looks like.
Republicans, however, have been incredibly successful in their efforts to redistrict important swing states and states with growing populations in their favor.
So, why does this matter, and how exactly is it relevant?
Obviously it is problematic because it lets politicians decide who the voters are, Republican or Democratic, this can eliminate the voice of the minority population within a congressional district.
The Brennan Center for Justice explains lists some of the other issues with redistricting:
— Packing partisan voters
— Diluting minority voices
— Splitting communities
— Destroying civility
It is very likely that the current stalemate in Congress is caused by the hands of both political parties who have made it almost impossible to elect moderates. An article published in the Washington Post shows us that redistricting in favor of one party or another decreases the number of competitive districts.
Now, some Republicans want to change the way Electoral College votes are apportioned. Instead of having it based off the popular vote, the votes would be given proportionally. The problem is, you guessed it, gerrymandering.
If Republican governors change the way electoral votes are cast so that it is done via congressional district. And if those congressional districts have been stacked in their favor, it would almost certainly have broader implications for the electoral process. The same would be true if Democrats were the ones floating this idea.
Gerrymandering limits the say we have in our Democracy. Redistricting only happens once every ten years, which means that we all have to live with the consequences of redistricting for a long time.