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The other side of the “Fair Map” debate

Tuesday, Oct 19, 2021

* Russell Berman at The Atlantic

The stakes for the reapportionment that follows the decennial census are always enormous; the redistricting process draws lines for Congress and state legislatures that endure for a decade. But the consequences over the next few years could stretch far beyond the fate of President Joe Biden’s agenda or whether a particular state’s taxes go up or down: Given former President Donald Trump’s continued dominance over the GOP and the possibility that he will run again, whichever party controls the House and key state legislative chambers could determine the next presidential election. That stark reality is giving the Democrats who championed nonpartisan commissions second thoughts. “As a matter of policy, I think we should pursue these, because I think it’s the right thing to do,” Morgan Carroll, the chair of the Colorado Democratic Party, told me. “But as a matter of politics, if across the country every Dem is for independent commissions and every Republican is aggressively gerrymandering maps, then the outcome is still a Republican takeover of the United States of America with a modern Republican Party that is fundamentally authoritarian and antidemocratic. And that’s not good for the country.”

Democrats have not abandoned gerrymandering everywhere. In large blue states such as New York, Illinois, and Maryland, the party is expected to draw maps that maximize its partisan advantage. But Republicans control the redistricting process governing more seats, and given the Democrats’ narrow House majority, the GOP could take back power through gerrymandering alone. By giving up their mapping pens in just a few states, Democrats might also have given away their gavel.

No state illustrates the Democrats’ predicament better than Colorado, where the party holds the governorship and solid control of the legislature. That power could have allowed Democrats to draw a favorable new congressional seat, shore up their four House incumbents, and target the reelection bid of freshman GOP Representative Lauren Boebert, who supported Trump’s bid to overturn last year’s election. In 2018, however, Democrats backed a ballot initiative to hand power over congressional redistricting to a nonpartisan commission. The map that the panel has proposed would instead make the new Eighth District north of Denver a toss-up, potentially jeopardize at least one of the Democratic incumbents, and ease Boebert’s path to another term, Carroll told me. The difference between the commission map and what Democrats might have drawn themselves could be nearly enough to tip the balance of power in the entire House. “It is a problem,” a high-ranking Colorado Democrat told me, speaking on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. […]

Along with Colorado, California now serves both as the model for the kind of redistricting commissions Democrats want to establish nationwide and as an impediment to their hopes of retaining power long enough to do so. The party controls 42 out of the state’s 53 seats in Congress—easily the biggest Democratic delegation in the country—but an aggressive Democratic gerrymander probably could have yielded a few more.

Obviously, there’s hyperbole in that piece, so take a deep breath before commenting.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - TJ - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 9:51 am:

    There’s no hyperbole, though. One party wants to restrict access to the franchise to as few people as possible, is taking active steps to try to subvert past and future elections, has gone on record that they’re preemptively prepared to impeach the president on the floor of congress before he ever took office, and has broken every standard of bipartisanship and decorum for over a decade.

    Meanwhile, the other party draws overly squiggly lines on maps sometimes.

  2. - SWIL_Voter - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 9:57 am:

    Hard to call it hyperbole. Republicans are seeking to lock in minoritarian rule. They aren’t being quiet or coyly about it. If people want to end gerrymandering they need to aggressively support federal action. Otherwise, embrace the gerrymanders

  3. - Just Me 2 - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 10:16 am:

    I don’t buy the excuse that because others are corrupt we should be corrupt as well.

  4. - Itstheclimatestupid - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 10:17 am:

    It’s been in the mid 70’s most of October where I live. I’m more concerned about climate change then being fair to a party who’s supporters stormed the capital because they couldn’t accept losing. If the party that’s going to drag it’s feet on addressing climate change needs to use it’s advantages to keep the party that will make it worse from gaining power so be it. I hate typing that but I’m scared.

  5. - Frank talks - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 10:20 am:

    Why would you disarm when the other side doesn’t lay down their weapons? This isn’t some movie where the characters get a heart at the end and come together. This is politics, money, power and control. Won’t happen.

  6. - SWIL_Voter - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 10:21 am:

    == I don’t buy the excuse that because others are corrupt we should be corrupt as well.==

    Take it up with SCOTUS who say it isn’t corrupt. Unfortunately, whether you think it’s corrupt or not, parity makes it less corrupt. Asymmetry here means one side gets carte blanche on corruption in a minoritarian system. Way worse

  7. - Rabid - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 10:28 am:

    There are no rules in politics, just parameters

  8. - Techie - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 10:31 am:

    It’s a bit ironic that taking moves at the state level which are anti-democratic to an extent could allow for making moves at the federal level which are pro-democratic. But that’s where we are; stuck in a two-party system where one party is clearly clinging to power by any means necessary, including blatant attempts to subvert the will of voters and make it harder to vote.

    We shouldn’t have partisan gerrymandering and should have maps be independently drawn. But that requirement needs to happen at a federal level, and until it does, I can’t really fault politicians completely for not going down that road on a state level.

  9. - lake county democrat - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 10:33 am:

    Frank: Because we’re not born into Dem and GOP tribes that we must swear fealty to. And, for example, some Dem and independent voters might not want Kinzinger to be artificially squeezed out of office, and would prefer risking the loss of a Dem seat if it means boosting the chances of a more moderate Republican. But the principle is the most important thing: the attempt to make as many votes as possible meaningless is an attack on the principle of democracy. You can argue “the ends justify the means” to support just about anything.

    I’m not minimizing the problems with today’s GOP - I said the Dems deal with Manchin and Sinema should have been to demand passage of HB1 (which eliminated gerrymandering) because it risked locking in a GOP House for the rest of the decades. They didn’t - they’re far more concern with the infrastructure bills.

  10. - doofman - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 10:56 am:

    Rich, please cite one statement you find hyperbolic if it’s so obvious

  11. - Lake Villa Township - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 11:03 am:

    Politicians are the most skilled at drawing maps and should continue to draw them, with proper guardrails enshrined and a concrete definition of partisan gerrymandering established. I staunchly support the referendum in Ohio that limits how many times counties can be split and mandates that cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati have to be whole and in a single district. The Ohio law specifically clearly doesn’t go far enough given the crooked maps coming out of the state(now facing strong litigation by the way) but it’s a great foundation to build upon.

  12. - John Lopez - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 11:04 am:

    I read The Atlantic article, and many focus too much in H.R. 1/S. 1 in D.C. as the cure-all to gerrymandering and other issues with voting. Surrendering state’s rights from the Constitution including the 10th amendment is NOT the way to go, and please remember, H.R. 1 was proposed by the last Congress, passed the House in March of 2019 by a straight party line vote, and died in the Senate.

    So don’t let anyone say there’s bipartisan support to usurp the states from running elections. This year, H.R. 1 passed with one Mississippi Democrat voting against it (for reasons unknown).

    Something not mentioned in article about California, they have the top-2 blanket primary election system, and a possible reason for CA success of fairer elections might be the elimination of party-primary elections. Louisiana and Washington-state have blanket primaries, too.

    And last year, Alaska voters approved a top-4 blanket primary and a ranked-choice voting in their general elections which will be implemented next year.

    BTW, Kelly Burton who was quoted in the article is part of an in-person roundtable discussion at University of Chicago tomorrow afternoon with her Republican counterpart plus Dave Wasserman to talk redistricting. Should be an interesting discussion.

    Maybe that is the ultimate way to end partisan gerrymandering: blanket primary elections?

    Sadly, Florida’s amendment to switch to top-2 blanket primaries fell short of 60% approval (it got 58%) last year.

  13. - muon - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 11:04 am:

    Though Congress is a good place to focus attention, I don’t know that it solves the necessary problems. I’m not convinced that anything short of Obama’s congressional majority in his first term could get something passed in the current climate. Even if Congress acts, they can only affect the congressional redistricting process. State legislative redistricting would still be subject to that state’s constitution and statutes.

    However, states with term limits have been more likely to adopt redistricting reform. In MI and OH the reforms this last decade were in part due to the legislators knowing that the changes to the process weren’t going to affect them personally.

    I’m not a fan of term limits for the rank-and-file, but this could be a strategy to move states towards redistricting reform. Perhaps focusing effort on term limits in states needing reform, could eventually pay off. It’s a slow two-step process, but it might have more success than relying on Congress alone.

  14. - Shield - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 11:26 am:

    - Lake Villa Township - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 11:03 am:

    If the Ohio model has led to “crooked maps,” how is it a “great foundation”?

  15. - Been There - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 11:26 am:

    ==== and mandates that cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati have to be whole and in a single district.====
    And you like this why? Because it keeps all those minority voters out of those white suburbs? Give me a break.

  16. - ChrisB - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 11:39 am:

    From a purely partisan lens, why would you take out a lightening rod? That never made sense to me. You can raise money against her. As the face of the GOP, she allows you to look like a reasonable alternative. Plus it’s not like she’s going to pass any legislation anyway.

    You might not like a bomb-thrower, but they are fantastic foils.

  17. - ChicagoVinny - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 11:54 am:

    If you want the national GOP to embrace gerrymandering reform at the federal level, they have to start losing some elections because of it. I see no upside in universal disarmament.

  18. - Person 8 - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 11:56 am:

    Democrats needed to do something similar to what they are trying to do with the national popular vote interstate pact.

    Come up with a compact that among states that needs to be passed state by state. If all states with more than 1 rep sign off on (anti gerrymandering piece of legislation) then it goes into effect. If not, it does not until all sign on for it.

    Then see which states sign and which states don’t. When the red states refuse and come up with their excuses the blue states can basically just say, this is why we have to gerrymander ourselves, if they want fair maps, sign the deal.

  19. - Thomas Paine - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 12:01 pm:

    If the GOP could have gotten away with overthrowing the election of Joe Biden on January 6th, they would have.

    Anyone doubt that?

    Where the GOP can, de facto, prevent Black people from voting, they have and will.

    Where the GOP can, de facto, disenfranchise brown people, poor people, union members, college students, or any other stalwarts of the Democratic Party, real or perceived, they have and they will.

    “Fair Maps” is yet another effort to do just that.

    That a “Fair Maps” law in Colorado diminished the number of Democratic seats is a feature, not a bug, of Fair Maps legislation unwittingly championed by Democrats like Susan Garrett. A Democrat who, BTW, was only ever elected because her gerrymandered state rep seat in Lake Forest was drawn to stretch up to include predominantly African American precincts in South Chicago.

    If it were not for gerrymandering, we never would have heard the name Susan Garrett. But I digress.

    The objective of “Fair Maps” is to pack as many Democrats into as few districts as possible so that they are under-represented in legislatures and in Congress, that applies to Black voters on the west and south sides of Chicago the same as cannabis-living Millennials in Denver.

    Republicans are not eager to enact “Fair Maps” because they are ardent champions of democracy — if we didn’t know that before January 6th we sure know it now. The obvious explanation for their motivations is the only right answer, and we should stop “both siding” this question.

  20. - ANNON'IN - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 12:14 pm:

    Still waiting for the word picture on what IL looks like after a commission of unknowns do their portrait

  21. - Lake Villa Township - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 12:32 pm:

    @Shield, without the ohio referendum Cincinnati would have remained cracked like it is currently, 2 gop congressmen from ohio are from cincy, now its likely going to be in a dem district. I think the law isn’t strict enough in regards to the county splitting rules but that one of the best ways to limit gerrymandering is strict county splitting rules.

  22. - Sir Reel - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 12:43 pm:

    Reminds me of the old saying, Democrats are bringing knives to a gun fight.

  23. - thechampaignlife - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 1:02 pm:

    I have been saying this for years, but the most practical solution is to increase the number of representatives. You can only gerrymander so much when you have a smaller target population size to work with. It has been 111 years since we last increased the number of federal House members, meanwhile the population has grown 360%.

    For more, see

  24. - JS Mill - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 1:27 pm:

    =if across the country every Dem is for independent commissions and every Republican is aggressively gerrymandering maps, then the outcome is still a Republican takeover of the United States of America with a modern Republican Party that is fundamentally authoritarian and antidemocratic.=


    This is the ball game. I generally hate hypocrisy, but in this case I will accept it.

  25. - Norseman - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 1:37 pm:

    JS Mill - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 1:27 pm +1

    If you’re a GOP looking to gloat over the hypocrisy, consider this as the concept of unilateral disarmament which you also believe is bad.

  26. - Original Rambler - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 1:39 pm:

    I was all in favor of an independent commission to draw Illinois map…until I learned about GOP shenanigans in Wisconsin and North Carolina and others. Now I’m 100 percent against. As has been stated above, there needs to be mutual disarmament. It seems as though the Dems have taken some good faith steps in that direction. I have yet to hear of any similar efforts by the GOP. In the meantime, gerrymander away Illinois.

  27. - Student - Tuesday, Oct 19, 21 @ 4:06 pm:

    Could someone explain why a national law regulating gerrymandering would be “surrendering state’s rights from the Constitution” when Article 1 Section 4 explicitly gives Congress the power to regulate the “times, places and manner of holding elections” of representatives and senators?

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