Republicans Are Rigging Elections for the Next Decade

Gerrymandering is turning swing states like Georgia and Ohio deep red.

Georgia state Sen. John Kennedy, R-Macon, presents the newly-drawn congressional maps.Hyosub Shin/AP

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In Georgia, Republicans passed a new congressional map on Monday giving their party 64 percent of US House seats in a state Joe Biden won with 49.5 percent of the vote.

In Ohio, Republicans passed a new congressional map on November 18 giving their party at least 80 percent of seats in a state Donald Trump won with 53 percent of the vote.

In North Carolina, Republicans passed a new congressional map on November 4 giving their party between 71 to 78 percent of seats in a state Trump won with 49.9 percent of the vote.

In Texas, Republicans passed a new congressional map on October 18 giving their party 65 percent of seats in a state Trump won with 52 percent of the vote.

You get the idea. In state after state under GOP control, Republicans are passing extreme gerrymandered maps that will allow them to pick up enough seats to retake the US House in 2022 and lock-in dominance of state legislatures for the next decade.

This has not been a fair fight. While Republicans are doing everything they can to consolidate and expand their power, congressional Democrats have failed to overcome four Republican filibusters of voting rights legislation that would ban partisan and racial gerrymandering. That means GOP-controlled states have undertaken extraordinary efforts to undermine voting access and fair representation but Washington Democrats have taken no action to protect the right to vote. This huge partisan asymmetry is occurring because centrist Democrats Joe Manchin and Kysten Sinema claim that the filibuster promotes bipartisanship, an increasingly comical assertion given how Republicans are locking Democrats out of power for a decade on simple majority, party-line votes.

“Defenders of democracy in America still have a slim window of opportunity to act,” more than 150 leading democracy scholars wrote in a letter on Monday. “But time is ticking away, and midnight is approaching. To lose our democracy but preserve the filibuster in its current form—in which a minority can block popular legislation without even having to hold the floor—would be a short-sighted blunder that future historians will forever puzzle over.” 

These flagrantly undemocratic maps have been adopted through flagrantly undemocratic processes.

GOP legislative leaders in Ohio brazenly ignored a 2018 ballot initiative supported by 75 percent of Ohio voters to make the redistricting process more bipartisan and transparent and instead ordered that heavily partisan new maps be drawn in secret, going so far as to freeze out other Republican members of the state’s redistricting commission, including the secretary of state, who favored fairer maps.

The final congressional map was introduced last Monday evening and passed by the full state Senate by Tuesday afternoon, taking less than 24 hours to draw congressional districts giving Republicans upwards of 80 percent of seats in a state where they average 54 percent of the vote. The Ohio House passed the map through committee on Wednesday with no public testimony and the full chamber voted to send the map to the governor by Thursday afternoon, who signed it on Saturday.

“We should no longer call this the People’s House,” said Democratic state Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson of Toledo on the House floor. “The map does not reflect the will or the voices of the people.”

Georgia Republicans followed a similar script, introducing a new congressional map at 10:30 a.m. last Wednesday that extended their party’s advantage in a state that is trending Democratic and beginning hearings in the legislature just three hours later, giving lawmakers and members of the public almost no time to analyze the impact. A map that will last for a decade was passed and debated in less than a week.

The congressional lines adopted by Georgia Republicans entrench white power by diluting the votes of fast-growing communities of color—a defining feature of GOP gerrymandering across the South this year. Georgia gained 1 million new residents over the last decade—all from communities of color—and is now a majority-minority state, but the congressional map increases representation for white Republicans and decreases representation for voters of color in spite of these demographic changes.

Rep. Lucy McBath, a Black Democrat who won Newt Gingrich’s old congressional district in 2018, would see her diverse suburban Atlanta seat stretch all the way up to the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, with Republicans adding three deeply red and overwhelmingly white counties—Forsyth, Dawson, and Cherokee—where Trump won 70 percent of the vote. As a result, her district goes from one that favored Biden by 12 points to one that Trump would’ve won by 15 points, one of the most drastic transformations of any district in the country that will silence the voices of hundreds of thousands of voters of color. After the map passed on Monday, McBath announced she would run in a neighboring district held by incumbent Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux that Republicans made for more Democratic in order to weaken the party’s voting strength elsewhere.

“Georgia Republicans’ latest congressional gerrymander turns a competitive suburban district into a safe Republican one in a transparent ploy to remove a Black woman and fighter for all of the 6th congressional district—regardless of race or party—from Congress simply because Republicans know they can no longer compete in Atlanta’s suburbs,” says Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action, the voting rights group founded by Stacey Abrams. “Rather than trying to win free and fair elections or learn the needs of Georgia’s changing electorate, Republicans are using their old playbook of voter suppression and gerrymandered districts to silence Georgia voters.”

Republicans would control nine of 14 congressional districts in a 50-50 state where Democrats won the presidency and two US senate races in 2020 by fracturing the power of fast-growing areas in metro Atlanta, such as Cobb County northwest of Atlanta, which is nearly 50 percent non-white and where Biden won 56 percent of the vote. Cobb has enough people to have its own Democratic-leaning congressional seat, but instead the GOP’s map splits Cobb into four different congressional districts—three of them held by Republicans—including the hyper-red district of Marjorie Taylor Greene that borders Alabama and Tennessee. That means Greene—one of the most avowed defenders of white supremacy in the House—will now represent majority-black cities like Powder Springs and Austell northwest of Atlanta.

“This is not what the citizens of my district deserve,” testified Democratic state Rep. Erica Thomas, who represents those diverse cities. “Even if 100 percent of them come out to vote, they will never get the representation they vote for. They have been paired with a district that does not look like them or share the values of them.”

The same thing is happening in other diverse, heavily Democratic counties in metro Atlanta. Gwinnett County, north of Atlanta, and Henry County, south of Atlanta, which are majority-minority and where Biden won nearly 60 percent of the vote, are both divided into three congressional districts, two of them favoring Republicans. White Republicans with overwhelmingly conservative voting records will represent diverse areas that are trending blue, warping basic notions of representative democracy.

In addition to nullifying the will of the state’s voters, the new map turns the most competitive state in the country in 2020 into one that will no longer have any competitive districts for the US House. Republicans admitted that a conservative political science professor from Texas named Thomas Brunell, who wrote a book called Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America, helped draft the new state house map, which received an F for competitiveness from the Princeton Gerrymandering Project, and advised on the GOP congressional map.

It’s difficult to overstate the extent to which election results for the next decade will be determined by the maps passing right now. And if Democrats don’t do anything to stop it while they’re in power, they’ll look back at the failure to do so once out of power as the biggest missed opportunity of Biden’s presidency, both for the Democratic Party and, more importantly, for democracy itself.

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Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and billionaire owners wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2021 demands.

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