Democrats in Michigan and a handful of other states need to win some statewide races by 2020. Otherwise, they risk ensuring Republican majorities for another decade--even if Democrats get more votes at election time.
That’s according to David Daley, author of the Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy. Daley appeared on Michigan Radio’s Stateside to discuss the book last year. A new paperback version was just released with an epilogue analyzing the 2016 presidential election.
Ratf**ked lays out what Daley calls the REDMAP plan, a “surgical” by Republican operatives effort to re-draw district lines to the party’s advantage after the 2010 census.
Daley says that effort was wildly successful. For proof, he points to Michigan, which he calls “one of the most gerrymandered states in America.”
In 2012, Democrats in U.S. House and State House races received more votes than Republicans statewide.
Yet Republicans hold large majorities in both delegations: a 63-47 majority in the State House, and 9 out of 14 seats in the U.S. House. Daley attributes that to the REDMAP effort.
“Republicans drew masterful lines after the 2010 elections when they took control of the entire state,” Daley said. “And by having complete control, they were able to draw exactly the lines they wanted without any Democrats in the room.
“The technology and the information that mapmakers have at their disposal now is so much better than at any time in the past, you can draw unbeatable lines that last for an entire decade. And that’s what has happened so far in Michigan.”
In 2012, Daley says Democrats once again received more votes than Republicans in total statewide races. Yet they lost seats in the state legislature.
“What changed in between there [and 2008]? The district lines changed,” Daley said. “And they changed surgically.”
Daley says Democrat Mark Schauer, who unsuccessfully challenged Rick Snyder in the 2014 governor’s race, knows this better than most. He says Schauer was effectively “re-districted” out of his West Michigan district, as Republicans sought to create a solid majority of “safe” Republican districts through creative, but very strategic, mapmaking.
Schauer is now working with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, chaired by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, an effort to “reverse the bleeding” that happened when Republicans gained seemingly bulletproof majorities in state legislatures and on U.S. House maps in a number of key states, including Michigan.
“The Democrats really fell asleep at the switch in 2010, and they did not understand what was happening,” Daley said. Now Democrats need a strategy to counter that at the state level, and while people like Schauer are “aggressive advocates” for the cause, he’s not sure if Democrats as a whole are on the ball.
“I am not completely convinced the party has a winning strategy, or that they have much of a strategy right now at all,” Daley said. “They have to really rebuild the party in places where it has atrophied and been completely hollowed out. And I don’t see those efforts underway right now.”
Daley warns that if Democrats "can’t find a way to get a seat at the table in redistricting after 2020, they will not have another shot at these maps until 2031."
There are a couple of alternative possibilities, though. Michigan is one of a handful of key states with citizen-led efforts to tackle gerrymandering, and that effort cleared one hurdle this week.
The Board of State Canvassers approved ballot language from the group Voters Not Politicians. They advocate a ballot proposal that would put re-districting power into the hands of a non-partisan committee. The group now has 180 days to gather more than 315,000 signatures to put the measure closer to the 2018 ballot.
Daley calls that effort, and similar initiatives in other states, an “incredibly positive development.”
“You are now seeing in Michigan, in Pennsylvania, in North Carolina, a real renewal of efforts to be sure that our elections are fair, that our votes matter, and that politicians do not have the power to choose their own voters,” he said.
The U.S. Supreme Court could also weigh in on the matter. Daley says courts have never set a standard for when partisan gerrymandering becomes unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court has agreed to take up a Wisconsin case, Gill v. Whitford, that gives it an opportunity to do so.
Whatever happens, Daley says partisan gerrymandering of any kind is “deeply dangerous and toxic for a democracy. People want their elections to be fair.”