Homenews

The voting rights trainwreck on the ballot next month

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In 2010, when Republican power was at its low point, two GOP strategists devised a bold plan. By pouring tens of millions of dollars into state legislative races, they hoped to capture key swing states during a redistricting year — and then draw maps that would lock in Republican control of the House and of state legislatures for a decade. They named this plan “REDMAP.”

It worked. Buoyed by a strong Republican election year, REDMAP gave the GOP extraordinarily favorable maps in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Ohio’s congressional map proved so favorable to the GOP, for example, that Republicans won 12 of the state’s 16 congressional seats on the same day that President Obama took won the state as a whole.

As a Republican State Leadership Committee memo bragged, “Republicans enjoy a 33-seat margin in the U.S. House seated yesterday in the 113th Congress, having endured Democratic successes atop the ticket and over one million more votes cast for Democratic House candidates than Republicans.”

Now, one of the architects of REDMAP — Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chair — is running to be the governor of Virginia. Should he prevail, he will benefit from the gerrymandered maps that give his party a firm grip on the Virginia House of Delegates. And he will have the opportunity to extend REDMAP’s success into another decade in Virginia.

If Gillespie prevails next November, Republicans are likely to control the state’s legislature and governorship during the next redistricting cycle, which begins after the 2020 census. That’s potentially a recipe for ten more years of Republican rule in Virginia.

Projects like REDMAP may receive some pushback from the judiciary soon. At a recent Supreme Court argument on Wisconsin’s gerrymandered maps, five justices appeared ready to strike down those maps. If they do, that will have implications for other states with maps that are biased toward one party or the other.

But if Republicans get to draw Virginia’s next set of maps, they could potentially get to run two or three elections under them regardless of how the Supreme Court rules on Wisconsin’s maps.

Many of the leading legal theories allowing the courts to sort gerrymandered maps from compliant maps require a state to run at least one election under the map in order to gather data. And even after that data is gathered, litigation takes a long time. It’s common for several elections to be run under racially gerrymandered maps (the Supreme Court has historically been more skeptical of racial gerrymanders than partisan gerrymanders) before a court finally gets around to declaring those maps illegal.

Gerrymandering is not the only area where Gillespie could help rig future elections for the GOP. The former RNC chair is also a staunch supporter of voter ID laws, a common method of voter suppression.

Voter ID laws are often justified as a measure to prevent voter fraud at the polls. In reality, this fraud barely exists; even investigations conducted by Republican officials who support voter ID policies have found that the incidents of voter fraud are vanishingly small.

In fact, these laws target groups such as low-income voters, students, and voters of color that tend to favor Democrats over Republicans. Indeed, one recent study found that Wisconsin’s voter ID law discouraged about 16,800 people from voting in two counties alone. When you consider the fact that Secretary Hillary Clinton lost the entire state by only 27,257 votes in 2016, it is likely that Wisconsin’s voter ID law swung the state as a whole to Donald Trump.

Should Gillespie win, Virginia Republicans could easily enact a North Carolina-style omnibus voter suppression law — a law that combined many ideas favored by state-level Republicans which make it harder for African Americans to cast a ballot.

North Carolina’s law was struck down by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, which includes Virginia. But that was before Neil Gorsuch took the seat on the Supreme Court that Republicans held open until Donald Trump could fill it. With Gorsuch on the Court, by the time a new North Carolina-style law reaches the Supreme Court, there will likely be five votes to uphold it.

Polling averages currently show Gillespie running just under six points behind his Democratic opponent Ralph Northam.

But Northam has made some embarrassing recent missteps and run tone deaf ads. So, while Northam remains the favorite, it is still possible that Gillespie could eke out a win in this swing state — and give Donald Trump a major boost in his reelection campaign from Virginia’s new voter suppression laws.

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