Partisan gerrymandering is the shameful practice whereby the party in control of state government draws electoral district maps carefully engineered to protect its incumbents and magnify its power by stealing it from the opposition. In operation, its goal is to render your vote meaningless by ensuring that general election outcomes are determined entirely by the way district maps are drawn. Partisan gerrymandering is an indefensible assault upon our democracy, yet Texas Republicans now find themselves forced to defend it.
Gov. Greg Abbott recently revealed their strategy: scare Texans with a nightmare fantasy of George Soros and Nancy Pelosi conspiring to spend millions of dollars to seize control of state government, rig the electoral districts against the people and steal power for the Democratic party. It sounds terrifying, until you realize that Abbott is threatening you with the specter of what Republicans have already done.
At the end of the last decade, the Republican Party launched project REDMAP, a not-at-all secret plan to focus big money on state races in order to take control of state governments and thereby control the electoral mapmaking process. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, and proceeded to draw maps that awarded disproportionate power to Republicans. For example: in 2012, the popular vote split in Pennsylvania was 49 percent Republican to 50 percent Democrat, yet Republican gerrymandering enabled the Republicans to send 13 members to Congress to the Democrats’ five. A recent report by the Brennan Center estimates that upwards of two-thirds of the current Republican majority in Congress is due to the GOP’s manipulation of electoral district maps. Naturally, then-Attorney General Abbott enthusiastically supported project REDMAP, highlighting the shameless hypocrisy of his current strategy.
Abbott tries to conceal his hypocrisy with his favorite boogeyman: the California-fication of Texas. He writes that Texas is “threatened by the Democrats' plan to re-engineer Texas' district maps to make them look like California's maps.” He presents the California maps as the unholy spawn of Pelosi and Soros. Too bad for Abbott that nothing is further from the truth.
Here is how the supposedly awful California system works. An independent commission of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four independents is chosen by a non-partisan state agency (the Bureau of State Audits) from citizen applicants statewide. The commission then draws district maps according to the following set of ranked priorities:
- Districts must comply with the Constitutional “one person, one vote” requirement.
- Districts must comply with the Voting Rights Act.
- Districts must be contiguous, meaning they must be all of one piece.
- Districts should preserve geographic integrity, dividing cities, counties and communities of interest as little as possible.
- Districts should be compact, not freakishly shaped with long, contorted boundaries.
- Districts should be nested, meaning that larger districts, like state Senate districts, should be composed of smaller districts, like state House districts.
Does that sound like a conspiracy against democracy? To us, it sounds like the opposite. Currently, our elected officials draw their own electoral district boundaries; the foxes aren’t just guarding the henhouse, they’re building it. Unsurprisingly, our political foxes, Democrats and Republicans alike, have abused this power for decades, stealing power for themselves and punishing their enemies. A nonpartisan, independent commission puts a stop to that, creating fair districts that faithfully represent the people and lead to fairer elections.
Here’s something the governor doesn’t reveal: Republicans supported the creation of the independent redistricting commission, while the California Democrats and the dreaded Nancy Pelosi opposed it. Parties and politicians in power always try to retain control over electoral maps, which is why we must take it away from them.