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Dispatches on the For The People Act (Edition #36)
Welcome back to the Equal Citizens Substack. We continue to see movement in the Senate towards filibuster reform and passage of the Freedom to Vote Act (FVA). Just this week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer again reiterated his desire to address voting rights before the end of the year.
And activism pressuring the Senate to pass the FVA is continuing across the country. On Monday, a cross-partisan group of 20 young Americans in Arizona began a hunger strike to demand President Biden and Senator Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) take a more active role shepherding the Freedom to Vote Act through the Senate.
As of right now, we hope a vote will be called on the Freedom to Vote Act by the end of the year. Of course, there is no guarantee this will happen — especially as the Senate calendar is busy, and the Senate plans to go on recess December 13th. (Over 200 organizations, including Equal Citizens, recently released a letter asking the Senate to postpone recess until the chamber acts to protect democracy). So we need to keep the pressure up.
As our main focus this week, I am going to cover the impending gerrymandering crisis. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out if there is a topic you would like us to delve further into in a future Substack.
Gerrymandered maps are here:
In the absence of federal legislation banning partisan gerrymandering, state-level politicians — mainly Republicans — are drawing federal and state district maps that are wildly skewed in their favor, making a mockery of voters and democracy itself. Democrats, of course, are also engaging in gerrymandering in some states, but they have significantly less power to do so because they control fewer state governments and independent commissions draw maps in some Democratically-held states. (Democrats, to their credit, have also coalesced to pass federal redistricting reform, while federal Republicans are doing everything in their power to prevent it.)
Overall, Republicans have the power to draw 187 congressional districts, whereas Democrats get to draw only 75. Republicans have moved at quick speed to use their powers, passing or on the verge of passing rigged maps across the country that will cement supermajorities in state legislatures and Congressional state delegations before a single vote is cast. It’s no exaggeration to say that, under the status quo, control of the House of Representatives will be decided by gerrymanders, not voters.
If we care about free and fair elections, these undemocratic maps are a five alarm fire, and underscore why it is so imperative that we pass both the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act as soon as possible.
Let’s take a look at some of the most extreme gerrymanders.
In Texas, state-level Republicans have proposed maps that would result in less majority Black and Hispanic districts even though people of color account for 95% of the population growth over the last decade. The proposed Congressional maps would have 23 safe Republican seats, 12 safe Democrat seats, and three remotely competitive seats in a state where 46.5% of voters supported President Biden in 2020. At the state-level, the new maps would also allow Republicans to dominate. Trump won in 76 State House districts in 2020, but under the new maps he would’ve won 85 districts. With these maps, state-level Republicans would protect their majority in the State House, despite Texas becoming more competitive in national elections.
Did I mention that these maps were drawn with an eye towards favoring incumbents, a type of gerrymandering that makes it nearly impossible for voters to elect new politicians? The Princeton Gerrymandering Project (PGP) gave an F to the Texas Congressional maps, State House maps, and State Senate maps. Check out this New York Times article that illustrates just how bad the proposed Congressional maps are.
Think Texas is engaging in undemocratic behavior? Let’s talk about North Carolina.
According to FiveThirtyEight, Republican lawmakers' new Congressional maps would give Republicans 10 seats, Democrats 3 seats, and create 1 highly competitive seat, in a state that President Biden lost by just over 1 point. The PGP unsurprisingly gave this Congressional map an F due to its partisan bias.
Democratic Rep. Butterfield, who has been in Congress since the early 90s, saw his Congressional district cracked, with a large portion of his Black constituents intentionally removed from his district. As a result of this aggressive gerrymandering, Rep. Butterfield announced his retirement and stated, “‘The Legislature handed us a map that’s an extreme political gerrymander and an extreme racial gerrymander...It’s unconscionable, and it’s unconstitutional’” (NYTimes).
It should come as no surprise that the State House and State Senate maps are equally as distorted, also getting a grade of an F from the PGP.
In Ohio, the GOP is proposing maps that would push the limits on gerrymandering, even though voters recently passed an anti-gerrymandering initiative. In a state where just over 45% of voters voted for President Biden in 2020, Republicans are attempting to pass a Congressional map that would give Republicans a 12 to 13 seat majority (out of 15 total Congressional districts). On the state level, Ohio’s proposed maps are egregiously gerrymandered, with Republicans expected to win about 66% of the seats, even if they only win 54% of the votes.
In Wisconsin, the GOP-proposed maps were vetoed by the Democratic governor. The maps will be sent to the state court, whose decision is yet to come. How bad were the proposed maps? Republicans would be favored to win 6 out of the 8 Congressional seats and 64 of the 99 State Assembly seats in a state that votes nearly 50-50 Democrat/Republican and voted for President Biden in 2020.
And that’s not all…
Several other states are also engaging in blatantly antidemocratic gerrymandering. Oklahoma Republicans have carved up a competitive district. New Hampshire Republicans, according to FiveThirtyEight, have proposed “some of the biggest changes to New Hampshire’s congressional map since the late 1800s”. And Georgia Republicans recently made headlines for their own gerrymanders. In Georgia, it is estimated that Democrats would have to win 55% of the state-level vote to earn a majority in the State House. There are so many other cases, too...
For more coverage on the aforementioned states and the consequences for our democracy, check out this article by Mother Jones journalist Ari Berman.
The Path Forward:
Gerrymandering is an incredibly potent tactic that is poisonous to a democracy. Because of gerrymandering, competitive Congressional elections are becoming few and far between and polarization is growing more extreme. In gerrymandered states, it is often nearly impossible for voters to elect representatives of the alternative party and the only thing politicians have to fear is a primary challenge.
We just wrapped up a decade of extreme partisan gerrymanders and it was a disaster. As David Daley has chronicled extensively, Republicans weaponized the 2010 redistricting process to undermine elections and voters suffered tremendously — from an inability to solve the climate crisis to the failures to protect residents in Flint, Michigan during the lead water crisis.
Click here to watch our interview with Dave Daley from last April.
Unfortunately, this new round of gerrymandering is shaping up to be worse than the previous round. Map making technology has improved, allowing for more sophisticated map making. The preclearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act will not be in effect (thanks to the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act in 2013), and there is no longer any prospect that federal courts will reign in nefarious partisan gerrymanders (thanks to a Supreme Court ruling in 2019). Yes, lawsuits alleging racial discrimination are beginning to pile up. This week, the Justice Department brought a lawsuit against Texas’ Congressional maps arguing that they violate the voting rights of Black and Hispanic Americans thus violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. However, with a Supreme Court increasingly hostile to democracy, it’s unclear how much optimism to place in these litigations.
Should we give up then? No, of course not.
This isn’t rocket science. Federal legislation banning gerrymandering could put a stop to this madness. Without it, the upcoming decade will be defined by uncompetitive elections, frustrated voters, and broken politics. That doesn’t have to be our fate. Let’s pass the Freedom to Vote Act.
An Action for you:
On Monday December 13th @ noon, the Poor People's Campaign, Black Voters Matter, SEIU, and other partners are hosting a ‘Moral Monday March on Washington’ demanding the Senate pass voting rights legislation and the Build Back Better Act before the end of the year. This march will take place at Capitol Hill and I encourage you to attend if you can. Click here for more information.
In the News:
The New Republic’s Grace Segers published an update on the fight to pass the FVA and VRAA, and the path ahead for filibuster reform. It is clear that all 50 Democratic Senators are now engaging in conversations about how to reform the filibuster to pass these crucial bills, which is good news.
New York Times journalist Nick Corasaniti writes about the anti-voter bills that state-level Republicans are preparing to introduce in 2022. Across the country, the assault on our elections will continue next year. Over 240 anti-voter bills could be carried over into the new year and countless more could be introduced.
Sludge reports on the success of the NYC public campaign financing program. The article focuses on a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice which found that NYC elected officials have become much more racially and gender diverse, in large part because of the city’s innovative campaign finance system.
Jonathan Gould and David Pozen explain why the filibuster hurts Democrats more than Republicans in The Hill. They note that the filibuster “disadvantages those with ambitious legislative agendas. And any way one measures it, the contemporary Democratic Party is more legislatively ambitious than the contemporary Republican Party.”
Don’t forget to keep your friends, family, and colleagues in the loop by sharing this Substack with them.
Social Media Roundup:
Let’s be frank: there are A LOT of tweets, posts, and general conversation about the Freedom to Vote Act. In this section, we give you an overview of the tweets and media you really need to see.
More Ways to Help!
We are entering possibly one of the most critical moments for American democracy since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We need all the help we can get to push the Freedom to Vote Act over the finish line! Here are more ways to join the fight to protect American democracy:
Call your senators and tell them that you support reforming the filibuster for voting rights legislation. You can find your senators’ phone numbers, as well as where they stand on the filibuster, using our handy filibuster tracker!
Common Cause and End Citizens United are organizing regular phone banks in support of the Freedom to Vote Act. This is a great opportunity to spread the word and help constituents contact their Senators in support of the bill. Check them out here and here.
You can also text DEMOCRACY to 33339 to receive a daily text message reminder to call your senators in support of voting rights legislation.
The League of Women Voters can also help you contact the White House here.
Write a letter to the editor in your local paper sharing your support of the Freedom to Vote Act and urging your Senators to pass it. Not sure how to write a letter to the editor? Reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help!
Share our newsletter, our podcast, the articles included above, and the resources on the bill below on social media and tell your friends why you support #FreedomtoVote
If, after reading our newsletter, you still want to know more about the Freedom to Vote Act or Equal Citizens you can find more information here! If you have questions about the bill you want us to answer in our Substack, tweet at us with #HR1Substack! Also, don’t forget to follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for more updates throughout the week.
Here are a few resources on the “Freedom to Vote Act” if you have questions:
Equal Citizens launched a filibuster tracker, so you can see where your senator stands on the filibuster. It also includes their phone numbers and their Twitter handles, so you can get in touch with them directly and push them to support filibuster reform!
The Brennan Center for Justice created a wonderful guide to the Freedom to Vote Act. Check it out here. Additionally, they created an extensive fact sheet on the differences between the Freedom to Vote Act and the For the People Act, which I highly suggest checking out here.
The Brennan Center also published a report on why H.R. 1 brings us closer to an inclusive democracy, while the Freedom to Vote Act is not the same, this report is still relevant in a number of ways. Check it out here. They also created an in-depth report about racism and disenfranchisement due to incarceration.
There is a lot of misinformation about the Freedom to Vote Act, and the amount of misinformation so please reach out to us if you hear anything that doesn’t sound right and we will give you the correct information.
More About Me:
Kevin Rissmiller is a fellow at Equal Citizens and a Goodwin-Niering Scholar at Connecticut College majoring in Government and exploring sociology, economics, and applied statistics. In his free time, you will find him at Dunkins or (pre-pandemic) playing ultimate frisbee. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
If you want more updates on federal voting rights legislation from Kevin, then subscribe here!