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The Democracy Dispatch (Edition #41)
Welcome back to the Equal Citizens Substack.
Exactly one year ago, we launched this Substack as the Dispatches on the For The People Act. Our goal was to keep you updated on the landmark democracy legislation in Congress, H.R. 1. It contained measures to limit the influence of big money in politics, protect the right to vote, and end partisan gerrymandering for congressional elections.
By the summer, a revised version of the For The People Act was released, titled the Freedom to Vote Act. Our Substack’s name shifted accordingly, to the Dispatches on the Freedom to Vote Act.
We went all in on this historic bill, which preserved the core policies in the For The People Act and even added new protections against election subversion. We chronicled every stage of the legislative process. We covered the movement for democracy reform as it grew, adapted, re-adapted, and pressured Congress. And we went in depth about the arcane Senate rules and parliamentary maneuvers to get the bill in a position for passage.
As you know, last month, we fell short. 52 Senators, despite the pressure, refused to reform the undemocratic filibuster rules to allow for a vote on the Freedom to Vote Act. Even though the bill had the widespread support of the American people, there was nothing left we could do to get it passed — at least for now.
While we did not get the desired legislative outcome, we were constantly inspired by the hard work of Americans across the country to keep the bill progressing. Our movement flexed its muscles and got the Senate to debate and consider democracy and filibuster reform. That’s no small feat — seriously.
Many of you, our readers, were a part of this effort. So before laying out our next steps, we want to again thank you. Every call, protest, and act of civil disobedience moved the needle just a little further forward towards fair representation. We generated an unprecedented national conversation about the unfair rules of our democracy. Our lawmakers now know that this is an issue that Americans care about, and our future national advocacy will be made easier for it.
For this reason, we feel hopeful.
In that spirit, let’s talk about what comes next for our new Substack.
First, we are rebranding! As you can see in the subject line, this is now The Democracy Dispatch.
The Democracy Dispatch will chronicle the positive (and sometimes negative) news about democracy on the state and local level. For the past decade, activists have made tremendous progress in state houses to make voting easier and this is a critically under-reported story — one that is extremely encouraging. As national groups look to make an impact outside of the halls in Congress, they will once again join their state-based allies. Our vision is to highlight these policy fights in states — providing the substance of the relevant reforms, perspectives from activists, and ways that you can get involved.
In response to reader feedback, The Democracy Dispatch will also include “policy spotlights,” in which we describe various policy proposals, their expected benefits, their feasibility, and which groups are working to implement them. We will introduce the “Policy Spotlight” section in an upcoming Substack.
As an aside, you might notice that we now use “we,” instead of “I,” to describe the authors of this Substack. That’s because one of the original authors, Kate, is returning to the Equal Citizens Team and will be co-writing the Substack with Kevin! Kate is excited to be returning and helping with Equal Citizens’ next chapter.
Alright, let’s dig into some of the good (and unfortunately bad) news that has emerged since we last wrote.
We’ll be honest, we didn’t think we would be putting “good news” and “redistricting” in the same sentence. But we were happily proven wrong by recent news out of North Carolina and Ohio.
In North Carolina, the state’s Supreme Court struck down a proposed gerrymandered Congressional district map. The Republican state legislature drew a map that would have given Republicans as many as 11 out of 14 House seats in the state’s Congressional delegation. (As a reminder, this is a state that went for Trump by just 1.3 points in 2020!). The state Republicans will now have to redraw the maps to make them fairer and more competitive. We can’t let our guard down quite yet, as Republicans may appeal to the conservative U.S. Supreme Court. Nevertheless, this is great news for fair elections in North Carolina.
In a similar move, the Ohio State Supreme Court struck down a second attempt at Republican gerrymandering. Less than a month after the state’s highest court ruled that a GOP-drawn Congressional map unconstitutionally advantaged Republicans, the Supreme Court again stepped in. According to The Hill,
“The ruling referenced new constitutional language for the state that requires districts to favor parties in proportion to the make up of the statewide vote, which is 54 percent Republican and 46 percent Democratic. But the court said that the latest plan that was submitted favored Republicans winning 58 percent of the seats.”
That the state court is strictly enforcing anti-gerrymandering language (passed via ballot initiative in 2018) is good news. This will make Congressional elections in the state more fair (though, we are skeptical about just how fair they will end up being). You might notice a pattern from these two stories. To combat vicious gerrymandering, democracy activists have turned to state courts.
So what’s the bad news, you might be wondering?
The Supreme Court recently weighed in on a racial gerrymandering case from Alabama and it was, without exaggeration, tragic. A federal three-judge court had ordered state politicians in Alabama to redraw their congressional maps which, according to the court, violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Black voters. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, ordered a stay on the lower court's ruling, meaning that for the 2022 election cycle, the state will be allowed to use the racial gerrymandered maps. The Supreme Court will eventually hear the case and could decide to further gut the Voting Rights Act’s ability to curtail racial gerrymanders moving forward. In other words, this is a disastrous development for democracy, both in the short and long term.
We should also note that, despite some victories against unfair redistricting maps, many other states are moving forward with egregious partisan gerrymanders — from Kansas to New York to Tennessee.
That’s all for this week. Next week we will dig into a few promising legislative efforts on the state level. But before we wrap up, here are a few articles worth reading from the last couple weeks!
In the News:
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More About Us:
Kevin Rissmiller is a fellow at Equal Citizens and a Goodwin-Niering Scholar at Connecticut College majoring in Government and double minoring in sociology and economics. In his free time, you will find him at Dunkins or playing ultimate frisbee. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
Kate Travis is a fellow at Equal Citizens and a senior at Harvard studying History and Literature with a minor in Government and a citation in Spanish. When she is not writing about democracy, Kate spends her time running, drinking coffee, and watching bad romcoms with her friends. Follow her on Twitter.
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