Racist Republican gerrymandering monster puts the bite on democracy
Brynn Anderson / AP

There is a massive fightback underway across the nation against open and criminal Republican attacks on democracy that are being exposed by the Jan. 6 Committee, the Justice Department, and journalists, among others. A more systemic but covert GOP push to subvert democracy, however, is not getting the attention it deserves from the corporate media – that push involves skillful use by Republicans of the tool of racist gerrymandering of congressional district lines.

New congressional district lines have been drawn now for much of the country. It is clear that the borders of many of the new districts have been manipulated at the expense of Black and other minority voters.

The white population has decreased over the last 10 years as Black and minority voters have grown in numbers. That growth is not reflected in many of the newly-drawn districts.

Already back in January, the Washington Post did an analysis of new district borders in the first 28 states to complete their new lines.  Bucking the demographic trends, the number of majority white districts grew by eight and the number of majority Black districts decreased by five.

The racist gerrymandering has major implications for the upcoming midterm elections which could be the determining factor of how free and fair our elections remain going forward. In addition to taking away power from Black voters, the racist gerrymandering contributes to the election of lawmakers intent on killing democracy for everyone in the U.S.

The threat of voter suppression doesn’t get nearly as much attention in the corporate press as the latest culture war distraction Republicans cook up, or the one or two deceased people whose names end up on a ballot, but the effects of it have already caused lasting damage. Voter suppression has occurred for as long as the country has existed, but it has gained a considerable amount of steam in modern times since the gutting of a major provision in the Voting Rights Act (VRA) by the Supreme Court in 2013.

This has resulted in major voter suppression that has targeted marginalized and diverse groups in the nation. The provision removed from the VRA by the Supreme Court had required that lawmakers in states with a history of discriminating against minority voters get federal permission before changing their voting rules. Since this change to the VRA, many of those same states have implemented stricter voter registration rules, often targeting voters of color. No doubt because voters of color, particularly Black voters, tend to lean away from the Republican party when it comes time to cast their ballots.

The GOP hasn’t garnered a majority of the popular vote in national elections for years now. With the growing population of non-white, often younger, voters who lean more progressive, it is a party out of touch. Instead of changing their platform to what the growing majority of voters are seeking, the further right-leaning Republican party has seemingly decided on a strategy of taking votes, as opposed to earning them. The gutting of the VRA opened up the floodgates for this, and racial gerrymandering is a key tool in their arsenal of suppression.

To understand just how impactful gerrymandering can be, one needs to know the history of it. Before we talk about gerrymandering, let’s define redistricting. Redistricting is the way in which states are divided into different districts for electoral representation. It takes place every ten years after the census in order to account for population shifts. Gerrymandering is what happens when those left in charge of redistricting in each state use it in such a way as to shift power towards the party they belong to. Gerrymandering picked up steam after the Civil War when Black men gained the right to vote.

Chuck Burton / AP

States in the South drew district lines that gave the power to southern whites and the party they supported, while diluting the impact of the Black male vote. This act of suppression was coupled with growing extreme violence against the Black population with lynching, harassment, and the poll taxes used to deter African-Americans from going to the ballot box.

In the 1960s sweeping change came about with what was called the “redistricting revolution.” Chief Justice Earl Warren ruled in Reynolds v Sims (1964) that state voting districts had to have roughly equal populations, and that districts needed to be adjusted every ten years after the census to account for population shifts. This, coupled with the VRA ruling of 1965, helped to protect the right to vote for voters of color and other marginalized groups. This protection, like the VRA, has been under threat by the GOP for some time now, resulting in the battles we see today. And many of these battles still have racism at their core.

The acts of “cracking” and “packing” are two tactics by the gerrymanderers that are targeted at minority voters. Cracking means breaking up minority communities into small portions to make their influence less significant, and packing deals with placing a majority of the voters of color into one district as to reduce their impact in other districts around them.

One of the masterminds behind racial gerrymandering was the late Republican political strategist Thomas Hofeller. Described by The New Yorker as the “master of the modern gerrymander,” Hofeller worked on a number of key campaigns in a variety of states, and in 2019 over 70,000 documents, maps, and emails from his hard drive revealed just how systemic this strategy went within the Republican party to the detriment of voters of color and those not usually seen as aligning with the GOP.

In a report by The Intercept, David Daley revealed how Hofeller’s hard drive memos drew the connections between race and redistricting and discussed ways in which to create “majority-minority” districts as a strategy to pack Black voters into a limited number of seats. This would result in “surrounding districts becoming whiter and more Republican.”

Hofeller helped in applying this strategy in North Carolina, Texas, Missouri, Virginia, Alabama, Florida, and West Virginia.

It is clear from the memos and documents that this was a long strategic game to ensure the minority rule of the Republican party. In a December 2014 memo from Hofeller’s redistricting firm Geographic Strategies, addressed to the leadership of the Republican National Committee (RNC), it stated that, “GOP attorneys and redistricting experts successfully fought three decades of court battles which culminated just this November when the GOP gained full political control of the entire South.”

In 2000, at a National Conference of State Legislatures event, Hoefeller is quoted as brazenly saying, “Redistricting is like an election in reverse… Usually the voters get to pick the politician. In redistricting, the politicians get to pick the voters.”

A 2017 study by Extreme Maps concluded that, since the 2010 Census congressional maps are consistently biased in favor of the Republican party, and that just seven states account for almost all the bias. Those were Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania with the most extreme levels of bias, followed by Florida, Ohio and Texas.

While Hofeller is now buried six feet under, his unconstitutional strategy of racial gerrymandering lives on within the Republican party.

In Texas, according to Democracy Labs, Republicans proposed a gerrymandered Texas district map that would give them 24 of 38 U.S. House seats despite only getting 53% percent of the vote in November of 2020. Before this map there were 14 districts that were seen as competitive (spots where both Democrats and Republican candidates had some chance of winning) now it is down to three, with strong GOP areas now at 23 (10 more than the old map).

Earlier this year in Alabama federal court judges blocked Alabama’s new congressional map, made by Republican state lawmakers, from going into effect after the ACLU of Alabama and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) sued, stating that the maps greatly disadvantaged Black voters in the state. This was after it was seen that the Republicans drew only one majority Black district despite the 2020 Census finding that 27% of Alabama residents identify as Black, meaning that under the idea of “one person, one vote” there needed to be at least two majority Black districts.

Unfortunately, the conservative GOP dominated Supreme Court had other plans. In the Merrill v. Milligan decision this past February, the court allowed Alabama to continue with their redistricting plan despite it being challenged as illegal racial gerrymandering. The Supreme Court’s decision effectively put the federal court’s decision (which acknowledged the racial gerrymandering) on hold. This basically allows for the contested map to go into effect for the 2022 midterm elections, which will no doubt result in the underrepresentation of the Black vote.

Chuck Burton / AP

Interestingly enough the court was quick to overturn decades of precedence on a woman’s right over her own body, but felt that dealing with democracy in the 2022 elections was not pressing enough of a matter to come to a decision on.

The Supreme Court’s decision should come as no surprise given that it has been in the process of chipping away at the ability to defend voting rights for some time. Such as the aforementioned gutting of the VRA in 2013, and the even more recent Abbott v. Perez (2018) decision where the court decided that, despite history saying otherwise, state legislatures are entitled to be seen as legislating in “good faith” especially when it comes to redistricting. And that the burden of proof lies with “the challenger, not the State.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a dissenting opinion pointed out that the Court was “blinding itself to the overwhelming factual record” that the maps “in design and effect, burden the rights of minority voters.”

Decisions like this by the highest court in the United States, who has very recently continued chipping away at human rights, coupled with the strategic plan by the GOP to advance their rule by going after Black voters, put our democracy in peril.

In June of this year the Florida supreme court declined to rule for now on whether a redistricting map by Governor Ron (Don’t Say Gay) DeSantis was unconstitutional.  DeSantis’ map breaks up Florida’s 5th District, which stretches from Jacksonville to Tallahassee, and is 48% Black into four Republican dominated districts. Essentially cracking up the Black vote. This was despite a circuit court judge ruling that the map violated the state’s constitution and diluted the African-American vote. This means that DeSantis’ map will also be in effect for the 2022 midterm elections which, as some analysts have pointed out, could likely give the GOP an additional four seats in the House.

Although this racist strategy runs deep, it is not without pushback. There are a number of groups, organizations, and activists challenging racial gerrymandering and the subsequent disenfranchisement of voters of color. Through education, amplification, reform, and protest changes can be made. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021 could have helped to restore key elements of the VRA. It was passed in the House, but was stopped by Senate Republicans.

This, along with the recent rulings of the ultra conservative Supreme Court shaped by the GOP and Trump administration, shows how impactful elections can be. The ramifications of voter suppression could lead to a continued descent down a path of far-right rule and corruption. Voting districts should reflect the ever growing diversity of the country, not the crude imaginary boundaries made to keep those that stand in the way of that in power. There’s a lot on the line in the upcoming midterm elections, and the battle against voter suppression needs to be at the forefront.


Chauncey K. Robinson
Chauncey K. Robinson

Chauncey K. Robinson is an award winning journalist and film critic. Born and raised in Newark, New Jersey, she has a strong love for storytelling and history. She believes narrative greatly influences the way we see the world, which is why she's all about dissecting and analyzing stories and culture to help inform and empower the people.