On this week’s episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver took a look at gerrymandering, “one of the few remaining types of science in which the Republican party currently believes.”
Gerrymandering involves the redrawing of congressional districts in a way that favors one party. In most states, district lines are primarily controlled by legislators in the majority party—“and they have a pretty clear vested interest there,” Oliver notes.
Both parties do it, but gerrymandering is considered one of the major reasons why a country that was not necessarily trending red has been so effectively overtaken by the Republican party (although Democrats, Oliver notes, also have a habit of packing themselves into cities). REDMAP, or the Redistricting Majority Project, was timed to the 2010 census to pour money into races that could shift the power in state legislators to Republicans, who would then be able to redraw districts to their liking. In a review of David Daley’s Ratf**ked, the New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert explained:
REDMAP was created in early 2010, at a point when the country’s electoral map was largely blue. In twenty-seven states, Democrats held the majority of seats in both houses of the legislature, and in six more they held a majority in one house. The Presidency, the U.S. Senate, and the House of Representatives were all in Democratic hands. To describe their own party, Republicans were using words like “wounded” and “adrift.”
And, as bad as things looked at the time, the G.O.P.’s prospects down the road looked even worse. In 2011, new census figures were due to be released, and this would trigger a round of redistricting. Republicans, Daley writes, were facing “a looming demographic disaster.”
The idea behind REDMAP was to hit the Democrats at their weakest point. In several state legislatures, Democratic majorities were thin. If the Republicans commissioned polls, brought in high-powered consultants, and flooded out-of-the-way districts with ads, it might be possible to flip enough seats to take charge of them. Then, when it came time to draw the new lines, the G.O.P. would be in control.
Barack Obama’s major project post-presidency, in partnership with former attorney general Eric Holder, is the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, aimed at producing fairer maps in the 2021 redistricting process. “We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around,” Obama said during his 2016 State of the Union speech.
Or, as Oliver puts it: “Every one of us should get an equal chance to make a bad decision that fucks things up for everybody else.”