The human cost of the partisan gerrymandering decision
Greenwood is co-director of voting rights and redistricting for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonprofit government watchdog.
Five Supreme Court justices declared last week that though partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional and a scourge on our democracy, the court is both unwilling and unable to step in and police this terrible practice. That's right – extreme gerrymanders, including those that benefit Democrats in Maryland and Republicans in North Carolina, are going to continue through 2020, and likely get worse when the redistricting maps are redrawn in 2021.
I have been litigating to end partisan gerrymandering for the past five years, including representing plaintiffs from Wisconsin in Gill v. Whitford, the case that went to the Supreme Court last year, and plaintiffs from North Carolina in Rucho v. League of Women Voters of North Carolina, which was decided last week at the Supreme Court.
Last year the court told us in Whitford that it wanted us to develop further evidence to explain the harms to individual voters of the Wisconsin gerrymander. Consequently, my team has spent the last 12 months hearing the tragic stories of Wisconsin voters who were harmed by the extreme gerrymander and now feel left out, left behind and totally ignored by their legislators. At the least it is depressing; in many cases it brings me to tears.
Take Linea Sundstrom of Milwaukee, an archaeologist turned activist, who set up a group called Supermarket Legends whereby volunteers educate people about the voting process and register people to vote as they go into or out of grocery stores. Sundstrom testified that multiple people told her they didn't want to register to vote because they knew their vote wouldn't count for the state Assembly candidates. And it's hard to argue that that is a crazy conclusion – in two out of the four elections since 2012, more people have voted for Democratic candidates for the Assembly, yet the chamber has remained more than 60 percent Republican the entire time.
Or take Wendy Sue Johnson of Eau Claire, a family lawyer who was active on her local school board pre-2010. All the school boards in the area used to meet monthly with Assembly representatives (both Democrats and Republicans) to discuss how they could advocate for the Chippewa Valley schools down in Madison. But after the gerrymander was adopted in 2011, the Republican representatives stopped turning up at the meetings and stopped responding to requests for help from their constituents. "What is the point?" thought Johnson. "No one is listening to us."
And then there's Janet Mitchell of Racine, retired school teacher and lifelong civil rights activist. She's volunteered for more political campaigns than she cares to remember, but in 2018 when she was set to manage volunteers to knock on doors for Assembly candidates on the weekend before the election, half the volunteers didn't turn up. Ever devoted to her cause, Mitchell called up the missing volunteers to find out what was going on. Universally the response was the same: Look, the Democratic candidate is just not going to win, with these lines it's impossible. And what could she say to that? Though Mitchell has been fighting impossible causes all her life, she knew the voting maps were stacked against Democrats in Racine County. How could she promise otherwise?
I could recount story after story of patriotic individuals around Wisconsin and North Carolina who keep fighting in the face of impossible odds. Being a part of the federal lawsuits to end partisan gerrymandering gave them hope that this country might renew its promise to democracy. And then came June 27, 2019. The door for federal claims to stop partisan gerrymandering is now firmly sealed shut.
I have spent the past few days speaking with dozens of individuals across the country about where we go now. In Michigan, Missouri, Colorado and Utah the people are fired up – in each state the voters brushed aside the politicians and adopted independent redistricting commissions last year by popular referendum – each one requires partisan fairness in the drawing of redistricting plans. In Arkansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Oregon, Virginia and a dozen other states voters are working together to adopt independent commissions and/or partisan fairness language so their next set of voting maps won't be gerrymandered. This is great news for many people in many states.
And yet, the law in Wisconsin and North Carolina leaves voters out in the cold. There is no mechanism in either state to use a ballot initiative process to adopt an independent commission or to adopt fairer rules for redistricting. The voters in these states (and many others) have to rely on the good faith of a gerrymandered legislature to choose to adopt change that will take power away from themselves and give it back to the people. I can barely write that with a straight face. That reform camel is not going to make it through the eye of the gerrymandered needle.
On Thursday afternoon, I spoke with Donald Winter, of Neenah, Wis. Winter has lived all of his 83 years in Wisconsin, except when he was deployed overseas with the Marine Corps in the 1950s. He found time, in addition to his work in a local foundry, to serve as an alderman on his local council for over 20 years. I explained the Supreme Court's decision to him. "Oh ...." he said. Then he took a deep breath and asked in a genuinely searching way: "Do they just not care about us?" My eyes welled with tears. "I care about you, Mr. Winter, and there are millions of Americans who do, but … well ... a majority of those in power, those at the Supreme Court and those in your state legislature, I guess they don't."
- High court to voters: You deal with partisan gerrymandering. - The ... ›
- Judges have no role in evaluating partisan gerrymandering ... ›
In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.
The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.
With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.
This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.
Laura Williamson says her career was shaped by growing up in North Carolina, which she describes as being historically at the center of the best and worst of American democracy. She spent seven years working with young people at progressive groups and got a master's in public affairs at Princeton before joining Demos in the summer of 2018. The think tank aims to combat "threats to democracy, racial equity and economic inclusion" and as a senior policy analyst she's focused on voter registration, voting rights, money in politics and civic participation. Her answers have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
What's democracy's biggest challenge, in 10 words or less?
Abolishing all disenfranchisement schemes and achieving an inclusive, multiracial democracy.
Describe your very first civic engagement.
Testifying at the North Carolina General Assembly against cuts to funding for vocational education. The woodworking classes I took throughout high school were among the most formative of my public school education, so as a high school senior I advocated for their continued funding to lawmakers in Raleigh.
What was your biggest professional triumph?
It's actually a triumph-in-progress. At Demos, we are privileged to work with powerful grassroots leaders redefining democracy and pushing the reform conversation across the country. Alongside these Inclusive Democracy Project leaders we are dreaming and scheming about what it would take to build a truly inclusive democracy — without limiting ourselves by what's perceived as politically feasible or reasonable — and to chart a radical reform agenda that meets the challenge. Our agenda is in progress and, like all real victories, is benefitting from the efforts of many smart and talented people. Stay tuned, it'll be ready for public consumption soon!
And your most disappointing setback?
They have always come after I've not listened well enough, have brought too much ego and taken things too personally, or not followed my gut about when a process or decision felt off.
How does your identity influence the way you go about your work?
I'm from North Carolina, where we pioneered multiracial, pro-justice fusion politics during Reconstruction, civil disobedience during the civil rights movement and franchise-expanding voting reforms since the 1990s. More recently, we have also been home to the vanguard of voter suppression and other democracy stifling tactics since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. I stand on the shoulders of giants and against the abdication of our identity as democracy leaders. I also do this work because, as a white woman, I know the exclusion of entire communities from our democracy was — and is still — led by my people and, often, in my name. I work every day to undo that legacy and ongoing reality.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
Learn to simultaneously practice patience and show up with urgency in all the work I do.
Create a new flavor for Ben & Jerry's.
Impeaches and Cream
West Wing or Veep?
West Wing — for the sometimes-too-earnest belief that government can be a force for good, not the centrist politics!
What's the last thing you do on your phone at night?
Turn on do not disturb.
What is your deepest, darkest secret?
I'm deeply terrified by karaoke.
Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.
With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.
Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.
Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.
I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.
Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.