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Jul 29 2020
Gorrell is a retired advocate for the deaf, a former Republican Party statistician and a longtime congressional aide. He has been advocating against partisan gerrymandering for four decades.
<p>Last week President Trump directed the government to do what it could to prevent about 10 million foreigners illegally in the United States from being counted when it comes time to apportion congressional seats for the coming decade.</p> <p>Whatever you think of that dictate, which seeks to upend practices as old as the Constitution, my interest in the census these days is entirely on something else — in fact, something almost exactly opposite what Trump was talking about.</p> <p>He should sign a second executive memorandum, this time telling the Census Bureau to start counting for apportionment purposes the 9 million civilian American citizens who are now living and working in more than 160 countries around the world — and should be officially part of the populations of their home towns stateside.</p> <p>For starters, that would allow me to sleep soundly for more than a few hours each night in Rejika. </p> <p><p style="text-align: center;" id="sufn"><a style="font-weight: bold;margin:40px auto;font-size:2rem" href="https://thefulcrum.us/st/newsletters">Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter </a></p></p><p>That's the lovely Croatian port city on the Adriatic Sea where I have been stranded since the spring because of the coronavirus outbreak and its travel restrictions. But my true home is in Delaware. And it's only right and fair for the government to count me there, even though I can't return before the pandemic passes and the census will probably be over then. </p> <p>That's where I pay taxes and vote every two years in a contest for the state's only House seat. (That won't change with reapportionment because Delaware's population isn't growing very fast.) But current rules mean a little sliver of federal aid based on population, $1.5 trillion worth nationwide in the next 10 years, will be denied my state. </p> <p>Of course, it's not just about me. The American diaspora's size is about 3 percent of the official national population — and equivalent to the combined headcounts for Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia and Tucson. It's also essentially the same size as the population of undocumented immigrants, who get almost all the attention in fights over the census.</p> <p>This group I've joined unwittingly is in something of a democratic rights middle world. Those of us who are citizens older than 18 may register at home and use absentee ballots to vote for president and all other offices in the 2020 election. But we will not be counted as part of the 2020 population of the United States. That makes no sense.</p> <p>And so learning that came as a shock on April 1, what the government calls Census Day because the headcount aspires to reflect where every American was living that day. After dutifully logging on to the <a href="http://www.2020census.gov" target="_blank">census website</a> from a computer in Croatia, I got no further than "Access Denied. You don't have permission to access 2020census.gov on this server."</p> <p>I was able to quickly learn, however, that I could be fined $100 for refusing to complete a census form and $500 for answering questions falsely. And then I found out, on the Census Bureau website's "How we count America." page, that "If you live outside the country, and you are not employed by the U.S. government or as a member of the U.S. military, you are not counted in this census."</p> <p>Federal courts have upheld this policy twice, when Massachusetts challenged it three decades ago and again in 2001, ruling against Utah's effort to count for apportionment the overseas missionaries of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. </p> <p>This decision was, as far as congressional power goes, a huge deal. Had the 11,000 Mormons working abroad been counted at their home addresses, Utah would have had enough people to merit a fourth seat in the House. The new district went instead to North Carolina, which was allowed to count 18,360 of its people in the armed forces or working for the government abroad.</p> <p>Ten years later, the Census Bureau argued <a href="https://www.gao.gov/new.items/d041077t.pdf" target="_blank">it would be impossible to get an accurate count</a> of civilian Americans all over the world. Now, the agency says it would be willing to try if Congress demands it. But legislation to mandate the census count all citizens overseas — by the dean of Utah's House delegation, Republican Rob Bishop — has so far gone nowhere. (This year is different of course, as Mormon missionaries are being <a href="https://www.deseret.com/utah/2020/3/25/21193021/missionaries-latter-day-saint-lds-mormon-early-return-utah-now-counted-home-census-provo-coronavirus" target="_blank">called home</a> due to the coronavirus pandemic.)</p> <p>To do better by people like me in time for the 2030 census, the Census Bureau should endorse and help pass legislation assuring the diaspora is counted. One option would be to have Americans abroad declare on their census questionnaires where they slept two nights before they last left the United States — then have them counted at that address, but only for apportionment purposes.</p> <p>I'm resigned to not being counted this time, and I've rented apartments in Croatia through the middle of November. But now there's a decade to get things right and count another 9 million Americans.</p>
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Drew Angerer/Getty Images
May 21 2020
Gorrell, a retired advocate for the deaf and former Republican Party statistician, filed the first lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Maryland congressional district map drawn in 2011.
<p>"The biggest rigged system in America is gerrymandering," according to Eric Holder, who was attorney general during President Barack Obama's first term.<br></p> <p>And "Maryland is the shamefaced owner of the single worst gerrymander in the nation," in the view of Ashley Oleson, who runs the state's <a href="https://thefulcrum.us/directory/league-of-women-voters" target="_self">League of Women Voters</a> chapter. </p> <p>"The 3rd District mangles the central part of the state as it snakes its way northeast from Annapolis, then west, again eastward, and one more time northwest(ish) until it's close to the top of the state — passing in and out (and sometimes back in again) of four counties and Baltimore City," <a href="https://thefulcrum.us/worst-gerrymandering-districts-example" target="_self">she told</a> The Fulcrum last fall. "The district has been characterized by a federal judge as a 'broken-winged pterodactyl lying prostrate across the state' and also likened to 'blood spatter at a crime scene.' "</p> <p>As an expert on redistricting drawn by hand, I do love Holder's famous <a href="https://thefulcrum.us/gerrymandering" target="_self">gerrymandering</a> quote. However, I am still puzzled because he has not taken any action yet to combat the egregious practice by the Democrats in control of the General Assembly of a state I've called home. </p> <p><p style="text-align: center;" id="sufn"><a style="font-weight: bold;margin:40px auto;font-size:2rem" href="https://thefulcrum.us/st/newsletters">Sign up for The Fulcrum newsletter </a></p></p><p>To review, Democrats have averaged 61 percent of the statewide vote for Congress in the four elections held under the current map. And each time, Democrats have won seven of the state's eight House districts.</p> <p>Although his office in Washington is only about 30 miles west of the statehouse in Annapolis, Holder has not testified in person or even in writing before any of the legislative committees with jurisdiction over the whopping roster of 13 bills to reform redistricting that were filed this year. (At the end of a session shortened by the spread of the coronavirus, all those measures had stalled without action.)</p> <p>Similarly, Holder did not attend any of the four oral arguments that preceded the Supreme Court's landmark decision a year ago to steer clear of partisan gerrymandering disputes — despite having an open invitation to take a seat at the highest court in the land, thanks to his being a former attorney general.</p> <p>Suddenly, after the 2019 hearing in the Maryland redistricting case, Benisek v. Lamone, Holder appeared with one of the nation's best-known anti-gerrymanderers, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, at a National Press Club event. They discussed why they believed redistricting reform is crucial to the future of our democracy. After the conversation, both signed the End Gerrymandering Pledge circulated by <a href="https://thefulcrum.us/directory/common-cause" target="_self">Common Cause</a>.</p> <p>Eight months later, GOP Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland and the League of Women Voters' Oleson signed it, too. "I see gerrymandering for what it is — voter suppression," she said. "It is essential that we repair the redistricting processes in Maryland and throughout the nation to ensure the voices of the people are heard, and confidence in our democracy can be restored."</p> <p>But what about Holder? He happens to serve as chairman of the <a href="https://thefulcrum.us/directory/national-democratic-redistricting-committee" target="_self">National Democratic Redistricting Committee</a>, which describes itself as "the centralized hub for executing a comprehensive redistricting strategy that shifts the redistricting power, creating fair districts where Democrats can compete." He claims that his program's purpose is to combat gerrymandering.</p> <p>According to IRS filings, the organization's purpose is to "build a comprehensive plan to favorably position Democrats for the redistricting process through 2022."</p> <p>To be clear: That does not match with Holder's famous quote. </p> <p>Here's how he explained the disconnect during an appearance two years ago at Georgetown University Institute of Politics and Public Service: "There are instances you can probably point to where Democrats have not played fairly, but it pales in comparison to what Republicans have done." </p> <p>Then he mocked a congressional district in Virginia that's "only contiguous at high tide" along with a Pennsylvania district with lines that "run through a parking lot." But, in an interview afterward, he declined to similarly single out Maryland's notorious 3rd District as being an egregious example of partisan mapmaking, despite its ungainly shape.</p> <p>"I am in complete agreement with your goal of building a democracy where voters pick their elected representatives, not the other way around," Hogan said in a February 2019 letter urging Holder and Obama, who's lent his name to the NDRC, to get behind efforts to end the era of partisan gerrymandering in his state. "With your support, I believe we can set things right in Maryland." </p> <p>There is no sign Hogan has ever received a response.</p> <p>And it took until last July for Holder to use the word "Maryland" in anything he's written for public consumption on the topic of partisan gerrymandering</p> <p>In an opinion piece for The Washington Post headlined "If the Supreme Court won't protect our democracy, voters will," he included the following in <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eric-holder-if-the-supreme-court-wont-protect-our-democracy-voters-will/2019/07/03/735de22e-9cdc-11e9-9ed4-c9089972ad5a_story.html" target="_blank">a discussion of the court's ruling</a>: "As Justice Elena Kagan wrote in her powerful and prescient dissent, the partisan gerrymanders in Maryland and North Carolina 'debased and dishonored our democracy, turning upside-down the core American idea that all governmental power derives from the people.'"</p> <p>People like me, who have been fighting partisan mapmaking for a decade, would be more than thrilled if Holder would now apply that newfound rhetorcial zeal equally — to lines drawn by Democrats as well as Republicans. </p>He can start in Annapolis next year by taking on Democratic state Sen. Paul Pinsky, who has been the chief engineer stalling Hogan's bills on reforming redistricting in each of the past five years.
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