While the recent passing of the trillion-dollar infrastructure bill is a step in the right direction, it won’t help the Democrats in next year’s election if they fail to protect our voting rights this year.
The Republicans’ number one priority is to win back the House and Senate next year. And they are doing whatever they can in the states they control to do just that. As Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, urged back in August:
Time is running out. The Senate must pass legislation establishing voting rules for federal elections in order for the rules to be implemented in time to prevent voter suppression in the 2022 congressional elections. Similarly, redistricting standards in the legislation must be enacted quickly to be implemented in time to prevent partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts that likely will take place around the country.
Since Sens. Manchin and Sinema still oppose changing the filibuster rule to allow a simple majority to pass voting rights bills, here is the Democrats best approach to getting the quick action Wertheimer is calling for on the Freedom to Vote Act:
- Eliminate all remaining pieces of the social Build Back Better (BBB) Act to which Manchin and/or Sinema still object.
- Include the Freedom to Vote Act, which Manchin and Sinema support, in the BBB bill with a budget item for implementation so it meets the reconciliation process requirements.
- Quickly pass the BBB act through reconciliation with the support of all 50 Democratic senators and then send it to the House for its approval.
Wertheimer is right. After the 2010 elections, Republicans made big gains in the last redistricting cycle. They used their “power to draw map lines that for a decade have entrenched their legislative majorities and delivered congressional seats to them in states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina, even when they havetallied fewer votes overall than Democrats.”
Now, again, GOP state legislatures are moving rapidly to gerrymander as many congressional districts as they can to their unfair advantage. In Utah, for example, the GOP-controlled legislature is disregarding the redistricting maps submitted by the state’s voter-approved, Independent Redistricting Committee. Instead, Republicans are supporting their own maps which “overwhelmingly favor Republicans” in all four of its congressional districts, even though over 37% of Utah voters supported Biden in 2020.
In Ohio, the Republican-controlled legislature has proposed congressional redistricting maps which “would squeeze Democrats into a tiny minority” giving the GOP the advantage in 12 or 13 of Ohio’s 15 congressional districts. This despite the fact President Biden received over 45% of the 2020 vote in Ohio. By that measure, the Ohio redistricting map should favor Democrats in at least 6 districts.
North Carolina is yet another example of the GOP’s extreme gerrymandering. The Republican-controlled legislature has approved a redistricting map that gives their party a 10 to 3-seat advantage with one highly competitive district. Biden lost North Carolina by only one percentage point last year.
New York, on the other hand, is one of the few states controlled by Democrats where the legislature will have the final say on redistricting maps. Just like Utah and Ohio, the New York legislature can overrule the state’s redistricting commission maps. While Biden received 60% of the New York vote last year, the state’s redistricting map could end up favoring Democrats in as many as 23 of its 26 congressional districts.
None of this, of course, is right for American voters who want to be fairly represented in Congress. The Freedom to Vote Act now languishing in Congress would remedy this gross injustice by banning partisan gerrymandering and making it easier for voters to get bad maps quickly struck down in court.
While the Democrats have spent the last several months bickering over the infrastructure (BIF) and social services (BBB) bills, all their haggling has left them in a deep electoral hole which must be remedied quickly if they are to have any real chance of winning next year’s elections.
Urge your representative (https://clerk.house. gov/Members#MemberProfiles, 202-225-3121) and senators (https://www.senate.gov/ /senators/senators-contact.htm, 202-224-3121) to adopt the above course of action. The fairness of our elections as well as the future of our democracy hangs in the balance.
Bruce Berlin, J.D.
A retired, public sector ethics attorney, Berlin is the author of Breaking Big Money’s Grip on America (See breakingbigmoneysgrip.com.), the founder of New Mexicans for Money Out of Politics, a former U.S. Institute of Peace fellow, and the founder and former executive director of The Trinity Forum for International Security and Conflict Resolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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