NASHVILLE, TN – Tennessee is not done yet but about 20 states have finished drawing Congressional and legislative district maps. This is the first time states with a history of racist voting laws have gone through the process since federal election oversight ended in 2014. And now anything goes.

Partisans are drawing maps to undercut the potential influence of communities of color. This is particularly dramatic in the South as new multiracial collations are emerging to push for more equitable representation. At the same time, state legislatures are passing more restrictive voter laws to make sure they don’t get it.

As many Tennessee counties have released newly drawn county commission maps, the Tennessee Democratic Party is asking Tennessee legislators “Where are the maps?” Democratic legislators have been seeking public input on new maps for months; however, Republican legislators have been meeting behind closed doors to draw maps that represent their own interests.

“The fear of both the TNDP and voters in Tennessee is that these new districts will be drawn in a way that divides communities by racial and political lines in order to protect the Republican Supermajority,” said Hendrell Remus, Chair of Tennessee Democratic Party.

Because the 2020 Census data came out in August, not February, there has not been as much time to draw maps. A lot of things are being rushed.

The primaries are just a few months away and because lawsuits could change election time lines, it’s hard to predict what will happen except that it will happen quicker than people think. 

Analysis of the 2020 Census data shows all the population growth in the last decade came from people of color and multiracial Americans. For the first time, the population of White Americans fell. That means U.S. voters are more diverse and eight out of ten new voters are people of color. 

Republicans control Congressional redistricting in 18 states and the legislative redistricting in 21. Democrats control the landscape in 6 states, both for Congress and the state legislature. (see map).

Michael Li, Senior Counsel, Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, gave some examples of what newly gerrymander districts look like in Texas and Georgia. Asian voters in the Dallas/Fort Worth area were drawn into a rural mostly White district. LI said that in the Texas 6th Congressional District Latino voters are being split up. 

“The Latino community is being divided up in order to discriminate against those voters but also to create a political advantage for Republicans,” Li said. 

Michael Li serves as senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, where his work focuses on redistricting, voting rights, and elections. 

On Monday, the Justice Department filed a lawsuit challenging legislative maps adopted by Republicans in Texas that it says fail to recognize growth in the Latino population. The DOJ’s lawsuit alleges the maps Texas lawmakers drew violate the Voting Rights Act.

In Georgia, State Senator Michelle Au represents a district that is 62% non-white. “Her district has been redrawn and is now 52% White in order to make it more Republican,” Li said. 

The Biden administration has been consumed with getting two large spending bills through Congress. It has let two voting rights bills languish for months and the stakes couldn’t be higher—or more disastrous– if the White House doesn’t act soon.

Unless Congress passes the Freedom to Vote Act and the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act soon, partisan gerrymandering and new state voting laws will allow Republicans to retake at least the Senate, maybe the House, and maybe the White House in 2024. (see slide)

“From the beginning we fought for fair maps, really trying to push maps that have a lens towards racial equity,” said Kyle Brazile, Director of Civic Engagement of the NC Counts Coalition.

Brazile said that keeping communities of color whole is very important and a fair process could ensure that. 

: Kyle Hamilton Brazile is the Director of Civic Engagement of the North Carolina Counts Coalition. 

“Quite frankly what we’ve seen in North Carolina where many organizations on the ground have taken the lion’s share of the work. We’ve not seen that access, that education, those training opportunities provided from the government or the legislature,” Brazile said. 

“In North Carolina the legislature holds complete authority for statewide redistricting. There is no commission, the governor has no authority to veto,” he said. 

Brazile said the redistricting process in North Carolina fell short. Only three days’ notice was given for a meeting to decide on criteria for the maps. Demographic information about race was not considered. Legislators’ home addresses had priority over communities of interest. 

“We believe incumbent protection often creates an inherent conflict of interest,” he said. Fair maps would reflect the voters but they are being drawn around the incumbents instead of the actual demographics of the area.

Even so, Brazile said his partners were excited to see more than 4,000 people register comments with the general assembly. 

“But we’re not excited about the maps. They’re partisan. There’s clearly political gerrymandering in a state where we are split 30% unaffiliated, 30% Democratic, and 30% Republican. But we now have maps that are 11-3 leaning Republican,” he said.  

“Here in Alabama it was interesting experience because obviously it was the first round of redistricting since the Shelby decision so we didn’t have the Department  of Justice playing the preclearance role, so for out coalition we wanted to make sure the citizens were as empowered as possible,” said Evan Milligan, Executive Director of Alabama Forward
, a nonpartisan coalition based in Montgomery.

The coalition includes 28 civic engagement organizations working around progressive issues. Milligan said they started with those groups and their members, included non-members, the donor community, an election protection network, and a communications hub interested in promoting pro-democracy work in the state. 

They met two times a month beginning last April to share information about redistricting in Alabama and to understand each other’s positions so everyone knew where people were coming from.  

“It was really critical to have that space,” Milligan said.

Evan Milligan is the Executive Director of Alabama Forward, a statewide civic engagement membership organization focused on advancing democracy in Alabama. 

They held forums and did public activities together. By the time the Census data was released, they were ready to attend public hearings, submit statements, and propose maps that reflected race-equity principles.

“We’re off in a place that incubates some of the worst and most extreme forms of tribalism and far right nationalism. And that tendency that we have is also counterbalanced by the work and tradition of people who emerged to oppose that,” he said.

The same tensions Milligan sees in Alabama have spread all over the country in recent years. 

“In this moment we’re seeing this rise of antidemocratic governments in Europe, in South America, parts of Africa and Asia. And so we have to figure out who we are going to be as a country, presenting a message or at least a movement that exists here to make sure that we’re anchored in this country’s democratic tradition. So we trying to make sure that messaging pervades everything we’re saying about redistricting, about voter registration. This is not just about the mechanics of civic institutions. This is about our survival–the survival of our values, the survival of our democratic tradition. And redistricting is one component of that,” Milligan said.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.