Expert who wrote the book on Republican redistricting warns: US will see a ‘real festival of partisan gerrymandering in 2021’

Expert who wrote the book on Republican redistricting warns: US will see a ‘real festival of partisan gerrymandering in 2021’
Official White House Photo by D. Myles Cullen

Journalist David Daley, a former editor-in-chief for Salon, addressed the extent of Republican gerrymandering in his 2016 book, “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn't Count” — which took an in-depth look at REDMAP, the GOP’s redistricting operation used in the 2010 midterms. Daley is revisiting the subject of gerrymandering in his new book, “Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy,” but with a different angle: this time, he addresses efforts to fight back against Republican gerrymandering. And he discussed the book and his findings during an NPR appearance.


Daley told NPR that the GOP won’t have as great an advantage in 2021 as it had ten years earlier in 2011 — the year in which all the Republicans who had been victorious in the red wave of 2010 took office.

“In 2011,” Daley explained, “Republicans had really a 5-to-1 advantage when it came to drawing congressional lines. They had complete authority in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Florida to draw not only all of the congressional districts, but state legislative ones as well. There’s going to be a slightly more level playing field in 2021.”

Referring to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, Daley went on to say, “There are Democratic governors in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that ought to give Democrats at least some room at the table for negotiations in those states. You’ve had some redistricting reform that will make the process better in Ohio. There is the very strong likelihood that Virginia voters will pass an independent commission at the ballot box in 2020. And in Michigan as well, you had an independent commission pass in 2018. So, citizens will draw the lines there.”

Nonetheless, Daley warned that there could be a “real festival of partisan gerrymandering in 2021” thanks, in part, to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“What I worry about, however, is that the U.S. Supreme Court in 2019 ruled that partisan gerrymandering claims are non-justiciable — and they closed the federal courts to these kinds of cases in the next decade,” Daley told NPR. “That really allows lawmakers in many states where one party controls the entire process to absolutely run amok without fear that the Supreme Court will step in and say that these partisan lines have gone too far.”

During the interview, Daley stressed that gerrymandering is nothing new in the U.S. and goes back to the days of Patrick Henry and James Madison (who was the fourth U.S. president and was sworn into office in 1809). But in 2010, Daley stressed, gerrymandering entered what he calls “its steroids era.”

“It is highly sophisticated computer software,” Daley asserted. “It’s the kinds of mapping software that enables Americans to never have to ask for directions again…. And as they draw maps and go up and down the street, they’ve got a very, very high level of confidence about how people in each of those homes vote and what the impact is of moving a line a block or two in any direction.”

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