Friday Reads: America, Land of Democracy Deserts

Salvador Dalí, Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (Premonition of Civil War), 1936, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Good Day Sky Dancers!

The title is shocking, isn’t it? That’s what caught my eye when I went to read this article in The Guardian with the lede “America is full of ‘democracy deserts.’ Wisconsin rivals Congo on some metrics written by David Daley and Gaby Goldstein, who shows how “gerrymandering allows legislators to ignore what voters really want.”  They also indicate that  “experts fear it’s about to get a lot worse.”  I’ve been watching all the voter suppression laws passing in many red states.  However, gerrymandering could bring a few of those purple states into the lost cause category.

I was thinking a lot about the Spanish Civil War because BB has been reading a book on it.  So, I chose these pictures today that are from that period about the event.  They are mostly Modernist and Avant-Garde. Some, as you may see at this link, are propaganda. I think it’s important to remember that history has lessons for us if we’re really to listen.

From The Guardian story:

The United States is becoming a land filled with “democracy deserts”, where gerrymandering and voting restrictions are making voters powerless to make change. And this round of redistricting could make things even worse.

Since 2012, the Electoral Integrity Project at Harvard University has studied the quality of elections worldwide. It has also issued bi-annual reports that grade US states, on a scale of 1 through 100. In its most recent study of the 2020 elections, the integrity of Wisconsin’s electoral boundaries earned a 23 – worst in the nation, on par with Jordan, Bahrain and the Congo.

Why is Wisconsin so bad? Consider that, among other things, its a swing-state that helped decide the 2016 election. Control the outcome in Wisconsin, and you could control the nation. But Wisconsin isn’t the only democracy desert. Alabama (31), North Carolina (32), Michigan (37), Ohio (33), Texas (35), Florida (37) and Georgia (39) scored only nominally higher. Nations that join them in the 30s include Hungary, Turkey and Syria.

Representative democracy has been broken for the past decade in places like WisconsinNorth Carolina, OhioPennsylvaniaMichiganFlorida. When Republican lawmakers redistricted these states after the 2010 census, with the benefit of precise, granular voting data and the most sophisticated mapping software ever, they gerrymandered themselves into advantages that have held firm for the last decade – even when Democratic candidates win hundreds of thousands more statewide votes.

In Wisconsin, for example, voters handed Democrats every statewide race in 2018 and 203,000 more votes for the state Assembly – but the tilted Republican map handed Republicans 63 of the 99 seats nevertheless. Democratic candidates have won more or nearly the same number of votes for Michigan’s state house for the last decade – but never once captured a majority of seats.

Now redistricting is upon us again. This week, the US Census Bureau will release the first round of population data to the states, and the decennial gerrymandering Olympics will begin in state capitols nationwide. And while there has been much coverage of the national stakes – Republicans could win more than the five seats they need to control of Congress next fall through redrawing Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Florida alone, and they’ve made clear that’s their plan – much less alarm has been raised about the long-term consequences of entrenched Republican minority rule in the states.

Joan Miró, Help Spain, 1937, Museum of Modern Art, New York

The peril we face as a democratic Republic is great. John Nichols writes this for The Nation: “The Next Gerrymandering Nightmare Has Begun. With the release of 2020 Census data, GOP legislators will rush to draw new maps. If they get their way, they’re likely to flip the US House.”

It may not be too late to prevent the partisan gerrymandering of electoral maps that Republicans believe will deliver them control of the US House of Representatives in 2022—as well as a tighter grip on the statehouses that will set so many of the rules for the 2024 presidential election. But it is almost too late.

Ten years ago, Republican governors and legislators used the redistricting process that extended from the 2010 Census to gain dramatic political advantages. Now, with the release of fresh Census data, they are poised to do so again. No one should doubt what is at stake. If the supporters of voter suppression succeed, they could deny Americans representation based on the racial and ethnic diversity that the new data reveals.

“States have long been preparing for this moment, and they now have the green light to start gerrymandering. If left unchecked, this year’s redistricting cycle represents a severe threat to our democracy,” explains Josh Silver, who heads the nonpartisan reform group RepresentUs. “Gerrymandering is one of the worst forms of political corruption, and leads to extremism and partisan gridlock. The maps drawn this year will shape American politics and policy for the next decade.”

The best scenario for American democracy would have been for Senate Democrats to scrap the filibuster and enact the For the People Act before Thursday’s release of the Census data. That legislation seeks to ban partisan gerrymandering and strengthen the position of advocates for communities of color in the redistricting process. “It would also,” notes the Brennan Center for Justice, “enhance the ability of voters to challenge racially or politically discriminatory maps in court, require meaningful transparency in the map-drawing process, and mandate the use of independent commissions to draw maps.”

When senators failed to pass the For the People Act before the August recess, they left an opening for partisans to warp district lines in the 35 states where maps will be drawn by legislators, as opposed to nonpartisan commissions. That gives Republicans a substantial advantage. As Drew DeSilver of the Pew Research Center reminds us, “Republicans will drive that process in 20 states, versus 11 for Democrats.” In four states, divided government makes it most likely that the final decision could be made in the state courts.

Republicans are in full control of states that will be adding seats based on patterns of population growth confirmed by the Census data, such as Texas and Florida. They also control several large states, such as Georgia, where seats will not be added but where a redrawing of lines could be used to tip existing seats to the GOP candidates. In contrast, a number of states where Democrats are in charge, such as New York and Illinois, will lose congressional seats. So, too, will heavily Democratic California, where lines are drawn by a nonpartisan commission.

The Party Road Painting Aurelio Arteta

This discussion has yet to reach the level of coverage it deserves. Here’s an interesting article on the role of Math and stopping gerrymandering from The MIT Technology Review. Basically, there’s an algorithm for that!

The maps for US congressional and state legislative races often resemble electoral bestiaries, with bizarrely shaped districts emerging from wonky hybrids of counties, precincts, and census blocks.

It’s the drawing of these maps, more than anything—more than voter suppression laws, more than voter fraud—that determines how votes translate into who gets elected. “You can take the same set of votes, with different district maps, and get very different outcomes,” says Jonathan Mattingly, a mathematician at Duke University in the purple state of North Carolina. “The question is, if the choice of maps is so important to how we interpret these votes, which map should we choose, and how should we decide if someone has done a good job in choosing that map?”

Over recent months, Mattingly and like-minded mathematicians have been busy in anticipation of a data release expected today, August 12, from the US Census Bureau. Every decade, new census data launches the decennial redistricting cycle—state legislators (or sometimes appointed commissions) draw new maps, moving district lines to account for demographic shifts.

In preparation, mathematicians are sharpening new algorithms—open-source tools, developed over recent years—that detect and counter gerrymandering, the egregious practice giving rise to those bestiaries, whereby politicians rig the maps and skew the results to favor one political party over another. Republicans have openly declared that with this redistricting cycle they intend to gerrymander a path to retaking the US House of Representatives in 2022.

Francis Picabia. La Révolution espagnole (The Spanish Revolution). 1937

The Washington Post has some details from the 2020 census. “Census data shows Maryland is now the East Coast’s most diverse state, while D.C. is Whiter.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s diversity index — which measures the likelihood that two people chosen at random would be from different racial and ethnic groups — Maryland is now one of the most diverse states in the nation, surpassed only by Nevada, California and Hawaii.

Nevada also was the only other state in the country to become majority non-White over the last decade.

The change in Maryland’s demographic makeup was driven by growing Asian and Latino populations in the District’s inner suburbs and areas around Baltimore.

The article primarily focuses on the states surround the District.   The New York Times provides information on what you need to know when the data is released. It was released on Thursday, but we still are waiting for the major slice and dice to come.  This is written by Nick Corasaniti.

With Democrats clinging to a slim margin in the House of Representatives, control of the chamber in 2022 could be decided through congressional redistricting alone: Republican-leaning states like Texas and Florida are adding new seats through reapportionment, and G.O.P.-dominated state legislatures will steer much more of the redistricting process, allowing them to draw more maps than Democrats.

In a matter of days — if history is any guide — as soon as state officials can crunch census data files into their more modern formats, an intense process of mapmaking, political contention, legal wrangling, well-financed opinion-shaping and ornery public feedback will unfold in statehouses, courthouses, on the air and even on the streets in regions of special contention.

The redistricting fight arrives amid one of the most protracted assaults on voting access since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, an effort that has made the right to vote among the most divisive issues in American politics. And redistricting will take place this fall without critical guardrails that the Voting Rights Act had erected: a process known as preclearance that ensured oversight of states with a history of discrimination. The Supreme Court effectively neutered that provision in a 2013 ruling, meaning that it could take lawsuits — and years — to force the redrawing of districts that dilute the voting power of minority communities.

Martyred Spain 1937 André Fougeron 1913-1998 Presented by the Friends of the Tate Gallery 2001

The worst-case scenarios may occur without the original protection of the Voting Rights Act.  You may visit this link at the Brennan Center for Justice to find out more basic information about gerrymandering.

Every 10 years, states redraw their legislative and congressional district lines following the census. Because communities change, redistricting is critical to our democracy: maps must be redrawn to ensure that districts are equally populated, comply with laws such as the Voting Rights Act, and are otherwise representative of a state’s population. Done right, redistricting is a chance to create maps that, in the words of John Adams, are an “exact portrait, a miniature” of the people as a whole.

But sometimes the process is used to draw maps that put a thumb on the scale to manufacture election outcomes that are detached from the preferences of voters. Rather than voters choosing their representatives, gerrymandering empowers politicians to choose their voters. This tends to occur especially when linedrawing is left to legislatures and one political party controls the process, as has become increasingly common. When that happens, partisan concerns almost invariably take precedence over all else. That produces maps where electoral results are virtually guaranteed even in years where the party drawing maps has a bad year.

There are multiple ways to gerrymander.

While legislative and congressional district shapes may look wildly different from state to state, most attempts to gerrymander can best be understood through the lens of two basic techniques: cracking and packing.

Cracking splits groups of people with similar characteristics, such as voters of the same party affiliation, across multiple districts. With their voting strength divided, these groups struggle to elect their preferred candidates in any of the districts.

Packing is the opposite of cracking: map drawers cram certain groups of voters into as few districts as possible. In these few districts, the “packed” groups are likely to elect their preferred candidates, but the groups’ voting strength is weakened everywhere else.

The Politico link has good coverage of the broader population trends released in April. It follows up describing the “mad-dash to redistricting.

Broadly, the data released on Thursday shows a country that has become more urbanized” and more diverse over the last decade. Metro areas across the country grew by 9 percent, and all ten of America’s largest cities have over 1 million people for the first time in U.S. history.

The country has also become less white over the last decade. White Americans still make up the largest demographic in the country, but decreased by 8.6 percent over the last decade.

The dataset could also give an indication of whether the Census undercounted people of color in certain regions, and a state-by-state review will revealwhether individual states need to add additional opportunity districts for Blacks and Latinos, as required by the Voting Rights Act. That officially sets the stage for a wave of lawsuits expected from both parties as redistricting moves forward.

The process is also at the center of the battle for control of Congress. Redistricting decisions made in the coming months will be perhaps the largest determining factor in whether Democrats can hang onto to their razor-thin House majority.

“These data play an important role in our democracy, and also begin to illuminate how the local and demographic makeup of our nation has changed over the last decade,” said Ron Jarmin, the acting director of the Census Bureau, during a presentation Thursday.

So, this will be something we must continue to watch over the next two months.  It’s vital to our democracy that we minimize gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the basic tool of voter disenfranchisement.  It happens even if the worst voter suppression measures are defeated.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

15 Comments on “Friday Reads: America, Land of Democracy Deserts”

  1. bostonboomer says:

  2. dakinikat says:

    Have a great weekend!!!

  3. dakinikat says:


  4. dakinikat says:

  5. I love the artwork you always feature.

    I think the US is done. Stick a fork in it …

    • dakinikat says:

      We have the philosophy that if we have to present the worst politics humanity can offer up then it can at least be surrounded by the best creative spirit humanity can offer up. Thank you! And happy to hear from you!!