It’s no secret that the results in down-ballot races didn’t quite mirror the success that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris had for their party at the top of the ticket. But far too many political reporters and pundits view the lack of gains in the 2020 election as a death knell for fair maps, instead of a reflection of where this year’s competitive races played out: in the toughest and most gerrymandered districts. They write that the results should have Republicans celebrating and Democrats reflecting, but few seem interested in what this actually means for voters. The headlines and kicker quotes indicate that gerrymandered districts are a foregone conclusion:
Mother Jones: “[Democrats] won the White House but failed to flip state houses. The upcoming redistricting process will be brutal.”
The Atlantic: “The Failure That Could Haunt Democrats for a Decade”
POLITICO: “It’s entirely possible that redistricting alone creates enough red-friendly seats to place Republicans in the majority in 2022.”
Far from it. These takes ignore the fact that in the vast majority of states, the redistricting process hasn’t started yet. No lines have been drawn. No maps exist. The cake’s not baked. We know what the ingredients are — but that might even be a stretch. We know who some of the map drawers are — legislatures have been elected, but committees haven’t all been formed. In only some instances, we know what rules will govern drawing those maps — but again, committee and amendment rules aren’t fully decided. And in some states, we know that the public will be afforded an opportunity to engage, but not how all map-drawing bodies will solicit public comment given the pandemic. There’s still so much we don’t know for certain — including which states will gain or lose congressional seats based on census data.
Even for those who closely follow this issue, it’s easy to miss how much the redistricting landscape has shifted since 2011. Back then, we saw map manipulation for a lot of reasons — conservatives had just come off a historic wave election, aided by REDMAP and new technological tools that allowed gerrymandering to happen with unprecedented precision. But since that time, the American public has grown weary of politicians who contribute to what they see as a broken political system. Those hyper-gerrymanders may have achieved their intended result of locking in power for a decade, but they had another effect that map manipulators may not have seen coming (or didn’t care): Americans having acute awareness of what it’s like to live in a gerrymandered district. Now, more folks know what gerrymandering is and how it’s a nefarious part of our system because they or someone they know have experienced it firsthand in their community.
Pennsylvanians have seen what happens to representation in their state when they vote under an unfair congressional map and then have the opportunity to vote with a fair map in place. When Virginia’s Assembly map was redrawn, power changed hands for the first time in 20 years. North Carolina redrew its maps under court order, utilizing a process that afforded opportunities for public input.
Given a sense of what a fair map and process could mean — and seeing the impact of an unfair map or process — grassroots organizers got to work. And as a result of those efforts, grassroots-led reforms passed nationwide — from Colorado to Michigan to Ohio.
Make no mistake, 2021 is going to look very different than 2011. The grassroots energy that helped pass reform measures across the country was just the beginning of a force that won’t allow smoke-filled backroom deals to take place. We are not going to allow any maps — anywhere in the nation — to pass without comment or question from the public. Volunteers and community members have access to technology that has been democratized and can help analyze and draw district maps. The 2021 redistricting cycle will see a wave of innovation from grassroots groups. I’m proud to say All On The Line is helping to lead the charge.
Our volunteer strategy will be big — and it will be bold. We know that grassroots power isn’t fleeting. Our movement helped pass — and stop the repeal of — Obamacare. It helped usher in a new generation of forward-thinking organizers who know that power can be harnessed and exercised, and that showing up — especially at the local level — can make all the difference.
And so, All On The Line is already working with thousands of volunteers across the country. We held more than 200 events, trainings, and informational sessions in the last year alone. Our efforts have helped reach diverse communities in Colorado during the application period for the state’s new redistricting commission process. We have beaten back bad legislation in Arizona to protect the integrity of their independent commission. We’ve participated in map redraws in North Carolina, and launched a first-of-its-kind leadership program for activists in the state. We’re helping to lead redistricting coalitions in states like Ohio and Florida with countless community organizations. We’ve sent more than a million text messages to community members across the nation — including to the 100 folks in Wisconsin who have signed up to learn more about how they can testify at an upcoming hearing for the Governor’s People’s Maps Commission. In the last few weeks alone, All On The Line volunteers have submitted and had their local papers publish more than 20 letters-to-the-editor.
This fight is far from over. And our work is just beginning. Fair maps — and all the progress that they will unlock are within our reach. Ignore the beltway noise and help us get to work.
This op-ed was originally published on Medium
Saumya Narechania is Director of States & Advocacy at All on the Line
Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images