We hear a lot of talk about gerrymandering and rigged maps, especially in the South, but few seem to understand what the terms actually mean. In episode two of As the South Votes, we cover gerrymandering and redistricting in depth—and the impact on the concept of "one person, one vote." We spoke with Joshua Douglas, University of Kentucky law professor and author of Vote for US: How to Take Back our Elections and Change the Future of Voting about all of the above—as well as upcoming Supreme Court cases like Moore v. Harper, which could have broad implications which change the balance and separation of powers at the state level.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has laid down a handful of rules about how the maps must be drawn," Douglas said. "And the most important because it still exists, and the one that every map drawer has to comply with is the ideal of 'one person, one vote.'"
As Douglas explains, redistricting affects the ability of groups of voters to join together to elect a representative that reflects their interests and needs. Professor Douglas puts redistricting in context, explaining the state of legal challenges to some maps that are highly questionable—if not unconstitutional—but have nonetheless been allowed to go into effect, at least for the upcoming election.
Douglas is a bit wary of how the Supreme Court will come out in the cases before it this term, but is encouraged by a few examples of efforts by independent entities to achieve fair maps and grassroots formations working to address the issues head on.
In the second half of the episode, we speak with Ashley Shelton, Executive Director of the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice in Louisiana. The Power Coalition is a coalition organization that partners with several other groups in the state. Following its work during the 2020 Census, the Power Coalition and partner organizations geared up for the redistricting process in Louisiana, and prepared for attempts to gerrymander Black voter power to the margins.
Louisiana is one of the states with a map that is the subject of ongoing litigation, which has been placed on hold while the Supreme Court resolves the challenge in the Alabama case Merrill v. Milligan. The decision for that case is coming out sometime in 2023, and its outcome could have a ripple effect for the case pending in Louisiana.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, Merrill "centers on whether Alabama has an obligation under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act to create a second district where Black voters have a reasonable opportunity to elect community-preferred candidates."
Similar to Louisiana, Black residents in Alabama make up nearly 30 percent of the population, but are severely limited in their ability to elect a candidate to Congress in all but one of the state's congressional districts. Ashley offers an excellent compliment to Professor Douglas, offering a ground level view of folks in Louisiana, and some of the steps they are taking to fight for fair maps.
The 2021 redistricting cycle may mark the first time in nearly 50 years that Texas will be able to implement new legislative and congressional districts without having to prove ahead of time that the maps don't undermine the electoral power of voters of color.
Ashley also puts the importance of state elections for legislative seats and the state courts in perspective. So much attention is placed on governor races, but elected judges and legislators can have just as much of a real impact on the process. Ashley describes working in broader coalition with organizers in Alabama and building the regional effort to address these and related issues regarding representation and democracy.
"We are so excited to be partnering with and working with Alabama Forward, who have been leading the work around the Alabama case," Ashley said. "They've got a whole campaign called Power on the Lines… I'm happy to be a part of it. To be able to say that we are not going to stand idly by and have our voting rights taken away from us."
Changing voting maps and restricting certain groups from being able to express their political will by electing their preferred candidate has broad implications well beyond election day. When we talk about some of the issues happening at the state level throughout the South, including the multitude of ways privacy and bodily autonomy are being destroyed, these same lawmakers are bending the rules to maintain their power. The fight for free and fair voting processes and representation are intertwined with battles for reproductive justice, trans rights, honestly teaching education, affordable housing and improving employment opportunity among others.
"It feels ridiculous that at this point already, without even further doing any gutting of the Voting Rights Act, I currently have less voting rights and reproductive rights than my grandparents," Ashley said. "We should absolutely be able to like candidates of choice. We should absolutely be able to live in a state where we can elect leaders responsive to our needs."
In this season of As The South Votes, Scalawag and Anoa Changa are teaming back up to talk about what's working, what's not, and what lessons Southern organizers have learned in their efforts to make the region we love a more just place.
Activists across Kentucky organized voters against an amendment that would have prevented a right to abortion or abortion funds in the state constitution. In illustration, meet three folks who were part of the movement to defeat Amendment 2.
While the county might remain an uphill battle for Republicans, North Carolina as a whole is a political toss-up.
For all the debate on how young voters will show up in 2022, there's a mismatch between campaigns to engage them and their experiences organizing for reproductive justice on the ground.