tv Nick Seabrook One Person One Vote CSPAN October 14, 2022 3:20am-4:46am EDT
my name is desiree. i'm with the san marco bookstore. i want thank you guys for coming out tonight. i did for your first hear about this book in january when i was reviewing the summer catalog with my penguin random house rep. and it seemed like an interesting topic. and when i saw that dr. seabrook was from usf, i thought well, i think that would be great. let's do an event. they were thrilled. they reached out to him and here we are now. i did not know that we would have so much activity in our state in the last few months between now and then. and i have to confess that i don't know much about
gerrymandering, and i can honestly say i have never met an expert. does anyone else feel the same? we are looking forward to a conversation that will enlighten and educate us. for those of you who have not had a chance to scan you on f's faculty page. please let me introduce dr. seabrook, a professor and interim chair, the department of political science and public administration at the university of north florida. his research examines the intersection of law and politics in the united states. with a particular focus on redistrict reform and election administration, he is the author of the book drawing the lines constraints on gerrymandering in u.s. politics, which was published. 2017 as well as the featured title the evening one person, one vote a surprising history of gerrymandering in america. arco conversationalist. this evening is nate monroe of the florida times-union. he has been a metro columnist
for the florida times union since 2019, and before that he was a beat and investigative reporter on covering that focused on covering jacksonville city hall, which is the largest municipal government in florida, and driving to arriving prior to in jacksonville in 2013. nate was a reporter for the newspapers in the florida panhandle, south louisiana, where wrote about hurricanes small town corruption, oil spills, army corps screw ups, mardi gras and bingo nights at the senior citizen center. following the conversation between dr. seabrook and mr. monroe, we will be doing a q&a session. as i mentioned, we do have c-span with us this evening and they will be recording the proceedings. when you are ready to ask question, if you will line up at one of the side mikes and, wait so everyone can hear you and, please don't forget to stop by the bookstore and let us know if you'd like to attend events like this. again, i thank you. have a good evening.
okay. thank you very much. there's your hand to sign local books for hosting this event tonight. and thank you all for coming out. this is the second event that i've had on my book tour for one person, one vote, and at the first event, which was in portland, and on friday night, there were four people in the audience. so on, and they were actually outnumbered by my wife and the bookstore employees who were required to be there. so i can only assume from that fact that almost of you are here to see nate tonight. so i certainly i certainly appreciate him being here to juice my attendance numbers. yeah, of course. so i think perhaps the best way to begin is to kind of give you quick definition. an example of what it is that we mean by gerrymandering because it's one of those political
terms that a lot of people are kind of aware of and perhaps have some idea of what it is and how it works. and it's one of those things that they kind of throw into the bucket or the category of kind of bad democracy. i think it's one of those elements of our government that is dysfunctional, that obstructs the translation of the people's preferences into, government policy. but it's also something that is is kind of complex and and complicated to it. and i want to begin with quote, actually, and i'm going to read from my cheat sheet here just to make sure that i get it right, because this is the quote that i open the book with. and i think it's probably best and most succinct summary of what gerrymandering is that that i've encountered. and this is a quote by, a guy by the name of thomas hoffler, tom
thomas hoffler was a republican political strategist, who basically no one had ever heard of until after he died in 2018. and estranged daughter stephanie released to the media a treasure trove of files from his computer, which really documented the influence that he had been having behind the scenes american politics through, gerrymandering and, he said, quote, redistricting is like an election in reverse. usually the voters get to pick the politician in redistricting. the politicians get to pick the voters. and that, i think, is perhaps the best way to summarize what it is that we're talking about tonight. yes, i think that all of us can feel from time to time, like we don't have as much control as we would like of the political process, even though we're
voters. how many times have you showed up to the ballot box and reviled every choice that you had? i think that redistricting explains lot of this kind of lack of agency that voters feel. and it's it's it's a deliberate thing. redistricting gives the people in power a lot of power to determine their own future, to determine the futures of their chosen successors. and we see this on every level. i expect we'll talk tonight, maybe even about city council's recent redistricting process and certainly the the state of florida has struggled with this for a long time. yeah. and i think hits on really what is the the core of the problem with gerrymandering it's that it removes this choice from the voters it removes ability to hold their government accountable and a lot of the things that we see in our
government, the gridlock, the corruption, politics is pursuing their own selfish interests rather than the the interests of their constituents, from the fact that they know they will not be held accountable in any meaningful way for what they do while. they're in office and. gerrymandering is a big part of that because it involves taking elections that might previously been competitive, elections where plausibly either democrats or republicans could have won control of the city council in jacksonville or the state legislature in tallahassee, and making those elections uncompetitive, drawing districts that are lopsided, where the vast majority of the people who live there, either democrats or
republicans and when that happens, there is no meaningful choice for the people who live in those districts, particularly if you're one of the unfortunate voters who finds yourself as a democrat in a heavily republican seat or a republican in a in a heavily democratic seat and when that occurs, it really shifts the entire focus to the entire selection process, to the primary election, whether it's the republican primary or the democratic primary. and the people who vote in primaries tend to be more ideological. and inevitably, the candidates who emerge from those primaries when they are fairly extreme if the district is not competitive, those candidates are pretty much guaranteed to win election anyway. and you just have to look at some of the characters who are representing various districts in the house to represent states right now to to kind of see that
that process in action. i won't name any names, but pretty sure you know who they are. i can name names, you know, of the interesting things in that i took away from your book. and that, i think is a really important point. we talk about redistricting and of how things have gotten as bad as they have is that like a lot of criminality, a lot of behavior, redistricting has adapted over time as our understanding what sort of priorities a policymaker is ought to have in mind when they draw districts have changed as the courts have in the past sort tried to control or kind of set some rules for what's what's allowed. although there hasn't been much of that. and as hard, like our data tools and our mapping have improved, the politicians have adapted to that and they've come with more insidious ways of preserving
their own power. and i think that's a really important theme in your book. i also think an important theme your book. and i would argue that, you know, we saw that play out on the jacksonville city council level. is that when people hear the term, particularly because of the tenor of our national discourse. i think there's an assumption that redistricting happens when like one party controls all the levers of government. but in reality, there is something bipartisan redistricting which is just as bad and involves people coming to an agreement to protect themselves, which is the most bipartisan issue there is. yeah, one of the, one of the main things i wanted to accomplish with this book, because redistricting and gerrymandering are subjects that a lot of stuff gets written about, a lot of things in the media, a lot of things by, by academics and so what i think is
different about, this book and unique about this book is that it looks at gerrymandering across the entirety of u.s. history and. what i discovered when i began researching this topic is that gerrymandering is not only as old as the united states itself, it is in fact older than the united states itself. it has its origins in a somewhat quirky practice in british politics, known as the rotten borough and rotten boroughs, were the ways, one of the ways that kind of british, irish autocrats traditionally are used, the arrangements of government to to maintain their stranglehold on power and involved essentially controlling the number of people who would get to vote in the district. and so you could potentially have a seat in parliament that had 500 or 1000 people living in
it and three or four of them were actually eligible to vote. and the landowner or the nobleman would bribe or often offer patronage to those voters in order keep control of the seat. and we saw similar, um, translated across to the united states during, the colonial era and these kind of early gerrymanders, whether they were prior to independence or hosting, don't really look a whole lot like gerrymandering as we imagine it today. the image of gerrymandering kind of conjures up the specter of these and misshapen districts that you see on maps. sometimes forms. but as nate was saying, it's only the it's only the technology that is available to. politicians today. and it was not until. 1970s that computers and
software were used for the first time in the redistricting process and it was really not until the 20 tens that sophisticated algorithms and simulations began to enter the scene and what these allow the redistricting to do is not only draw districts based on what has happened in prior elections. so you can draw a seat that the way you can figure it. okay. it looks like this seat has voted republican in for the last two or three cycles. if we draw the district way, we're pretty confident that it will vote republican moving forward. this was kind of historically how gerrymander during was done. they would look at the census numbers. they look at how people had voted in prior elections and they would kind of extrapolate into the future. and oftentimes that would work for maybe one election or
possibly two elections. but then people would kind of move around a little bit and perhaps the political winds or tides would start to change direction. and often gerrymandering would not remain robust throughout entire decade or even longer. but what happens today is that they have these models by which they can simulate how districts they draw will perform under a wide variety, hypothetical future scenarios, and they can then tweak the boundaries and tweak the lines to kind of create the optimal gerrymander, to remain robust throughout an entire decade. and there are u.s. states that are, for all intents purposes, purposes, no really democracies in terms of their legislative elections and. the example i begin the book with and i think it's one of the most glaring ones the state of
wisconsin. after the 2010 election. the republican party controlled state government in the state of wisconsin. and they drew what consider to be one of the most severe gerrymander orders in american history. and as a result of the republican party has control of around about two thirds of the seats in wisconsin state legislature for the entirety of the last decade. and in that decade, there were two elections where the democrats won the popular vote overall in the state of wisconsin. and yet the republicans maintained control of two thirds of the seats and. that's what gerrymandering can do, can render essentially an entire state no longer meaningfully a democracy. an entire decade. another consequence of that is after the most recent census. yes. who was control? in control?
redistricting again in wisconsin. it was the same republicans who had gerrymandered it a decade ago. and that's what really concerns me moving forward that gerrymandering is not just going to be something that allows politicians to put their thumbs on the scale for a couple of elections. it's going to be something that a political party to essentially a one party state and use gerrymandering decade after decade to kind exclude their opponents from the political process entirely. it was not shocking at all. see in this book that redistricting like almost every other malevolent force the world today, is uniquely american. like we took something from from britain which knew correct me if i'm wrong, but i mean, the redistricting thing that was sort of the ancestor of what we have today was like more like mal apportionment, just kind of a passive, not changing boundaries as population has
shifted over time to something that is like incredibly proactive. this regime of, of like data analysis that you're describing i mean, there are i mean, this is an effort to take people's voice and vote away today and into the future and. you know, it's it's incredibly effective. it's i mean, really, it's worth considering that, you know, in florida, the legislature in the not this latest round but in the in the 20 tens, the redistricting process then it's not often described in these terms. but i mean, that was one of the largest, most brazen corruption scandals in florida history, you know, at a trial court level, judge found that there was a systemic sort of scheme underway by the legislature to draw maps
with partisan intent, contrary to the law. and the legislature went to great lengths to do this. they concealed their communications with political they deleted records shortly after. redistricting was done even though they knew they should have been public as a matter of law. but they also knew there would be litigation filed and that would destroy important discovery. you know, these the stakes like the stakes are quite literally the control of of our democracy and all of our little is in our states and in our cities. i you know, i was i was really interested. i had no idea about the history of it. and i had no idea it was it was as old as you described. and you know. i just think, like, maybe we can maybe we can run through like i feel you should explain the donald peeing on a turkey for the crowd because that's a thing in the book.
yeah, i can explain that. so. one of the things that i do in the book is present examples of what i think are some of the most interesting or hilarious or in this case, hilarious and disturbing districts in american history. and, um, there's kind of a game that, that those who are in the business of analyzing and gerrymandering like to play which is to kind of describe districts in terms of what they look like. so if you have a particularly misshapen district on a map, people will go to great lengths to kind of insinuate what it is that that district resembles. and sometimes they look more like the thing than than on other occasions. but there are a couple from the state of, new york, that i talk about in in the book, one from the 1990s and one from the 2000s, the first one is a
district in central new york state. kind of a big island in the middle of upstate new york, that if look at it, i resembles almost to an uncanny level an image of abraham lincoln riding on a vacuum cleaner. i have pictures of, all of these in the book. so you can take a look for yourself. but i can testify that it is remarkable all the way down to the hat. and then there's another district from a decade later which is a district that kind of runs up and down the hudson valley north of new york city and my nickname for this district was, donald trump urinating on a small turkey. and you can you can see this if you if you read the book. i you may not want to see and you will certainly never be able to unsee it, but that is what
the district resembles in real. like he's not he's not bsing, you there's there's one other district that i that i write about in the book as well. and this one is kind of interesting because if you go historically a lot times the districts were drawn in a way where not all of the parts of them were physically to one another. this is what is known as contiguity the idea. and this is actually now requirement under federal law that districts have to be contiguous that all of the physical of the district have to be actually geographically connected to another and there's one major exception to this, which is that districts are allowed to cross directly over a
body of water. so a river like something like that because otherwise it's it's physically impossible to to divide a state districts if you don't have the ability to cross those water features. and so back in the 1980s, there was a congressman from california and his name was phil burton. and i kind of credit him the book as being kind of the one of the inventors of the the modern gerrymander, the type of gerrymander that relies not so much on mal apportionment or having very different population between between districts in a state. um, the title of the book one person one vote comes from the series of court decisions in the 1960s that require id under the constitution. all districts to have equal population. and so those one person, one
vote decisions really changed gerrymandering from a situation where politicians could work for district over here that had 500 voters in it and another over here that had 5000 voters in it. and that was the way that that districts were often manipulated. but since the 1970s, we redistricting has to be done in with this one person, one vote principle, which means that those who are responsible for it have to be a little bit more creative when it comes to manipulating the lines to ensure whatever the political is that they are, that they are looking for. and so phil burton, congressman from from california, was in control of california's redistricting in early 1980s. um on the other side of that debate was the aforementioned thomas hoffler, the republican political strategist was his kind of his first rodeo in 50 year gerrymandering career and
what phil burton decided to do in order to create a gerrymander that would allow the democrat to win the maximum number of seats in in the state of california was to basically draw district that included three disconnected parts of the bay area around san francisco. it parts of downtown san it had the city of vallejo right across the bay there and then had a large rural section section of marin county across on the other side of the bay again. and this was described at the time as the only district of the only district in california history to cross the san francisco bay twice without the use of a bridge. but what he did was take advantage of this idea that you include kind of non-contiguous
territory in a district. if it goes directly across a body of water in this in this it was a district that crossed the francisco bay twice the, kind of jam together. these three entirely unrelated community needs in order to secure the outcome that he was looking for. i feel like, you know, one thing that's important, we, you know, when we've had some fun, we've had some fun with this tonight, is that people associate redistricting with like weird shaped districts. but that's not that isn't the like that's not requirement of redistricting. redistricting, in essence, is any drawing of boundaries. that's with intent to protect somebody's interests. and you actually lay out sort of you or you kind of argue for a specific definition of what redistricting is in the book. and i'm i'm curious if you can kind of run that run us through that. yeah, i think that's a really important point.
i think it leads to a tendency to to discount gerrymandering when it doesn't produce that are bizarrely and one example might be the the recent gerrymander by our state's governor ron desantis who of course rejected the maps that had been proposed by. the state legislature, he proposed his own map and. the result of that map is that in florida, a state, that is pretty close to 5050 democrats. and republicans. it's almost guaranteed that republicans will win 20 of the 28 florida seats in the house of representatives in. the november elections. so to kind of give an illustration of how how gerrymandering works in practice, maybe it's best to think of a of a hypothetical.
i'm a college professor. i love thinking in an hypothetical. and it also kind of removes some of the complicating factors and some the messiness that you already that you always get with with real world examples. so, um, so let's imagine hypothetical completely made up mid-size american city, let's call it jacksonville san sachs and bill has a city government which is made up of an mayor. the mayor gets elected the voters of the city as a whole, and it has a three member city council who are elected from district. and those districts have to have equal populations to to one another. that's also keep things simple hypothesized the city objects in jacksonville. i thought i could keep up with the chart. i could. yeah. the city of saxe and annville is
made up. of 50%. supporters of political party. the red team and 50% supporters of another political party. the blue team. and so those are the only candidates who are contesting elections in sacks of bill. so who's the mayor of jacksonville we're going to to that. okay so so the elections in jacksonville there's no opportunity for a jerry mattering that right because gerrymandering requires boundaries it requires districts so the outcome of the elections, mayor, are going to be driven by that can be driven by turnout. the more red team or blue team turn out to vote in the election. and they're going to be driven by the quality the candidates. so let's say that the blue team nominates a particularly incompetent candidate for mayor of jacksonville let's call him
port plato's and barkley calls is likely to lose that election because it's a 5050 city and he's not a very good candidate for mayor. let's say that the team nominates a pretty good candidate. some young up and coming star politician. let's call him lawrence trevor. lawrence trevor is to win that election because again, it's fair. it's 50, 50. the voters get to decide the outcome. we've just had a census, jacksonville and the three city council districts need to be redrawn in order to comply with one person, one vote. the constitutional principle that i talked about a minute ago and it just so happens that he red team at the time of redistricting is in control of both the mayor's office and a
majority of the city council. there are couple of different ways that you could draw a fair map for the city of jacksonville you could try and all three of the districts reasonably competitive you could put approximately equal numbers team red and team blue voters into all three of the districts and then elections are going to depend on how good the candidates are, how good their campaigns are. do they connect with their constituents? alternatively, if that's not practical. if the voters in and ville are not evenly, you have red team neighborhoods and blue team neighborhoods. maybe you could draw one district that has a blue team majority. you could draw one district that has a red team majority and you can draw one district that's pretty competitive again that's going to leave the choice, the outcome in the hands of the voters in most elections, the
red team is going to win one seat, blue team is going to one seat and the competitive district is going to determine who controls the city council that is, in theory, how democracy is supposed to work. but let's now imagine a gerrymandering scenario. so let's say that the red team control of redistricting draws one of the three districts so that pack in all of the blue voters that they can find and this district ends up 80% blue team voters and 20% red team voters for the other two districts. they draw them so that they have 65% red team voters and 35% blue team voters. so there you have three districts. they are in compliance with one person, one vote. they all have the same population, one district is 80, 20 blue team, two districts are
65, 35 red team. that is then a gerrymander because none of those three districts are competitive, none. those three districts are likely change hands. even you take into account the things that might happen over the course of a decade. people move around within the new voters come in. people out. but none of those changes going to be significant enough to move any of those seats into a situation where they're likely to to change hands. and even if they're launched, trevor gets impeached for misappropriation of city funds. his party is going to be pretty unpopular. but it's not going to be sufficient to shift the balance enough to make any of those seats you've basically drawn districts in such a way that. you've guaranteed that no matter what happens, matter how the people vote, the red team is going to win two districts in the city council and the blue
team is going to win one. that is how gerrymandering works and that has what has. that is what has occurred not only here in, jacksonville, but across the state of florida and in a whole host of places around the united states. you know, it's interesting because richard, or sort of packing a certain subset of voters, a district where you get one district that's like, you know, very concentrated blue team and then two that are maybe not as concentrated but still very like red team friendly. you know, it's kind of gets to what you're talking about, about adaptability that, you know, in american history, you with minority voters, it was almost like for i think the strategy at one time was vote dilution to draw districts to to dilute the vote and then we have these court rulings and we have the civil rights movement and there's an emphasis on on sort
of mandatory minority access seats. so then the strategy packing, so we won't dilute these. and if we have to make space for them, will make space for them in the smallest number that we can. and so, you know what that looks like in practice, i mean, we have there is a city council district in jackson that is as voting age population that is like 75% black, which way over the amount necessary to ensure that black voters in that district get to elect the candidate of their choice. this varies by district but i mean sometimes as sometimes the number only needs to be about 48 to 50%. the voting age the voting age population being a minority to give minority the chance to elect a candidate of their choice in practice. you know again, we can see districts with like, yes, 60 and 70%, which is just way more than
it needs to be. and that's what we actually have in jacksonville i mean, there are four minority access seats that have foreign access of what they need to provide to actually minority access seats in the council, i would argue, engaged in this this bipartisan redistricting phenomenon that we talked about earlier, the democrats on the city council were in in many ways more fierce defenders of this gerrymandered map than the republicans were in this map. disadvantages democrats and minority voters. so i mean, it's it's kind amazing when you see this stuff play out. this is happening everywhere. yeah. i think one of the one of the major themes the book is how gerrymandering can take a number of different forms. we tend to think about gerrymandered and in the context
of partisan gerrymandering, kind of like the sex anvil example, one political party control the redistricting process and they use it to try and keep themselves in power in order to try and maintain their majority in the city council, the legislature or, whatever. but in kind of delving back into the history of gerrymandering, i found that there were numerous different types of, gerrymanders that have been used for various different political purposes, which is why the definition of gerrymandering i use and begin the book with is simply it's the manipulation of districts for some kind of political purpose. it doesn't have to be partisan, but there has to be a political goal in mind. and i write a lot in the book about how gerrymandering was used as a tool racial
oppression, most notably in the 1970s. because what happened with the civil movement in the 1960s was that all of the traditional tools of disenfranchisement that were used against african americans in the to prevent them from registering to vote, how to prevent them from participating in election wins. suddenly all of those were outlawed by the federal government and the federal government began aggressive, scrutinizing southern states order to ensure their compliance. the civil rights act and voting rights act. and so racial gerrymandering in the 1970s kind of became the new way the white majority in states, texas and georgia and louisiana could exclude african-americans. political office, that they
could draw the district in such a way that black voters dispersed among a number of districts where there was a white majority. and because that was called racially polarized voting and in operation, the white voters tended vote for white candidates and the black voters to vote for a black candidate. this essentially ensured that no black candidates could ever realistically be elected from of the districts in those states and thankfully, both the supreme court and the us congress began to crack down on that kind of racial gerrymandering in the 1980s. it's what's known as dilution. and there was legislation passed by congress in 1982 to amend the voting rights act to kind of crack down on this kind of vote dilution.
and there were a series of decisions by the supreme court to to prevent states from from doing that moving forward. so, thankfully, that kind of racial gerrymandering has a lot less prevalent in recent decades. but as mentioned, politicians are resourceful and they're strategic. and you close one avenue of manipulation them and they'll figure out another way to achieve the same goal. and so what the republican party began doing the 1990s was instead of dividing minority voters among a bunch of different districts, none of their candidates could get elected. instead, they figured that if you had huge supermajorities of african-americans or or asian-americans into a single district, then no matter how
large numbers, they only get to elect one member of the legislature. and this kind packing had the advantage benefiting republican candidates in surrounding areas because almost all of those minority voters were democrats so they could pack as many minority democrats as they could into an individual district. and that would have the effect of allowing republicans win almost all of the surrounding seats. and this is what started going on all over the south in the 1990s. and what we've seen happening here, jacksonville, in this most recent redistricting cycle, jacksonville, a large african-american and the city council packed all of those voters, a few super majority districts, which essentially ensures that there's almost no opportunity for black candidates to get elected from anywhere else in the city.
and one thing that that strikes me is the the pace of the the how quickly things have gotten worse. you know when i was a reporter in in 2010 in that redistricting cycle, i was working in south louisiana. and, you know, every the school board the parish governments like the county governments or every little, you know, no matter how small these political boundaries were, when they were redrawn. they had to be submitted. the u.s. justice department for so they were not allowed to approve anything on their own. and those watching those processes play out, everyone had to hire a consultant. the process was very professional ized. it was very formalized. the reasons why the districts were drawn the way they were pretty clearly explained. the politicians themselves didn't actually have a lot of control. they probably have more control
than they exerted. but it was you know, this was a very professional run process. the supreme court has since done away with this pre-clearance. and you know what? see now is, you know all those all those, you know, bumpkin politicians that i covered in 2010 are now free to draw these districts however they like. and the only way to hold them accountable is to go to court where they're likely to encounter a judge who is pretty hostile toward the idea of intervening and demanding that a certain set political boundaries, it gets changed. you know, i was wondering if you could maybe walk us through like some of the modern supreme court decisions that have really, at least in my undermined our by kind of off the courts as an avenue people to to get relief. yeah so there there have been two kind of parallel threads of supreme court cases that have concerned gerrymandering. you've had the cases activists
attorneys have been attempting unsuccessfully to try and persuade the justices to step in and say that the egregious examples, partisan gerrymandering, are kind of like the one i talked about in wisconsin a little bit earlier. that these violate the constitution that these violate the equal protection because you're discriminating against voters based on their political affiliation. you're configuring the districts in such a way that one half of the political spectrum no meaningful opportunity to to influence election outcomes and there have been are really, really three significant cases actually i guess for significa cases one from the 1980s where the justices kind of kind of said that well we think that
there some circumstances where partisan gerrymandering may the constitution and here are some thoughts how we think you might go about adjudicating that. but the justices were split between several different opinions and there was no clear majority. and that was unfortunate because it didn't really provide a road map to the lower courts to have any idea what was unconstitutional or constitutional when it came to to gerrymandering. and so fast forward to thousand four, you had another case involving a challenge to districts in in pennsylvania and at this point it kind of looked like the court was getting ready to to lay their cards on the table you had for conservative justices who to say that that courts should not even entertaining these questions.
you had four liberal justices who thought that the supreme court should really step in and striked some of these really bad gerrymanders. and then you had justice kennedy in the middle and justice kennedy, as was often style, refused make up his mind and we had another split decision. another decade of clear guidance from the supreme court about how lower courts be dealing with gerrymanders. then in this recent decade, we had two cases, the one involving the wisconsin gerrymander. the justices dismissed that one on procedural grounds, and then you had kind of the final nail in the coffin was a 2018 decision called ruscio versus common cause, which was a challenge to a north carolina gerrymander. and that was the case where in an opinion by chief justice john
roberts, the justices basically said, we are closing the doors of, the federal courthouses to gerrymandering challenge is you can no longer litigate these cases and in federal court we've also seen a lot decisions and i touched on this little bit earlier dealing with gerrymandering. the court in the 1980s kind of cracked down on racial gerrymandering. but then in recent decades, with the shelby county decision, they removed that requirement that was crucial in, preventing these states that had engaged in racial discrimination from backsliding and predictably, in the decades shelby county, we've seen quite a bit of that backsliding starting to to occur. it's been happening in louisa anna in the most recent redistrict cycle where the state
declined draw a second black influence congressional district. a lower court said that this was a violation of the voting rights act and the supreme court reversed that decision and said that the map that the had drawn could go into effect. and i think that decision emboldened ron desantis, is to eliminate the minority influence districts. are the outlaws seat here in in north florida. and then demings seat down in the orlando area and the desantis gerrymander basically gets rid of two districts that have reliably elected african-american candidates. this would never have been possible prior to shelby county. it shouldn't be possible under florida law because florida has a constitutional amendment which
prohibits the diminished of minority voting strength. but the florida supreme court did see it that way. and in a recent ruling. they allowed the censuses had to go into effect it happens that the florida supreme court has a 7 to 0 republican majority on it right now, including three of the seven justices that were appointed by desantis himself. so it seems like he is confident that state supreme court is going to interpret this. and in soon to be a fourth. yeah. so we will soon have a state court where a majority of the justices have been appointed by the current governor and i have a couple of really major moving forward. the first is that the florida supreme court going to strike down the fair districts. these were the amendments to the state constitution that the voters approved back 2010 and
which both partisan gerrymandering and racial gerrymandering. my second major concern is that the supreme court is either going to strike down sharply limit section two of the voting rights act of 1965. the legislation that requires states to take the interests of minority voters account when drawing districts. and i think a decent chance that both of those things could happen within the next two or three years. so think sort of matching tenor of those comments. there is there is a threat hope that that you kind of weave through your book. yeah not much but i would i would short of saying that it is an optimistic book that is not criticism i myself am not an optimist about much. but i wonder if you can sort of maybe like explain to us your view how optimistic or not are
you the future? so the reason they have at least some hope about this is that i think there has been meaningful progress in combating gerrymandering, particularly within the last decade or so. and it's progress that come not at the impetus of politicians and most of the time not at the impetus of judges either. it's come at the impetus of the people and states, florida, where the people have the opportunity to collect signatures, to place an initiative on the ballot, either to amend the state constitu tution or to put in place a regular statute. there have been a of redistricting reform anti gerrymandering initiatives that have been voted on in the last decade. and every single one of those
has been approved by the voters of their respective states. and we're not just talking about blue states here. we've seen them approved in utah. we've seen them approved, approved in florida, michigan. every opportunity, every chance that the people have to weigh in on this question, the message that they're sending is is clear. we don't want politicians controlling this process. we want to be able to choose our politicians. we don't want politicians to be able to choose their voters. and so i think in the next decade, we will continue to see incremental at the state, particularly in those states where where those constitutional initiatives are available. but that's not in every and so in states where you do not have option of direct direct change
from the people, you're kind of relying on the politicians to reform, gerrymandering. and that doesn't always work terribly well because those are the ones who are currently reaping the greatest benefits from the current system. and so i have less optimism in those states, i have greater optimism in states where ballot initiatives are available and. i have somewhere in between a level of optimism. it comes to congress while what happens to fix, gerrymander at the state level in state election is going to be decided by each of the individual 50 states congress the power to fix gerrymander or when it comes to federal the constitution in the elections clause gives congress the authority determine how members of congress will be will
be elected and congress has at various times all kinds of different constraints and requirements on on that process. and we have seen just within last two years, two different bills introduced that would try to to to help fix the problem of of gerrymandering, which would have required every state to create an independent citizens commission that would be responsible for drawing districts after each census. that's the approach that i favor. it's approach that's worked in states like california and colorado and michigan. we saw another bill propose that's kind of a compromise bill by, senator joe manchin, which would placed legal constraints on state legislatures when it comes to drawing congressional, it will probably surprise you to learn that neither those bills was actually success fully
enacted. they were both filibustered in the senate. i part of the reason for that is that they were introduced as part of the democrats kind of omnibus voting rights reform provisions and there's a lot of stuff in there that is is more controversial. what i would to see congress do and i this happens in the near future is to introduce reform anti gerrymander legislation as a standalone own bill. and let's just have the members of the house and the member of the senate vote on it. let's where they stand because it's overwhelming popular with the people, whether polling which suggests democrats, republicans, independents know americans like gerrymandering or, whether it's when we've seen the people vote on it it's pretty clear what what want to happen and i hope that we see
more meaningful progress in next decade because obviously have not done enough to fix the problems so far. you're the only person i've heard say that they're hopeful about something congress is dealing with. should we open it up to questions? is it probably i think that's a good idea. don't be shy. come up to the microphones. isn't the truth the us constitution gives state legislatures the authority. their redistricting. and if that is true, how could congress make the change you want? by law. so it works a little differently depending when you're talking about state elections or federal elections. when it comes to state elections, that's going to be determined by each individual state constitution.
congress has no authority to with that when it comes to federal elections, elections for u.s. house and the u.s. senate the constitution gives authority to both state legislatures and the u.s. congress. this is a provision called the elections clause. and i'll try and recite it to the best of my off the top of my head. but it basically says that state legislatures are response for setting the times places, manner of elections for and representatives. but congress may at any time or alter such regulations, so it allows states to set the that will be used to run federal elections. but it also empowers congress to place its own restriction, its own alterations on what the states will do. and so it's that clause specifically the provision that allows congress to make or alter
those regulations, that empowers them to pass legislation that would prohibit jerry meandering, but only for elections to the us house. it wouldn't give them any authority to tell states how to run their own state elections elections. so i think the reddest rocks in florida and jacksonville tell of a competing story about what's best for which party. so you complained about the bipartisan gerrymander and the role of the democrats took supporting this essentially, ensuring their subservience to in the next ten years in jacksonville state politics. the democrats at the state house went the opposite way. they kicked and screamed and dragged their feet and protested in a that would have been roughly 17 to 11 had they gone with that 17 to 11 map with a
roughly unanimous support in the state legislature. might that have enabled them at that point to maybe then stick with that and overturn the initial veto from desantis and leaving them better off. i mean if the if the argument is that there is any scenario in which the florida legislature was not going to cave to to santos because. the democrats would have been nicer. i don't i just i don't buy that theory. i know that that's a a thing that's out there. i think we were going to get the map. the santos wanted it just by virtue. the republican controlled legislature and desantis is standing with voters in florida and with the party. yeah, and i tend to i tend to agree with that. and ultimately, i think it's.
that's that's intense ringtone. ultimately, i think it's kind of a it's a it's a lose lose situation that. you can perhaps extract some concessions. you go along with the process. basically what the democrats in jacksonville decided do i think it's notable that once again, in a city that is basically 5050 between democrats and republicans once again we're going to have a city council where you have a, what is it, 9 to 4 when you exclude the at large a 9 to 4 republican majority, the city council for the decade, maybe that will shift one or two seats either way. but there's a 0% chance that the democrats will win a majority on the jacksonville city council in the next decade and. cognizant of that fact, i think
the incumbent members of the council decided that they would put their own careers ahead of the interests of the people if they play ball with the republicans they basically get to hand their own districts to ensure that they at least get to stick around for as long as they want to in power. the democrats in tallahassee, i think we're going to get run roughshod over by by desantis, whatever they whatever they did. so it was a lose lose situation and. i almost think sometimes that the bipartisan gerrymanders are almost than the partisan ones because it's one thing for a political party to use its influence to to try and gain as much of an edge as can within within means that at least to some extent is is politic as usual. and it's something that
politicians have done for a time, time immemorial. but when you have to kind of polar opposites democrats and republicans they agree on nothing but the one thing that they're able to cooperate on is getting together when it comes time to draw the districts and basically carving up maps so that all of them get to keep seats, all of them get to stay office. this basically happened for 50 years in the state of new york from the 1960s to the 20 tens, new york state had a situation where the democratic party controlled, the state assembly and the republican party controlled the state senate. and every decade, each chamber gerrymandered their own districts so that they would keep control while agreeing to allow the opposing party in the other to to draw their individual map and this is the longest period of uninterrupted
divided legislative control, a single state in u.s. history is nothing else that even comes that even comes close and for five decades. the same returned a democratic majority to the state assembly and a republican majority to the state senate solely because of how the districts were drawn. and that that almost seems seems worse. me because it's politicians coming together and saying we can agree on anything else other than subverting the will of the electorate, undermining the ability of voters hold us accountable, and ensuring that we all get to keep our jobs in one. one final point i'll make about the jacksonville process. i mean, i would agree that i think that the democrats were in practical terms, not in a great position to affect the outcome that they got. i mean there is a supermajority on this. the republicans hold a
supermajority in the city council. they were certainly not going to just okay the creation of a of a fifth minority access seat. however i mean this kind of bizarre spectacle we saw it play out was the on the city council argued as as forcefully as any republican that this map was not only the best we were going to get, but like this morally upstanding, how dare you suggest could have done something different otherwise map which is odd if you are concerned about minority voters and their ability to choose the candidates of their choice. this is demonstrably not best map and it's not the best they could done and it's not the best that they could have pushed for. whether they could have gotten it or not is a different question. but but that's kind of the, you know i think when we're calling it a bipartisan gerrymander in jacksonville. i mean, that's kind of what it was, it was the democrats co-opted into providing cover to
the city for this map. and it's not a good map. hey, thank you for writing your book. i just have a question. this day and age, with all of the technology we have. we have latitude and longitude. why don't we come up with something using technology to evenly distributed areas and nothing's perfect if scenario a like for instance hitting a lake happens then you do a, b or c, something along those lines where it's more rural based and automate instead. just letting people's opinions awry. yeah, thanks for the question. so there has been quite a bit of research that has at doing redistricting using algorithms. so instead of having humans sit
down and manipulate the software and decide where the districts are going to be drawn. instead you can have you can have an algorithm basically draw thousands of different potential maps and you can choose one that optimizes whatever criteria it is that you're looking for, i think that can be a valuable tool. but i also think that it's a solution mostly because there is no kind of platonic ideal of a good redistricting plan. redistricting is all about tradeoffs, that they're all mutually exclusive things that you may want to achieve and you cannot achieve of those things at the same time. you can perhaps tell the algorithm that you want it draw a lot of competitive districts. you can tell algorithm that you
want it to existing communities, existing county and municipal boundaries. and you can tell the algorithm that you want it to districts that are pretty compact, are fairly regularly shaped, that don't have bizarre contortions, appendages and things that look really weird on on a map. you can tell the algorithm that want it to prioritize the protection of the interests of minority to draw districts that will ensure that they have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. but you cannot tell the algorithm to do all of these things at the same time because it's impossible. they are mutually exclusive. you cannot have districts that preserve communities and are also fair and competitive because most communities are not fair. competitive. americans to cluster together into neighborhoods that are more democratic and neighborhoods that are more republican.
so when you group together similarly situated constituents, you often end up with a district that is not especially competitive. so i think you're right that that kind of technology can a useful tool when it comes to reading attracting but ultimately it depends on what the inputs that algorithm are and it depends on human about what to prioritize in redistricting. i think a big picture takeaway your book, you know, in a lot of ways is that system by and large relies on the people elect to make the right decision instead of the decision that's protecting and politic actions as a group over time are fundamentally incapable making that choice enough times for us to not have a completely screwed up system. right. and gerrymandering incent
devices them to make the wrong choice in that situation because one of the effects of gerrymandering is that we have fewer competitive today than really at any other point in u.s. history. of the 435 seats in the in the u.s. house of representatives. somewhere around to 35 of those are going to be competitive seats in the november elections later this year. there are 30 to 35 seats out of 435 where both parties have a meaningful opportunity to win that seat. and the have been drawn so that they are so lopsided, either the democrat or the republican is basically is basically guaranteed to win. and when elections not competitive politicians be held accountable for what they do office. and so it becomes all the more tempting to prioritize own interests over the interests of
their constituents. thank for both being here today with things like the the fair districts amendment passing or being asked of the amendment process and how the florida supreme court reacted and how the current super majority of the national supreme court is what is the what is the alternative? what is the strategy for fair redistricting? even in places where you have laws on the books that either nonpartisan or fair redistricting when you have courts that get to decide what the meaning of is is. i think the fair amendments actually worked well a decade ago, or at least as well as they
could have been expected work. so what happened is that the voters placed these provisions, the state constitution, those provisions said you cannot engage in partisan gerrymandering and rick scott and the republican majority in tallahassee. the time went ahead and ignored them and put in place districts the congressional seats for the state senate that were republican gerrymanders. and it took a few years. but in 2015, the states supreme court struck districts down and required legislature to redraw them. and what replaced it was? a pretty fair map. democrats had a reasonable shot. they didn't end up doing it, but they had a reasonable shot if they had run better candidates, better campaigns at winning the state senate at the tail end of the last decade. and they had a reasonable at
winning a majority of florida's seats. neither of those things are possible anymore. but the supreme court, even though it had a republican majority or it may have been more close to being evenly divided at the time, but it was considerably less ideologically skewed than it is today. i have a lot less confidence that the state supreme court will uphold and faithfully apply the fair districts amendments this time around, which is why i think what we need to do here in, florida is put a new state constitutional amendment on the ballot and say, we gave you guys an opportunity to abide by this. you failed to do it for two consecutive decades. so now we're going to take that power away from we're going to create a non-party as an independent commission made up of regular florida citizens.
and they're going to have the power to control districts. i think the main thing that i took away from this book is that the main problem with redistricting in the united states the problem that every other nation has managed to fix is simply fact that we allow politicians to control it. and when you take politicians out of the equation, you're not always to get a fair map. you shouldn't always expect to get a fair map. but you're going to get one a lot more often than we do now. oh, my. thank you for your book. thank you for this talk. i've lived here my whole life and i apparently have been swimming in this sea of denial. i've tried to get the vote out, get people involved in politics. i'm not hearing a lot of hope.
i guess i always knew. it's back here. i knew it was happening, but this really spells it out. black and white terms. how how to proceed? i guess i'm sorry. i'm struggling to make a question how do get people to vote. is it the responsibility of the voters? find a solution this. i think it is. is it a response ability of the voters to use the people who are in office if they voted for them or not to try to enact change? i see no reason for because of the way you've spelled it out. there has to be a way for me to convince a woman in maryhill that her vote count and a woman in vedra that hers matters as much as the woman and hill or. i don't see a democracy anymore and i cannot live in that country. i certainly am having a hard
time living in that state anyhow. step outside of the ballot initiative so that we can try to push for. can we get out and try to get those by sheer of just trying to get people to unite under this scenario presented or do we go about our business the way we have for all of my life? i just don't know which way to proceed. and i do appreciate you bringing it to our attention. thank you. i think we're all screwed. so you better take this question. okay, guess i have to to try and find the silver lining in this again. i'll what i would say is that a lot of times you're going to go to the voting booth and most of the things, most of the choices that you have are not going to be meaningful. but i think there's always going to be something on your ballot that is there's always going to
be a race, whether it's city council or whether it's something even further down the ballot. there's going to be some opportunity there for your voice to be heard and for it to be for it to make a difference. and i that as. as depressing as things are in our political system right now, i do think there is hope to try and fix those things. it's not to be easy. and i that it's it's depressing to have to kind of fight constant holding action to to cling on to sort the vestiges of democracy that we still. but the alternative is all of that going going away and i think people have to put in put in the effort that an engaged citizenry and this is something that done quite a bit of work
on. one of the things that i do is i work as a consultant. the florida department of education and on their civic literacy initiative, which is designed to try get students k through 12. and in our public colleges and universities engaged in politics interested in politics, equipped with the knowledge and, the tools that they need become effective and engage democratic citizens. hopefully that has that has an impact an impact. but i think it's it's hard and. i think you just have to to to kind of say that, um, that we need to, we need to fight for this, we need to fight not only to and make things better, but we need to fight to preserve what we already have.
maintaining a healthy representative democracy requires citizen engagement. it doesn't it doesn't take care of itself. if the framers of our constitution, us with many of the institutions to, um, to have such a system and a lot of those institutions have for four centuries now. but they did supply the virtues and the norms necessary to sustain that in purpose. unity. that is our responsibility as citizens and it's only through participation no matter how small voting in elections, getting involved in your community, doing volunteer work of these things, make a contribution towards improving our politics and it's only by aggregating of those together, by getting as many as possible involved that change eventually occurs. i would say that on i won't just
let my last comment be that we're screwed. i think all of us struggle. anyone who who is civically engaged struggles on an individual level with this feeling like helplessness and certainly in a newspaper, you know, i toiling away in obscurity. if you are you know if you're a campaign organizer might fear the same you might feel like your efforts don't measure up to the challenges we which are quite significant. the one thing that you can do that will guarantee you that nothing will get better is to stop those things. so i see that as an argument for, you know, just carrying on, you know, civic engagement is the only way we're going to dig ourselves out of it. and even if that seems inadequate. it's it's not. so, yeah.
wow that was a i would have to say an intent intellect, stimulating evening. i want to thank everyone for coming out and, being part of the engaged citizenry we have in jacksonville. i am really excited the turnout that we had. i didn't know what expect. and again i want to thank everyone for coming. we do have books available and dr. seabrook will signing outside on the left. if anyone wants their book signed and, we're open for more. if you guys want it, let me know. so thank you.
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