Feb 2, 2022

Gerrymandering in New York.

Gerrymandering in New York.

The state's maps are so overtly partisan even some Democrats hope they fail.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's topic: 12 minutes.

We're covering the new map out of New York and some reactions on the gerrymandering conversation. Plus, a question about the filibuster.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul being sworn in. Some say she should veto Democrats new congressional map. Photo: NY state senate
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul being sworn in. Some say she should veto Democrats new congressional map. Photo: NY state senate

Quick hits.

  1. The U.S. national debt topped $30 trillion for the first time. (The numbers)
  2. The United States is deploying 3,000 troops to its NATO allies in Eastern Europe as Russia builds up a troop presence along Ukraine's border. (The deployment)
  3. President Biden is expected to present an ambitious plan on how to cut cancer death rates in half. (The plan)
  4. New reports allege that Donald Trump personally led efforts to have the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seize voting machines in three states in an effort to stop the certification of the 2020 election. (The reports)
  5. ABC suspended Whoopi Goldberg, one of the hosts of The View, for comments she made about the Holocaust during a discussion on book bans. (The comments)
  6. BREAKING: CNN President Jeff Zucker announced his resignation today, saying the investigation into Chris Cuomo had uncovered an undisclosed relationship Zucker had with a colleague. (The resignation)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.


Today's topic.

New York's new map. On Sunday, New York Democrats proposed a new congressional map for the state that could give the party an overt advantage in 22 of the state's 26 House districts in the midterm elections. Today, Republicans hold eight seats in New York’s congressional delegation, meaning the new map would eliminate their advantage in half of the districts they have.

“With the stroke of a pen they can gain three seats and eliminate four Republican seats,” Dave Wasserman, a redistricting expert with The Cook Political Report, said. “That’s a pretty big shift... In fact, it’s probably the biggest shift in the country.”

The New York map comes amidst a massive gerrymandering effort from Republicans and Democrats across the country heading into the 2022 midterms. Republicans are poised to gain seats in Congress via gerrymandering in Texas, Florida and Georgia, and New York is one of the states Democrats have been eyeing to make up the ground. Reminder: We published a breakdown of gerrymandering and its history on Jan. 14th that is worth reading if you missed it.

Every 10 years, state legislatures are required to redraw congressional districts in response to the latest Census data. These districts must be roughly equal in population in order to ensure a balanced representation in Congress. However, because state legislatures are often controlled by one party, they regularly attempt to draw these districts to give their counterparts in the federal government — in Congress — an advantage. The Week gives a simple example: "The party in power can take a district in which the opposition draws 50 percent of the vote and divide it in two, ensuring the minority party will lose both districts."

For a visualization of the map Democrats just drew, here is what New York's 10th district will now look like:

In New York, voters actually enacted legislation to empower a bipartisan commission to draw the state's districts in 2014. But the commission was gridlocked and could not reach a consensus, and the stalemate left the new map drawing up to Democratic leaders in Albany, who were able to redesign the map without any bipartisan consensus.

“These maps are the most brazen and outrageous attempt at rigging the election to keep Nancy Pelosi as speaker,” Nick Langworthy, the chairman of the New York Republican party, said. They “can’t win on the merits so they’re trying to win the election in a smoke-filled room rather than the ballot box.”

Meanwhile, numerous Republican-drawn state maps are undergoing court challenges or have been rejected for their overt gerrymandering. But the release of New York's maps set off a whole new wave of commentary about gerrymandering across the country.

Again: If you missed our initial issue on gerrymandering, I suggest you go read it for a full understanding of the current state of play. We won't be able to re-hash everything we covered there in today's issue. Below, we will share some commentary from the left and right on how New York's map impacts the 2022 midterms and the gerrymandering conversation.


What the left is saying.

  • The left's attitude is split on the new map.
  • Some say Democrats are right to be ruthless, and that Republicans left them with no choice.
  • Others say Democrats should maintain the moral high ground and call on New York's governor to veto the map.

In The Washington Post, Paul Waldman said "Democrats are gerrymandering ruthlessly. Good for them."

"Perhaps never before has there been as broad an awareness that partisan gerrymandering poses a threat to democratic accountability. If officeholders pick their voters rather than the other way around, the result can be a grossly unrepresentative system in which the will of the electorate almost ceases to matter, and politicians can be as unresponsive or even corrupt as they choose. But there is some hope, at least at the congressional level. And the vehicle to end the scourge of gerrymandering? It’s gerrymandering itself," Waldman wrote.

How does it happen? Waldman asks...

"1) Democrats have a surprisingly good year at the ballot box, holding on to their House majority thanks to the gerrymandering they’ve managed, while increasing their Senate majority by at least two votes. 2) With Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W. Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) no longer in control, the Senate passes an exception to the filibuster allowing voting rights legislation to get an up-or-down vote. 3) They pass the Freedom to Vote Act, which bans partisan gerrymandering; President Biden signs it."

The New York Daily News editorial board called on Gov. Kathy Hochul to reject the map.

"Under the redrawing, which a redistricting analyst at FiveThirtyEight calls 'heavily biased toward Democrats,' the current roster of eight Republican House members could be halved," the board said. "While great helping Nancy Pelosi keep control of the House and good at counterbalancing GOP gerrymandering in other states, it undermines fair representation in New York. In 2020, Donald Trump won 38% of the vote; GOP House candidates got a combined 36%. The resulting eight seats of 27 works out to 30%. Gianaris and Zebrowski would chop that to four of 26, just 15%.

"New Yorkers amended the state Constitution in 2014 to entrust map-drawing to an Independent Redistricting Commission. The panel deadlocked, producing two competing plans, but either was far better than this dreck," the board added. "When Supreme Court conservatives said the courts could do nothing about partisan gerrymandering, liberals on and off the bench howled. When congressional Democrats tried barring such gerrymandering, Republicans again pitched a fit. They were right and the GOP was wrong both times. Here, left-wing pols in a deep blue state squander those principles for electoral advantage."

In The Week, David Faris said Republicans committed an own goal by reinforcing their own incumbents rather than trying to aggressively pick up new seats.

"The result is that instead of being able to take the House easily with similar results to 2020, Republicans might well have put themselves in a worse position than when the process started," Faris said. "For Democrats, there's a delicious irony here: Republicans could have had non-partisan redistricting nationwide had they supported the For the People Act, which the House passed last year and the Senate continues to ignore like a stack of unwanted electric bills. Yes, there were a lot of other things in there, but Democrats would have been happy to run a stand-alone redistricting bill through Congress if it seemed like there was one iota of interest from the other side.

"Now that the late liberal justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has been replaced by hardline conservative Amy Coney Barrett, it is even less likely that the Supreme Court will intervene to stop this very obviously antidemocratic practice from being accepted as a routine feature of our politics — unless, of course, gerrymandering is suddenly seen as decisively benefiting Democrats," Faris wrote. "Indeed Republicans, having closed off both the legislative and the judicial paths to ban partisan gerrymandering nationally, are belatedly realizing that they don't like it after all."


What the right is saying.

  • The right says this latest map exposes Democrats' hypocrisy.
  • They hope a court intervenes or some Democrats defect and sink the new map.
  • Many say the left has lost their moral high ground on gerrymandering.

In The Washington Post, Henry Olsen said the state courts must take action.

"New York Democrats on Sunday released a congressional gerrymander so egregious that it makes Republican efforts pale in comparison. It’s also a flagrant violation of the state constitution, which means it is up to the state’s Democratic-appointed judges to show courage and throw this map out," he wrote. "Empire State Democrats left no stone unturned in their efforts to thrash Republicans. Nathaniel Rakich at FiveThirtyEight suggests the map could give Democrats the edge in terms of gains from redistricting nationwide. Cook Political Report redistricting guru Dave Wasserman explains that Democrats were so precise that only a few precincts in the entire state were left unused in their masterpiece. Republicans would be expected to lose four of their eight seats as a result.

"This should be the end of the matter, politically speaking, as Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature with supermajorities sufficient to enact the map," he wrote. "It’s theoretically possible that two state Senate Democrats could defect, depriving them of the two-thirds margin needed for it to pass under the state constitution. But expecting partisans to desert their party when partisan loyalty is most expected is a fool’s errand. We are just as likely to see Donald Trump apologize for the Jan. 6 riot. This leaves a court challenge as the only opportunity for a fair map."

In The New York Post, Republican and New York City Council minority leader Joe Borelli said "Make no mistake: Eliminating Republican competition for elective office was always the Democratic Party’s endgame."

"When Democratic powerbrokers in Albany emerged from their star chamber Sunday with new 'fair and impartial' political maps that resemble a snakes and ladders game, the 'war' plan came into complete focus: With one hand, point fingers at Republican-led states across the country and scream 'Gerrymandering!' while the other hand erases as many Republican-held congressional seats in New York as possible," Borelli said. "These added New York congressional seats could be pivotal to the Dems’ hope to hold onto power in Washington as they head into midterm elections with a dragging economy and a president with abysmal approval ratings.

"To accomplish this, Dems have targeted the lone New York City Republican voice in Congress, Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, by snaking the lines northward from her Staten Island-based NY-11 district to include the Brooklyn lefty-strongholds of Sunset Park, Park Slope, Gowanus and Red Hook — a move that could dramatically change the district from a Donald Trump +10 in 2020 to a Biden +10... Where is the outrage from the good-government goo-goos and the voter-rights warriors? Where is the Department of Justice, which is suing Texas over its redistricting process? Where is the American Civil Liberties Union, which is suing Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Ohio and South Carolina over their 'unconstitutional' political maps? But those are Republican-led states, and voters’ rights only seem to matter when those voters are Democrats."

The Wall Street Journal editorial board said when you see Rep. Jerry Nadler's new District 10 map, "Your first instinct might be to grab the cartographer and do a field sobriety test."

"But Democrats didn’t draw loopy lines by accident. They did it with partisan malice aforethought," the board said. "New York’s jerrymander is another reminder that drawing favorable lines is a bipartisan strategy. It happens every decade, but this time Democrats have been trying to convince the public that it’s some Trumpian threat to the republic. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder, urges officials to sign a 'Fair Districts Pledge' and 'commit to restoring fairness to our democracy.'

"What a pose. In reality Democrats and Republicans want the same thing. They want to win," the board said. "However the partisanship plays out, this year should be the end of progressive sanctimony that gerrymanders favor Republicans. If Democrats keep their House majority this year, a big reason will be how they rigged districts in Albany, Sacramento and Springfield."


My take.

This crap is contagious.

As I wrote in our special edition on gerrymandering, I believe the threat it poses is one of the most dangerous in all of American democracy. When it comes to congressional races, it is not hyperbolic to say that we are no longer choosing our politicians — they are choosing us. That is not the system we are supposed to have here.

It's also worth pointing out that this could go south for Democrats in a hurry. Maps are being challenged across the country, and a few wins for Republicans paired with a couple of losses for Democrats could bring the sum total of the gerrymander races back to favoring Republicans nationally — though it does appear clear it won't be the nightmare scenario many Democrats had feared.

Of course, it's also worth stating that these two things are not equal.

Part of the reason Republicans may lose the gerrymandering race this year is that they stormed the maps in 2010 and had very little left they could squeeze out of them. It may be a disadvantage to shore up certain districts this cycle, but long-term the Republicans' decision to protect incumbents was probably wise given what a partisan, gerrymandered advantage they had going into this cycle anyway.

More to the point, though, is that Democrats are the political party with an actual piece of legislation on the table to end gerrymandering. If one side proposes and passes a bill to crush gerrymandering in Congress, and the other side can't muster a single vote (or kind word) for it, then there is obviously an imbalance about how each side is thinking about this issue. Obviously, Democrats' gerrymandering legislation is part of a broader, larger bill with all sorts of stuff Republicans would never vote for. But as Faris put it, "Democrats would have been happy to run a stand-alone redistricting bill through Congress if it seemed like there was one iota of interest from the other side."

But there isn't.

Yes, both parties want to win. And yes, Democrats have just proven themselves willing to pull the exact same partisan stunts as Republicans — but we already knew that.

The real question is what to do now amidst this reminder that gerrymandering is a scourge for the right and the left and, most importantly, for the American people. Prohibiting gerrymandering would be a good start — especially retroactively, which would (and should) force dozens of states to throw out their maps and start anew.

One party has legislation to do that, and they should use this moment to isolate that legislation and reach out across the aisle. If a handful of Republicans can't get on board, then that's a good way to illuminate where our politicians stand on the issue of actual representation. If Democrats were miraculously to find some support across the aisle, it'd be a huge win for the American voter and could re-shape elections of the future in a positive way — the kind of headline we haven't gotten in a long time.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.


Your questions, answered.

Q: If Democrats successfully abolished the filibuster tomorrow, how long do you think the chaos would last? As you said in your article, when the new party takes control of congress, they would just undo whatever the other party had enacted. Then they would have the power to pass whatever they want without opposition. But wouldn't everyone come to their senses at some point? I have to believe they would all calm down after 10-15 years. Maybe? Any legislation that affects taxes or regulations would take years to implement for both the government and businesses. It would cost a fortune to keep doing that every 4 or 8 years.

— Rob, Wilmington, Delaware

Tangle: It's a great question. One of the fears supporters of the filibuster have is similar to the fears people have about term limits at the Supreme Court: The law would change so often that it would create chaos in highly administrative areas like immigration and health care. I think this is one of the more compelling arguments to keep both as they are: Continuity breeds stability. Of course, if you are totally exasperated by the status quo, this is exactly why you want to change the rules.

I think 10-15 years is a pretty good guess for the chaotic period. And maybe, for the long-term health of the country, that is a small sacrifice. In response to my filibuster piece, one reader wrote in and made what I think is the simplest case to do away with it: "I believe, in a very simple abstraction, people should elect leaders, the leaders enact legislation, and then the voters get to think about how their lives have improved or gotten worse as a result of that legislation when the next round of voting comes along. With the filibuster as it exists, we mostly get obstruction and inaction, and that doesn’t help the voters at all."

To your point, I suspect constantly changing laws that flip-flopped every time a majority took power would end up being just another of the many things Americans hate about Congress, and that displeasure could rein in the people who keep changing the laws. I could see a stump speech that goes something like, "Americans do not want another change to their health care plan" to be a compelling line in a 2040 election in the wake of a filibuster change.

Want to ask a question? You can reply to this email and write in (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.


A story that matters.

U.S. auto safety regulators said on Tuesday that traffic deaths rose by 12% in the first nine months of 2021, the highest number of Americans killed on roads in that period since 2006. The 12% reported increase, which comes out to 3,395 deaths, is the highest increase since The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began tracking the data. Idaho led all states with a 36.4% increase, followed by Nevada at 30%, Oregon at 29.3%, Minnesota 25.5%, North Dakota 23.6% and Texas 22.3%. One purported cause of the deaths is emptier roads, thanks to Covid-19, which leaves some drivers less inclined to wear a seatbelt and more inclined to make high-risk moves on the road. 31,720 people were killed in the first nine months of 2021 alone. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg has pledged to release a new national strategy — including lower speed limits, dedicated bus and bike lanes, and better lighting — aimed at reversing the trend. The Associated Press has the story.


Numbers.

  • 50-49. The percentages of the vote received by Trump-Biden in North Carolina in the 2020 election.
  • 10-3. The Republican advantage in congressional seats in North Carolina, thanks to gerrymandering.
  • 41%. The percentage of the votes Trump won in Illinois in the 2020 election.
  • 3 out of 17. The number of seats (21.4%) Republicans are likely to hold in Illinois, thanks to gerrymandering.
  • 38%. The percentage of New York voters who voted for Trump in the 2020 election.
  • 15%. The percentage of New York congressional districts where Republicans will have an advantage in the 2022 midterms.

Have a nice day.

Today is Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter this morning. I have never really spent much time thinking about Groundhog Day, but today it occurred to me that thousands — perhaps millions — of human beings tune in every year to watch a rodent make a completely arbitrary prediction about the weather. We dress up in costumes, send TV crews, celebrate and maybe most absurd of all we actually listen. We repeat the prediction in news reports and take it rather seriously. It's all quite delightful. The New York Post has the story about the first total, post-pandemic Groundhog Day.


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