These ain’t your grandfather’s gerrymanders. Gone is the era of elaborate cartographical sketches and oil paintings of salamanders, and of salted old-timer politicians drawing up their “contributions to modern art” armed with markers and heads full of electoral smarts. Today, political mapmaking is a multimillion dollar enterprise, with dozens of high-profile paid consultants, armies of lawyers, terabytes worth of voting data, advanced software, and even a supercomputer or two. Redistricting is the great game of modern politics, and the arms race for the next decade’s maps promises to be the most extensive—and most expensive—of all time. Republicans certainly maintain the advantage in that game right now. They began the escalation over seven years ago, with the creation of the groundbreaking REDMAP initiative. As David Daley’s Ratf**ked illustrates, the first goal of the Republican State Leadership Committee’s REDMAP project was to seize control of vulnerable statehouses in purple states in the 2010 elections and grab ahold of the redistricting process, which by the Constitution occurs alongside the reapportionment of Congressional seats every 10 years with the results of the Census. With those seats in hand, the resulting end goal was not some shady conspiracy, and REDMAP’s own website proudly sums it best: “The party controlling that effort controls the drawing of the maps—shaping the political landscape for the next 10 years.”
REDMAP was a spectacular success. First, on the strength of fundraising efforts in pivotal states with changing demographics—places like Wisconsin and North Carolina that have become new swing states—Republicans overran 2010 state legislative races in backwoods districts, to the tune of nearly 700 state legislative seats, the largest increase in modern electoral history. Additionally, Republicans outspent Democrats by over $300 million in that year’s gubernatorial races, which netted them six additional gubernatorial positions, including the coveted governor’s mansions in Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, which were all flipped from Democratic incumbents.
The Republicans’ two-pronged legislature and governor’s mansion strategy was vital, since political maps often require two levels of political approval in many states. “State legislatures will draw the maps and governors will sign the maps,” says Kelly Ward, the former executive director of the DCCC and now the executive director of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. Although the Democratic strongholds of Maryland and Illinois are also known to be heavily gerrymandered, by beating Democrats at multiple levels everywhere else in the creation and oversight of elections law, Republicans could ensure unfettered power over creating maps, which with their technological and expertise advantages could then be used to redouble the advantages they’d just gained, in perpetuity. And in a case currently before the Supreme Court, the power to engineer gerrymanders that entrench political power for one party could soon be limited —or forever given the imprimatur of legitimacy.