Manuel Madrid

Manuel Madrid is a writing fellow at The American Prospect

Recent Articles

Extreme Gerrymandering Complicates 2018 Congressional Map for Democrats

It will take nothing short of an electoral wave for Democrats to retake the House in 2018, and that’s exactly the problem.

A new report from the Brennan Center at the New York University School of Law underscores the devastating effect of gerrymandering on recent House elections: The researchers found that over the past decade, not only have Republicans stepped up their gerrymandering efforts, they have become more aggressive in drawing maps to benefit GOP candidates.

Of the 26 states that account for 85 percent of congressional districts, only a handful are responsible for the largest imbalances—and Republicans had sole control of the redistricting process in those states.

“It’s easier than ever to create skewed maps. There’s much more robust data and sophisticated technology than there used to be,” says Michael Li, a redistricting expert and a coauthor of the new report. “Gerrymandering was once an art. Now, it’s a science.”

Republicans derived a net benefit of at least 16 congressional seats from gerrymandering in the 2016 election, according to the report. That’s eight less than the 24 currently needed by Democrats to take back the House.

The report found that Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia were all under single-party control when state lawmakers created new congressional districts in 2011. It’s no surprise that all of these states, with the exception of Texas, are tightly contested. The most gerrymandered states are usually battleground states, where the slightest advantage can make a difference.

Democratic and Republican state lawmakers have always tried to redraw districts to their own party’s advantage. But since the last census, Republicans have done it more often and more aggressively. Why? Because they can.

“One of the reasons Republicans are doing it more is because you need sole control of a state to aggressively gerrymander,” says Li. “Republicans have sole control over far more states than Democrats.”

California is a rare exception. Democrats control the Golden State legislature, yet the state has mostly avoided unfair maps thanks to an independent redistricting commission. The report found that maps drawn by independent or bipartisan commissions consistently exhibited far less partisan bias than those drawn solely by Republicans or Democrats. Maps drawn by the courts following a legislative deadlock were also markedly fairer than those drawn by a single party.

For voters in the dozens of states without redistricting commissions, taking unfair maps to court is often the only option. Lawsuits challenging those maps have been filed in 38 states since the 2010 census—and most have failed.

Without any standard for gauging when state lawmakers have gone too far in a partisan direction when they create new districts, judges have preferred to stay out of the political thicket unless absolutely necessary. The authors of the report aim to equip courts with better ways of assessing partisan manipulation. “Courts have had a hard time deciding where the line is drawn,” Li says. “But when three formulas point in the same direction, it gives [courts] comfort.”

Despite promising initiatives to redraw maps in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, it’s unlikely that the electoral landscape will change much before the midterm elections.

Overcoming a 24-seat deficit isn’t impossible—Democrats took back control of the House after a 31-seat swing in 2006— but it won’t be easy. Despite President Trump’s low approval ratings and a radioactive Republican health care bill, Democrats face an uphill battle in 2018.

“If your only hope of winning a majority is through a huge, ‘500-year flood’ voting wave, that’s not exactly encouraging for your party,” says Li.

Q&A: Ralph Northam Aims For the Governor’s Mansion in Virginia

The lieutenant governor says he’s the Democrat who can uphold progressive values and reach across the aisle in the Old Dominion.

AP Photo/Steve Helber
AP Photo/Steve Helber Virginia Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam speaks to the media during a news conference at the Capitol in Richmond. T he Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary race between Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam and Tom Perriello provides the biggest political test yet for the Democratic Party forces that have been mobilized by President Donald Trump’s assault on American political norms. Northam is a ten-year veteran of Virginia politics, with deep ties to the state’s political establishment. He has received endorsements from term-limited Governor Terry McAuliffe, Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, and dozens of state legislators. The pediatric neurologist has spent his decade-long political career showcasing himself as a fiscal conservative and social liberal. But Trump’s victory and the surprise appearance of primary challenger Perriello has upended the Virginia Democratic Party and complicated Northam’s once smooth path to the top slot on the Democratic ticket...

Q&A: The Pragmatic Populism of Tom Perriello

Former Congressman Tom Perriello makes the case for why he’s got the “insider pragmatism and outsider populism” to win Virginia’s gubernatorial race.

AP Photo/Steve Helber
AP Photo/Steve Helber Former Virginia Congressman Tom Perriello speaks to the crowd during a rally announcing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia in Charlottesville. T he first time Virginia Democrat Tom Perriello ran for office, it was 2008, and Barack Obama was on his way to winning the White House. An Obama champion, Perriello nevertheless managed to win a House seat in Virginia’s ruby-red Fifth District by balancing his progressive instincts with a conservative sensibility. But two years later, Perriello was unseated after one term in a Tea Party wave that saw half of Virginia’s House Democrats voted out of office. Now, Perriello is back on the campaign trail, having announced in January that he would jump into Virginia’s Democratic gubernatorial primary. The race had looked all but locked up by Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, who has received endorsements from most elected officials in the state, including term limited Governor Terry McAuliffe...

Win or Lose, Georgia Special Election Could Embolden Democrats

Unprecedented energy surrounding a race for Georgia’s Sixth District could bode well for progressives heading into 2018.

AP Photo/John Bazemore
AP Photo/John Bazemore Democratic candidate for Georgia's 6th congressional district Jon Ossoff. T he special election in Georgia next month could be a referendum on President Trump’s popularity. Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old Democrat with a sizeable war chest, is contesting Atlanta’s suburban Sixth District, which until a few weeks ago was represented by Representative Tom Price, now secretary of health and human services. “Any other election year in the Sixth wouldn’t be worth people’s time—this one is,” says Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, vice chair of recruitment for the Georgia Democratic Party and one of the first to speak with Ossoff about joining the race. The Sixth District is the epicenter of state Republican politics. It was once represented by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and current Georgia Senator Johnny Isakson. In 2012, Mitt Romney carried the Sixth by more than 20 points, as did John McCain in 2008. Yet, last November, Hillary Clinton lost the district by just under 2...

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