BOB GARFIELD: And so, to summarize, people voting with fake licenses, not a thing, trucking in illegal immigrants to flood polling stations, not a thing, dead people voting, really not a thing. The election process being rigged, actually, kind of a thing, not because of ballot box stuffing but because of gerrymandering, the art of redrawing congressional districts in order to favor, or screw, one party over another.
DAVID DALEY: The two keywords are “cracking” and “packing.”
BOB GARFIELD: David Daley is publisher of the Connecticut Mirror and author of a new book on gerrymandering, titled - we can’t say the title on the air but it rhymes with "rat ducked.”
DAVID DALEY: So cracking is the idea that you take the other party’s vote and you divide it up so that it can be as ineffective as possible amongst as many districts as possible. And packing would be to take them and, and pack as many voters of one party as you can into as few seats as possible, while taking the rest of the seats for yourself.
BOB GARFIELD: Which was pretty much business as usual for two centuries, with one party rigging the game in its favor whenever it got the chance and the other party fighting to get it back. But, according to Daley, that all changed after the Republicans were decimated in the 2008 election and the art of gerrymandering became a science.
DAVID DALEY: If you watch the back on the live television of that night, it sounds like Republicans are mourning that they're going to be a minority party for a long time. But there were a handful of really smart Republican strategists who realized this doesn't have to be the case; 2010 is a census year, which means it’s a redistricting year, and they set about a state-by-state strategy to flip state legislative chambers in such a way that when state and congressional districts were drawn the next year, they would have the only voices in the room, the only seats at the table, and they pulled this off brilliantly.
BOB GARFIELD: Now, if gerrymandering is a perversion of the framers’ intent to maintain a balance every 10 years of one man, one vote, it’s an equal opportunity perversion. Right now, the Republicans control 30-some state legislatures and, therefore, a disproportionate percentage of legislative districts and their shapes. But when the Democrats had the majority of statehouses, they did approximately the same thing to give themselves safe seats, did they not?
DAVID DALEY: Gerrymandering, over the years, has certainly been a bipartisan game. Both sides have done it for a long, long time. However, the difference here really is the technology. What you have right now is a program called Maptitude. It is a - an extremely powerful program. It comes preloaded with all of the census data, with all of the demographics and ethnicity and economic data you could possibly imagine. Then you can add on to that all of the public record data sets, voting records. You can add on to it a cloud’s worth of consumer preferences, of magazine subscriptions, of ZIP Code data. This wasn't the case in 2000, it wasn't the case in 1990. It certainly wasn't the case in 1810. A partisan mapmaker right now has so much information in front of them that they can draw lines that are essentially unbeatable for a decade.
BOB GARFIELD: Looking at [LAUGHS] gerrymandered legislative districts, you know, can be kind of a parlor game or, I don't know, it's like finding constellations, oh look, there’s Sagittarius, oh look, it’s Capricorn, oh look, it's the Michigan 14th.
DAVID DALEY: There's one in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania 7th in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia that is actually – it looks like Goofy kicking Donald Duck. I mean, it really, really does. And the only point that it is essentially contiguous [LAUGHS] there is Goofy's foot in Donald Duck's rear end.
And they are really funny. However, these district lines are the building blocks of democracy and when they get as perverted and twisted as this it leads to deeply undemocratic outcomes. In 2012, the Democrats got 1.4 million more votes than the Republicans and could not take control of the chamber. And when a gerrymander like this, for all intents and purposes, puts a chamber, ostensibly, intended to mirror popular opinion and the public will beyond control of the voters, that damages the levers of representative government. That is how elections are rigged and that is the kind of “rigged” we ought to be talking about, not what Donald Trump is talking about.
BOB GARFIELD: I have to read a lot about electoral politics and have seen, you know, an endless amount of truth squatting and breathless reporting of various campaign outrages, and I've seen a lot of speculation about the fate of the Senate and the House. And yet, I have read vanishingly little about legislative districts and how they’re drawn and how they influence the House of Representatives and how, over a period of 20 years, the GOP has stuck to its knitting and created these impregnable districts, leading to the question, have we, as an institution, the media, done our job explaining the civics of this to the American public?
DAVID DALEY: No, we in the media have done a horrible job of explaining this. We still believe that gerrymandering is something that both sides do. We believe it is politics as usual. The game changed in 2010. Karl Rove went on the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal in March of 2010 and he explained exactly what the Republican strategy was going to be. And yet, The New York Times can write story after story about will the Democrats take back the House and not even mention the words “redistricting” and “gerrymandering.” “Because of the way congressional districts are drawn, Republicans have a powerful structural advantage” is the actual quote that The Times tends to use. And that, to me, is journalistic jujitsu. It’s a sentence that’s at once accurate and yet it completely conceals the truth. When we do not talk about how this got that way, we are not telling people the actual, honest story, which I think is, frankly, journalistic malpractice. You don't have to take sides, you don’t have to have your thumb on the scale, but you can't pretend that the lines don't matter and who drew the lines matter.
BOB GARFIELD: Dave, many thanks.
DAVID DALEY: Thank you, Bob. I really appreciate it.
BOB GARFIELD: David Daley is the publisher of the Connecticut Mirror and author of the book, Rat--: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy.