Democracy & Government

How Does a Political Party Get Fewer Votes But Still Win Elections? Gerrymandering on Steroids

New techniques in districting allow legislators to essentially pick their voters, instead of the other way around. And in 2010, Republicans in several states redrew maps that guaranteed victory.

How Does a Political Party Get Fewer Votes But Still Win Elections? Gerrymandering on Steroids

In this clip from the new documentary film, Slay the Dragon, we learn that after the 2010 redistricting process had been completed in states across the country, a strange pattern emerged in the 2012 midterm election. In several states — most notably Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and North Carolina — Democrats won the majority of votes, but Republicans won the majority of seats in the statehouse and in the US House. The maps, drawn by Republican legislators, had worked.

Bill Moyers talked with journalist Dave Daley earlier this year about gerrymandering and the 2020 election.

BILL MOYERS: In 1980, I was reporting for a documentary on the founding of the Moral Majority. Thousands of religious conservatives gathered in Dallas, Texas, to launch what is now the most influential base of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan, running for the Republican nomination, spoke to them.

And one of the most influential Republicans of the past 60 years was there. Paul Weyrich was his name — right-wing Catholic, brilliant strategist, outspoken partisan [who] founded the Heritage Foundation, founded the Moral Majority, on and on and on. He really was an architect of the Republican domination today.

Here’s a brief excerpt of what he said. It brought cheers from those religious conservatives.

Paul Weyrich: “Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

DAVID DALEY: That’s the whole game plan right there. And it is shocking to hear people admit it. But Republicans are beginning to say the quiet part [out ] loud now as well. This is an intentional strategy.

What Republicans have done over the last 50 years in this country is attempt to make it harder for people who are not going to vote for them to vote.

They have built barriers between specific groups of people and the ballot box that have been surgical, that have been specific, and that have been deeply intentional. They have appointed judges to the federal bench that have backed up this deeply pinched vision of voting rights.

And they have developed a sustained sense of minority rule in states across the nation. They have insulated themselves from the ballot box. And it is because they are afraid that they will lose an honest election. One of our two political parties is so afraid that it will lose an honest election that they have spent 50 years building barriers between voters and the ballot box.

BILL MOYERS: David, is it conceivable to you that one of our major parties could say to themselves that if they can’t win free and fair elections, they will just get rid of democracy?

DAVID DALEY: I think that is what they have done. It is inconceivable to me that a party founded by Abraham Lincoln, founded in such beliefs of the equality of man is in this position right now, in which they believe that they cannot win.

They would rather try to keep people from voting than lose.

That is the position American democracy finds itself in in 2020. And I believe that it is there because of specific decisions that Republican leaders have made, and then doubled down on, year after year after year.

In 2012, after Barack Obama is reelected, Republicans do a famous autopsy, right? And they try to look and say, “Well, what are we doing wrong that we keep losing national elections?” And they say, “Well, we have to do a better job of talking to young people, of talking to minority voters.” They couldn’t do any of those things. They couldn’t change. Because the party had already set itself on this agenda of gerrymandering and voter suppression that put the base in charge.

Get Involved

1. Learn More

Listen to Bill’s entire conversation with Dave Daley about gerrymandering, voter suppression and what to expect in the 2020 election. (Download | Read)

Watch Slay the Dragon: The video above is a clip from the excellent new documentary Slay the Dragon (Participant Films, 2020) which is available to watch from home on a number of platforms.

2. Take Action

There are many organizations working on voting rights issues and you can join them in their efforts to make democracy work for all of us.