In Las Vegas, former Attorney General Holder emphasizes activism, redistricting

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J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, shown speaking at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 28, 2016, gave the keynote address Saturday at the Democratic National Committee’s fall meeting in Las Vegas.

Tue, Oct 24, 2017 (2 a.m.)

From recall attempts to unfairly drawn districts, former Attorney General Eric Holder says Democrats must fight GOP voter-suppression tactics.

Holder, chairman of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, gave the keynote address Saturday at the Democratic National Committee’s fall meeting in Las Vegas. He said the commission’s goal is to make sure that after the next census in 2020, lines are fairly drawn so that candidates reflect the wishes of the people.

“Whether it’s unnecessary voter ID laws, voter suppression, or gerrymandering, Republicans are doing everything they can to make it more difficult for the will of the people to be truly expressed,” Holder said. “The congressional districts and state legislative districts have been shamefully drawn.”

Conservatives have said voter ID laws are necessary to prevent fraud, though there are few examples of illegally cast ballots. The Democrat-controlled Legislature blocked a Republican-backed bill this year that sought to implement the requirement in Nevada.

Nevada’s redistricting process is controlled by state lawmakers. The state’s population and diversity both grew from 2000 to 2010, and, according to a 2012 Brookings Institution report, led to a redistricting process that was more favorable to Democrats.

Republicans fought the process, with Gov. Brian Sandoval vetoing two different collections of maps passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature before court-appointed experts rejected the GOP idea that at least one district had to have a Hispanic majority, according to the report.

“As a consequence, two of Nevada’s U.S. House seats favor Democrats, one is safely Republican, and the fourth is a swing district,” the report says. “In the Nevada Legislature the representation of urban interests will increase as parts of or all of 47 of the 63 seats in the Nevada Legislature are now located in the Democratic stronghold of Clark County.”

While the state’s Legislature is controlled by Democrats, efforts to recall three state senators could tip the scale in that chamber toward Republicans. Two of the targeted senators are Democrats, and the third is an Independent and former Republican who caucused with Democrats and has cited family reasons in her decision not to seek re-election.

The Clark County Republican Party has launched a website for people who want to volunteer to help with the recalls. Recall committees filed paperwork in August and are entering their final weeks to submit enough signatures to force recall elections.

“This is a shameless attempt by Republicans to overturn the will of the voters and to flip the majority in the state Senate,” Holder said. “We can’t allow that to happen, which is why I’m proud to support local efforts to block this recall attempt. We’ll do all we can to make sure that does not happen.”

Nationally, states vary in their processes for drawing new district maps every 10 years. Redistricting commissions intended to be fair have been challenged in court, as have maps drawn by Legislatures controlled by a single party.

Holder, who served as attorney general under President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2015, on Saturday described a Michigan House seat that was drawn in the shape of a snake to encompass as many minority voters as possible. He pointed to a House seat in Ohio that is only contiguous at low tide, and a House seat in Virginia connected solely by a boat ride on the James River.

“Republican-drawn maps are impressive in their geographic creativity, but they’re destructive to the representative democracy that our founders envisioned,” he said.

Holder said that in 2012, Democrats won 1.5 million more votes than Republicans in House races, yet the GOP gained a 234-201 advantage. In 2016, the GOP again tallied fewer House votes than Democrats but gained a 234-201 seat advantage. Holder said results are similar among state legislatures.

“Since 2011, some Republicans’ sole goal in redistricting has been to provide themselves the best possible partisan advantage,” Holder said. “Results of their efforts have been immediate and they are enduring.”

A May 2017 report from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law found consistent bias favoring Republicans in congressional maps, with one party controlling the redistricting process in seven highly biased states.

Holder cited that report as well as a Princeton report that said, “Thanks to technology and political polarization, the effects of partisan gerrymandering since 2012 have been more pronounced than at any point in the previous 50 years.”

“Following the census and elections in 2010, Republican legislators and governors expanded the practice of gerrymandering in an unprecedented way,” Holder said.

Holder said the NDRC is supporting litigation in Virginia, Georgia and Texas arguing that the maps were unlawfully drawn, and taking other steps to reverse gerrymandering. Holder called on those at the DNC meeting to support these efforts.

“In the states where gerrymandering is the worst, Republicans are more concerned about a primary challenge than a Democratic opponent in the general election,” he said. “This perverts the system so that politicians must cater to the extreme fringe of their party or, as we’ve seen recently, decide not to run at all, while compromise is to be avoided at all costs.”

There will be 36 gubernatorial races and 322 state senate races where candidates can win four-year terms, putting them at the table when redistricting comes around again in 2021.

“This fight is about more than partisan politics,” Holder said. “This fight is about fundamentally saving our democracy.”

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