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How Republicans Rig the Game

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Employing computer software known as Maptitude, Hofeller and his team used sophisticated data-mining techniques to draw new districts that maximally disadvantaged Democrats. Maptitude advertises the ability to merge precinct-level returns from past elections with federal census data to "identify communities of interest," including "racial or ethnic enclaves that tend to have similar interests and vote as a bloc." Explicit racial gerrymandering is illegal under the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act. So Hofeller used a proxy for race, redrawing boundaries by identifying the wards where President Obama received the highest returns in 2008. According to court documents, this approach "allowed black voters to be carved apart from their white neighbors and friends, on a block-by-block basis."

The Republicans' War on the Poor

Hofeller's final state map featured 10 districts gerrymandered to give Republicans a solid edge – between nine and 12 points – matched against just three districts in which Democrats would have a massive advantage of 17 to 23 points. On Election Day, Democrats outpolled the GOP by 81,000 votes, but Republicans took nine of the 13 seats. The RSLC's map was spoiled only by Rep. Mike McIntyre, a Democratic incumbent, who eked out a 654-vote victory in a district drawn to favor the Republican by 11 points. Following Gillespie's share-the-wealth strategy, only two Republicans won more than 60 percent of the vote. By contrast, three of the four Democrats won in landslides of greater than 70 percent. Mel Watt, a black congressman from the 12th district, won an eighth term with 80 percent of the vote. Even before the election, Watt decried his new district lines as part of a "sinister Republican effort to use African-Americans as pawns in their effort to gain partisan, political gains in Congress."

The triumphant GOP made no effort to conceal these machinations. "REDMAP's effect on the 2012 election is plain," reads a post-election RSLC report. "Pennsylvanians cast 83,000 more votes for Democratic U.S. House candidates . . . but elected a 13-5 Republican majority to represent them in Washington; Michiganders cast over 240,000 more votes for Democratic congressional candidates than Republicans, but still elected a 9-5 Republican delegation to Congress." In Wisconsin, where $1.1 million in RSLC cash helped flip both chambers of the state legislature, empowering union-busting governor Scott Walker, Republicans prevailed by a five-to-three margin in House seats despite losing the popular vote by more than 43,000. In Ohio, only 52 percent of voters cast ballots for Republicans, but thanks to maps drawn in a Columbus-area Doubletree Hotel, referred to by GOP operatives in court documents as "the bunker," John Boehner's home-state delegation swings 12-4 for the GOP.

Republican redistricting has made a mockery of the ideal of "one man, one vote." To take back the House next year, 100 Democratic voters would have to turn out for every 94 Republicans. "Given the GOP-tilted nature of the congressional map," writes David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, "Democrats would need to win the national popular vote by between six and seven points in order to win the barest possible House majority."

Through redistricting, Republicans have succeeded in making the House more like the Senate – which the founders established as an anti-majoritarian institution to safeguard the interests of small states. At the time of the constitutional convention in 1787, the most populous state, Virginia, counted nearly 10 times the free population of Delaware. Yet both would have the same number of senators. In the more than two centuries since, America has expanded, and its population became concentrated, in ways the founders could have scarcely imagined – rendering the original 10:1 standard quaint. Today, the population of California outpaces Wyoming's by a ratio of 65:1. This extreme example underscores a nationwide trend: Half of the U.S. population now resides in just nine states. Which is to say that the other 50 percent of Americans control 82 votes in the U.S. Senate.

This state of affairs would be shocking enough if the Senate were governed by majority rule. But since 2007, Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has subjected the daily business of the chamber to the filibuster, which means that legislation cannot advance and a presidential nominee can't be confirmed without a supermajority of 60 votes. Republicans have used this parliamentary roadblock to stop greenhouse-gas regulations, stall the DREAM Act and delay judicial confirmations.

The filibuster adds an undemocratic overlay to a chamber that is already rankly undemocratic. In today's Senate, 41 small-state Republicans can mount a filibuster on behalf of 28 percent of the country. And the departure from historical practice is shocking: LBJ faced one filibuster as Senate majority leader. Harry Reid, the current majority leader, has faced more than 430. Nearly half the filibusters of executive-branch nominations in the nation's history – 16 of 36 – have occurred under Obama.

The modern filibuster has only been in place since 1917, but McConnell defends the procedure as though it were central to the creation of the republic. "The founders purposefully crafted the Senate to be a deliberate, thoughtful body," McConnell said during a 2010 hearing. "A supermajority requirement," he said, "ensures that wise purpose." In reality, the founders railed against the dangers of supermajority rule. In 1787, Alexander Hamilton warned of the "tedious delays" and "contemptible compromises of the public good" that result when "a minority can control the opinion of the majority."

Republicans aren't finished in their campaign to rig the political system. The party has been seeking to carry over its built-in advantage in the House into a new edge in presidential elections. In a project with the explicit blessing of Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, a half-dozen Republican-dominated legislatures in states that swing blue in presidential elections have advanced proposals to abandon the winner-take-all standard in the Electoral College. These states would instead apportion electoral votes by the favored candidate of each congressional district – a method currently practiced by only two, small, homogenous states, Maine and Nebraska. Thanks to the GOP's gerrymandering, such a change would all but guarantee that a Democratic presidential candidate in a big, diverse state like Michigan would lose the split of electoral votes even if he or she won in a popular landslide.

Inside the Republican Suicide Machine

"You'd see a massive shift of electoral votes," a senior Republican official who backed the proposal told the National Journal, emphasizing that the change would be much less work than persuading a majority of voters to back the GOP candidate: "There's no kind of . . . outreach," the official said, "that can grab us those electoral votes that quickly." In September, a Republican lawmaker introduced a bill to implement the scheme in the biggest swing-state prize in the land, Florida. Had it been in place in each of the states that have introduced the plan – including Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – Mitt Romney would be president, despite receiving 5 million fewer votes than Obama.

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