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2020 Foresight: Dems Look to Build Farm Team For Congress

After a crushing loss in the presidential election last month, Democrats are gearing up for the future. They’re planning to focus on ‘down ballot’ races in order to have a better shot at winning the numbers game in state voting districts. They say Republicans have controlled the process for drawing those districts, known as Gerrymandering, for too long.         

In state elections, it’s all about the districts. 

It’s not the raw numbers that determine who wins a seat in a state legislature. It’s how the partisan vote comes in, in each congressional district. That’s why political parties strive to create districts that will deliver a majority of votes for their party, to swing the entire state their way.  

Jason Kelly is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech. He says, “That’s what we call Gerrymandering, pronounced with a hard 'G,' Or more commonly, Gerrymandering, pronounced with a soft ‘G’. It’s incredibly sophisticated now but the concept is no different than it was in 1803."

1803 was the year Massachusetts Governor Eldbrige Gerry, annoyed by several electoral losses, led a move to redraw congressional districts in his party’s favor. 

One in particular was so convoluted, critics said the region it described looked like a salamander. 

Gerry’s salamander district was soon transformed into the word 'Gerrymander,' somewhere along the line, the hard G was dropped but the process of creating artificial partisan bias in voting districts has endured.

"So Republicans have actually been great at this. They’ve had much more robust ‘farm teams’ and its produced huge dividends." 

Kelly says for decades, Republicans focused on down ballot races, grooming and nurturing local candidates and creating that farm team to ultimately fill state legislative seats.  And that is the key to the Gerrymandering castle, which opens its gates every ten years.

"So come 2020 when state legislatures and the governor are redrawing congressional districts they will have much more influence."

In 32 states, the majority party and the governor get to redraw those districts any way they like, and that’s why former U.S.  Attorney General, Eric Holder is leading a new organization called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee.

Related: Supreme Court Set to Hear Virginia Gerrymandering Case

The goal: to develop a farm team of their own in order to win seats in congress. Kelly suggests the recent presidential election may have helped set them up to achieve their goal.

"If there’s a silver lining for Democrats in the 2016 election, and admittedly it’s a very thin one, it’s that they’re actually in a much better position for 2020.  We know that the party who controls the White House almost always loses seats in the midterm election and those losses extend to governors’ mansions and state legislatures.  So by losing 2016 – and I don’t think this was part of the plan, Democrats are likely to pick up seats in 2018."

If that happens, Democrats could win control over the arcane art of redrawing congressional districts.

But there’s something else to consider in this scenario: It’s not only Gerrymandering that can slants districts, it’s also something much more human and mundane.

Kelly points out, people choose where they want to live based on several factors.  And the way people want to live coordinates quite highly with political affiliation. He recently completed a study proving that most Republicans tend to live near other republicans, and the same goes for Democrats.

You can do all the Gerrymandering you want, but when it comes to choosing what city or town to live in, Americans can vote for that with their feet.

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