The man who rigged America’s election maps

But in North Carolina, the election results
were really weird. These squares represent all the voters in
North Carolina. They were voting for these 13 seats in Congress. About half voted for Republicans. And about 48 percent voted for Democrats. So you might think, of the 13 Congressional
seats, maybe Democrats would’ve won 6 seats, and Republicans would’ve won 7. But no. Democrats only won 3 of 13 seats — way less
than half. This imbalance was because North Carolina’s
Congressional districts had been “gerrymandered.” It means that these voters had been grouped
into districts very strategically with the goal of benefiting one party. Gerrymandering has pretty much always happened
in America. That’s because, every 10 years the political districts
are redrawn. And in most cases, those new lines get drawn by whoever holds power in state governments at the time. That’s what happened in 2010. Republicans won control of lots of state governments,
and redrew the political lines to favor themselves. And over the next few years, redistricting
helped them hold onto almost all those states. This shifted the balance of power. And it turns out that behind a lot of this,
was one guy. This is Thomas Hofeller: The mapmaker who helped Republicans gerrymander
districts over the last decade. When Hofeller died in 2018, his daughter found
thousands of his emails and files, which she shared with activists. The files show that Tom Hoeffler’s fingerprints
are all over the way America’s political maps look today. But North Carolina was his masterpiece. And if you want to understand why gerrymandering
is a such a big problem in the US, that’s a good place to start. The basics of gerrymandering are actually
pretty simple. If you’re a Republican trying to keep power,
you want to do two things. First, “pack” as many Democratic voters as
possible into a single district. If you have a district where almost everyone
votes Democrat, that means almost half of those votes are basically wasted. You can also “crack” big Democratic areas
into separate districts — where there are slightly more Republicans. So even though an area has a lot of Democratic
votes, they would actually lose in this district and in this district. These are the two elements of classic gerrymandering:
Packing and cracking. And Hoffeler employed these techniques masterfully
in North Carolina. In 2011 he was hired to redraw the state’s
political lines. And for congressional districts, he came up
with this map. Now, I just want to focus in on District 12,
this weird skinny shape. In order to make sense of this shape, we have
to look at another map. This map shows the percentage of black people
in each neighborhood. The bluer areas are where more black people
live. Hofeller basically gathered up black people
in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and Charlotte — and packed them into one district. So that’s how District 12 happened. Hoeffler also did this with North Carolina’s
state representatives and state senators. For example here are the state senate districts. Here, he packed Winston-Salem into one district. And then packed Greensboro into its own district. These new districts helped Republicans get
a stranglehold on power in the North Carolina statehouse. And over the next few years, they were able to pass crucial legislation. A strict new voter ID law in North Carolina. Which bathrooms transgender individuals can use in North Carolina. In 2016 and 2017, federal courts ruled both
of these maps were unconstitutional. They said what North Carolina Republicans
did wasn’t just gerrymandering — it was racial gerrymandering, done to deliberately
dilute the political power of black people. The courts said that the Republicans in the
North Carolina statehouse now had to redraw the lines without looking at racial demographics. So they went back… to Tom Hofeller. This time, Hofeller couldn’t look at race. Instead, he looked at which areas voted for
Democrats and which areas voted for Republicans. Instead of a racial gerrymander, it would
be a partisan gerrymander. Here’s that map, using data from 2014. The bluer an area, the more Democratic voters
there are. Now, if you zoom in here, to Greensboro, you
can see one of the highest concentrations of Democratic voters in the state. Hoffeler drew a congressional district line
to crack this community in half. This meant Democrats here, were now the minority
in their district. And Democrats here were also the minority
in their district. Hoffeler employed these techniques all over
the state to create North Carolina’s new political districts. And the first big test for these new maps
would be the 2018 election. Democrats were expected to turn out in droves. Democrats are vying for a potential blue wave. The wave that Republicans fear is going to wipe them out. So, how did the maps do? For state representatives, Democrats got 51
percent of the vote. They won only 46 percent of seats. For state senate, they received half the vote
— and won just 42 percent of seats. And for Congress? You already know how that one turned out. Democrats won nearly half the votes — but
won only three out of 13 seats. A year later, in 2019, the Supreme Court weighed
in. They said it was beyond their reach… that
it wasn’t their job to fix it. All of this raised an existential question: If Republicans could continue drawing the
lines to stay in power, how could they ever be elected out of office? But the Supreme Court ruling left open the
possibility for state courts to rule on partisan gerrymandering. And in September 2019, that’s exactly what
North Carolina’s Supreme Court did. The court found that partisan gerrymandering
violated the state constitution. In the court’s decision, it was Hofeller’s
files that helped prove that North Carolina Republicans drew these lines with the clear
intention of benefiting themselves. Ultimately, the court said North Carolina
Republicans had to redraw the state house and state senate maps one more time. This new map approved by North Carolina legislators
is much less biased toward one party — even though it took some extreme measures, and
nearly a decade, to force politicians to draw a fairer map. In the last few years, the courts in several
states, like Florida and Pennsylvania, have made partisan gerrymandering much harder. And now that’s also the case in North Carolina. Hofeller is gone now. But in other states across the country, many
maps he helped draw are still in use. And while there’s now a clearer strategy to
challenge those maps in state courts… … many voters are still, effectively, not
choosing their representatives. It’s like Hoeffler said:, the representatives
are choosing the voters. “… of course, redistricting is democracy
at work. Redistricting is like an election in reverse. It’s a great event.”