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It’s the PowerPoint that redefined American politics – The Boston Globe

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Once politicians choose their own voters, they can build barriers that make it more difficult for the other side to vote.

Demonstrators outside of the Supreme Court in Washingston, D.C. during oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford called for an end to partisan gerrymandering on Oct. 3, 2017.Olivier Douliery

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Ten years ago, while Democrats were enjoying complete control of Washington and believed that changing American demographics would ensure large majorities for a generation, Ed Gillespie and his team at the Republican State Legislative Committee quietly hopscotched the nation and sold top conservative donors and lawmakers a different and audacious vision. Republicans would retake power in states and in Congress by weaponizing the oldest trick in the book: the gerrymander.

Gillespie outlined an elegant plan. Sure, 2008 had been a tough election for Republicans and historic for Democrats. But approached from the right angle — down-ballot, state legislative races — 2010 could prove far more consequential. After all, this wasn’t any old election. It was a census-year election. And following the census, state legislatures (in most states) redraw every state legislative and congressional district nationwide.

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There would be 6,000 state legislators elected in the fall. Republicans, he said, would target 107 key races across 16 battleground states — including Florida, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Texas, and Pennsylvania. Success would change the GOP’s prospects overnight — and last for another decade. The strategy’s name? The Redistricting Majority Project. REDMAP for short. It produced exactly that.

Gillespie’s private presentation, which I obtained exclusively while reporting a book on REDMAP, lays out the stakes. Win those seats, and the GOP could fully control the drawing of nine new congressional seats after the decennial reapportionment of the US House of Representatives. They could affect the new maps in five states that would lose seats. And they could strengthen Republican redistricting power in swing states, wiping expensive competitive districts off the board and handing Republicans the dominant position in state legislatures and congressional delegations.

REDMAP succeeded beyond the GOP’s wildest dreams. It proved a bargain — and a heist. Republicans spent $30 million that fall, submerging slackjawed Democratic incumbents in sleepy local races under a torrent of sophisticated negative ads and sweeping control of those state legislatures. The following year, they locked Democrats out of the room and remapped Wisconsin, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and more behind closed doors of secret “Bunkers” and “Map Rooms,” with the help of the most powerful computers, advanced mapping software, and precise data sets ever set loose on redistricting. And they haven’t lost power in any of these states yet.

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We live in the nation REDMAP created. More than 59 million Americans — nearly 1 in 5 of us — live in a state where Republicans won fewer statewide votes during the 2018 elections but nevertheless control one or both chambers of the state legislature. There are no people who live in a state where Republicans win more votes but Democrats maintain power. In Wisconsin, where voters in 2018 reelected a Democratic US senator, defeated incumbent governor Scott Walker, swept Democrats into every statewide office, and preferred Democratic state assembly candidates by a margin of 200,000 voters, Republican maps provided an overwhelming 63-36 GOP majority anyway.

Gerrymandered maps remake policy. Sometimes it’s the difference between life and death. In Michigan, a gerrymandered legislature reinstated a controversial municipal emergency manager law that voters overrode via initiative. In Flint, that led to the emergency manager switching the city’s water supply to the Flint River. In Florida, after 64 percent of voters embraced a constitutional amendment restoring voting rights to 1.4 former felons, a gerrymandered legislature attached a 21st-century poll tax that would allow only a fraction of that number to re-register. In Ohio, Alabama, and Georgia, gerrymandered legislatures approved “personhood” bans on abortion despite public opinion polls that showed majorities opposed to these tough new restrictions, even in these reliably red states.

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Gerrymandering makes elections less competitive and reincentivizes politicians to cater to extremes and act as an accelerant on polarization in divisiveness. In Wisconsin and North Carolina, half of all state legislative races lacked any major party challengers at all in 2016. In Georgia, that number was a staggering 80 percent. When general elections don’t matter, low turnout off-season primaries become all important, meaning politicians bend over backward to please their base — compromise and consensus-building become impossible.

Gerrymandering sends a new breed of politicians to Washington. In North Carolina, one of the congressional districts redrawn via REDMAP turned a consistent swing seat in the western part of the state into hard-core red territory. The moderate Democrat took one look at the new lines and retired. A local sandwich shop owner named Mark Meadows jumped into the race, ran on a “birther” platform of sending President Obama “back to Kenya or wherever it is he comes from,” and won the all-important primary. In Washington, Meadows helped overthrow then-Speaker John Boehner, orchestrated a government shutdown over Obamacare funding, and is now Donald Trump’s chief of staff. He’d still have the sandwich shop if not for gerrymandering.

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Gerrymandering remakes history. Americans reelected Barack Obama, gave Democrats control of the Senate in 2012, and cast 1.4 million more votes for Democratic US House candidates. Republicans kept control of the House anyway, 234-201, and Obama’s second term agenda was over the night of his reelection.

Finally, gerrymandered state legislatures target voting rights, often as task one. Once politicians choose their own voters, they can build barriers that make it more difficult for the other side to vote. Republican legislatures have enacted new voter ID bills, purged voting rolls, closed precincts, eliminated early voting, and made it more difficult for activists to conduct voter registration drives. In Wisconsin, a federal court found that a voter ID bill there had the potential to keep as many as 300,000 voters from casting a ballot in 2016. Donald Trump carried the state by less than 24,000 votes.

Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic that may make in-person voting this fall dangerous, some of those same gerrymandered legislatures have toughened eligibility for absentee ballots, added onerous witness requirements, tightened voter registration procedures, and stopped secretaries of state from covering postage costs or sending mail ballot applications to everyone.

It’s a census year once more. Democrats seem aware of the stakes this time. But Republicans retain the upper hand and have a sophisticated plan for REDMAP 2.0. Yes, the White House is on the ballot this fall. But so is the next decade of maps. The president elected this fall wins a term that runs through 2024. No one gets another crack at these maps until 2031.

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David Daley is the author of “Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count” and “Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy.

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Coronavirus: Ministers balance science and politics in latest rules – BBC News

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It’s not a day for optimists, even though the prime minister himself is one of that tribe.

Tomorrow, it will be six months exactly since he told the nation to stay at home.

This time, Boris Johnson stopped well short of slamming the country’s doors shut.

But what really stood out in his long statement in a miserable-looking Commons was his message that the limits put in place today will last another six months.

Even if you are very fond of your own company, lucky enough to have a secure job you enjoy and a comfy spare room where you can do it, it is quite something to contemplate.

The government now expects that all our lives will be subject to restrictions of one kind or another for a whole year – March 2020 to March 2021.

As each month ticks by, it becomes harder to imagine a return to anything like normal political life, or, more importantly, the way we all live.

We may not be waiting for a return to life as we knew it, but grinding through a moment of change.

‘Shelter the economy’

But if you were listening carefully, something else was different too.

The country became familiar with the slogan “Stay At Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” – it was emblazoned on government lecterns, repeated again and again by government ministers in interview after interview, on bus shelters, pop-up ads on the internet, wherever you looked.

That phrase was retired after the most intense period of the lockdown, but echoed today with one important additional condition.

Boris Johnson’s driver today was to “save lives, protect the NHS” and “shelter the economy”.

As we discussed here yesterday, concerns about the economy played more strongly in Downing Street after fierce resistance from backbenchers, and arguments from the next-door neighbour in No 11 of the economic risks of a short, sharp closure programme.

Fears about how the country makes a living have always been part of the decision-making process for the government, grappling with these acute dilemmas.

But the political appetite inside the Tory party for sweeping restrictions has certainly dimmed.

The changes announced today do make economic recovery harder, the “bounce back” the government dreamt of looks harder to achieve, but they are not as draconian as they may otherwise have been.

The choices made by Nicola Sturgeon to restrict social lives much further than in England, as in Northern Ireland, point to that difference.

Ministers used to make great play of following the science, now they are certainly following the politics too.

Only the unknowable progress of the disease will, in time, suggest which call was right.

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Covid: How the coronavirus pandemic is redefining Scottish politics – BBC News

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The pandemic has probably done more than anything to define Scottish devolution in 21 years of Holyrood decision making.

Before coronavirus, the Scottish Parliament’s policy choices – from free personal care for the elderly to minimum pricing of alcohol – made it distinctive.

Now, Scottish ministers are making life and death decisions affecting everybody almost every day.

The exercise of emergency powers to combat Covid-19 commands public attention like nothing before.

We’ve had six months of lockdown restrictions and after a recent period of relaxation, they are tightening again as coronavirus cases rise.

Paying attention is essential to knowing whether or not you can go to work, visit your granny or have friends round for dinner.

It is First Minister Nicola Sturgeon rather than the prime minister, Boris Johnson, who is deciding for Scotland because public health is devolved.

Many of her decisions so far have matched those by the UK government for England and the devolved administrations for Wales and Northern Ireland.

That was especially true in the early stages of the crisis when there was much talk of a four nations approach – but differences have emerged over time.

The Scottish government has generally been more cautious about lifting restrictions than the UK government.

Bars and restaurants stayed closed in Scotland for longer and it was slower to lift quarantine for people arriving from Spain, before this was reimposed across the UK.

By contrast, the Scottish government was the first in the UK to restore full-time classroom education in schools after the summer.

Scottish ministers did coordinate with the other administrations to introduce the “rule of six” for people attending social gatherings.

However, on closer inspection, the Scottish rule differs from that for England in two key respects.

It is more restrictive in limiting the six people to two different households and more flexible in exempting children under the age of 12.

This is devolved decision making in action as never before.

Some argue divergence across the UK is confusing and undesirable, but opinion polls consistently suggest the Scottish public trust Holyrood to set the pace.

After a period in which Conservatives argued that Scotland should leave lockdown in lockstep with the rest of the UK, a multi-speed approach became accepted.

The pandemic, however unwanted, has given Ms Sturgeon an opportunity to demonstrate leadership and the public seems to appreciate that too.

An Ipsos Mori survey for BBC Scotland in May suggested 82% of people thought Ms Sturgeon was handling the pandemic either very or fairly well.

By contrast, only 30% from the same sample of around 1,000 Scottish adults gave Boris Johnson similar credit.

More recent polling has produced similar indications even although coronavirus outcomes are not profoundly different between the UK nations.

The Office for National Statistics reported that England had the highest increase in excess deaths in Europe to the end of May. At that point, Scotland had the third highest behind Spain.

While politicians of all stripes have been working to suppress coronavirus, coronavirus has suppressed much of our everyday politics.

Previous Holyrood priorities like completing an expansion of free childcare, introducing new devolved benefits and reviewing the school curriculum have been deferred.

Major controversies such as the Scottish government’s mishandling of complaints about the behaviour of the former first minister, Alex Salmond, seem less potent.

Independence referendum

The Scottish government parked preparations for an independence referendum in 2020 to prioritise its response to the pandemic.

That has not meant opinion on the major constitutional question in Scottish politics has remained static.

As coronavirus has swept the country, a trend has emerged in opinion polls suggesting there is now majority support in Scotland for independence.

Some analysts suggest this could be directly linked to the focus on devolved leadership in the crisis.

The trend has worried Conservatives enough to change their Scottish party leader and some in Scottish Labour have unsuccessfully tried to change theirs.

Those who favour the union point out that Scotland has been supported by what they call the “broad shoulders” of the UK economy throughout the pandemic.

Lockdown is largely underwritten by the Treasury with huge funding for furlough and other schemes to support business.

Nationalists say this help would be replicated by Holyrood if it had the economic powers of independence.

Unionists question the scope for doing so in a country which, as a devolved part of the UK, had a notional deficit of £15bn before the pandemic took full effect.

Economics will always be important in the debate over independence as will the public’s sense of identity.

In the 2014 referendum, Scotland voted 55%-45% for continued union. If indyref2 was held tomorrow, the polls suggest the result would go the other way.

There is much that could sway opinion further – both for and against independence – in the coming months.

The economic crisis the pandemic brings, the impact of Brexit and the efforts of politicians to overcome the continuing health emergency could all have a bearing.

The public could weary of politicians telling them what they can and can’t do especially if their livelihoods are on the line.

Arguments over all this and more will find expression in the campaign for next May’s Holyrood elections.

Together with elections to the Welsh Assembly and local government in England, these will be the first major votes of the pandemic.

A pandemic that has already given new definition to devolved power and could be playing a role in shaping opinion on the future of the Union

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The two most divisive events in US politics are about to take place at the same time – CNN

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The US President now plans to make a third pick for the nine-person bench on the highest court in the land. He will almost certainly enshrine an unassailable 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court, which means that political change launched by any future Democratic presidents and Congress could be undone by the Court’s constitutional interpretations — no matter what the majority of the nation wants.
Appointed for a lifetime, justices can change over the years, sometimes in a way that surprises and annoys the presidents who nominated them. They are also supposed to respect precedent, so it’s impossible to say how the high court will behave on all issues.
But there is now a very real prospect that a woman’s right to an abortion, guaranteed by the 1973 case Roe v. Wade, could be overturned or limited. A conservative-dominated Supreme Court could also roll back future attempts to regulate gun laws, hinder attempts to regulate polluters in the fight against climate change, and embolden challenges to legislation on voting rights and outlawing racial discrimination. And fear is growing among supporters of same sex marriage, only legalized in 2015.
Former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law, which allowed millions to buy insurance plans, already looks to be in trouble. The court will hear the Trump administration’s attempt to kill it off after the election. Even if Trump’s latest pick is not yet in place and Chief Justice John Roberts votes to save the law for a third time, a potential 4-4 tie among justices would mean a lower court ruling invalidating it would stand.
Demographic trends in the United States look unappealing for Republicans; there is a strong argument that the country will become more secular, urban, socially liberally, and racially diverse in the next few decades. But a conservative Supreme Court could be a bulwark against political change — one reason why conservatives have spent several generations working toward building this majority and why Democrats will long curse their failure to beat Trump in the 2016 election that opened the way to this extraordinarily important moment.

‘What was then a hypothetical is now a reality’

Two Republican senators so far have said they would oppose taking up a Supreme Court nomination before Election Day — Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine. “For weeks, I have stated that I would not support taking up a potential Supreme Court vacancy this close to the election. Sadly, what was then a hypothetical is now our reality, but my position has not changed,” Murkowski said Sunday. “I did not support taking up a nomination eight months before the 2016 election to fill the vacancy created by the passing of Justice (Antonin) Scalia. We are now even closer to the 2020 election — less than two months out — and I believe the same standard must apply.”

Battles ahead

The two most divisive, tumultuous events in American politics — a Supreme Court nomination battle and a presidential election — are about to take place at the same time.
The President is expected to name his nominee to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg this week. He has promised to name a woman, and Republicans will rush to try to get her onto the bench either before November’s election or shortly afterwards.
Democrats are furious, rightly accusing Republicans of gross hypocrisy: In 2016, when conservative Justice Scalia died in February of that year —months before the election — Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell refused to even consider then-President Barack Obama’s nominee, saying voters should ultimately decide who should get to fill the vacant seat. Now, with a Republican in the White House and the election just 44 days away, McConnell is refusing to apply the same principle.
The Kentucky senator’s power play four years ago turned out to be one of the shrewdest and most ruthless moves in modern American politics, paving the way for the court’s conservative majority. There’s little Democrats can do to stop McConnell pressing ahead. Even if Joe Biden wins the election and Democrats win back the Senate in November, McConnell could still plow onward to confirm Trump’s pick in a lame duck session of Congress before new lawmakers arrive in January.
That prospect has some Democrats — who believe the chance of building a liberal majority on the nation’s top bench has been stolen from them, are thinking of nuclear options — like expanding the size of the court itself if they win back the Senate.
The sudden Supreme Court fight could also have unpredictable knock-on effects on the election itself. It will allow Trump to try to take the focus off the pandemic and to solidify his standing among evangelical and socially conservative voters who might frown at his morals — but for whom a conservative Supreme Court is a life and death voting issue. But reviving the fight over abortion in the nominating battle may alienate suburban women voters Trump needs to win a second term (they are already moving away from him) and vulnerable Republican senators might prefer not take a stand on an issue that could anger the moderates they need for survival. Meanwhile, the vacancy has already electrified the left and could drive more Biden voters to the polls.

‘Nobody’s buying this’

Sweeping UN sanctions have now been placed on Iran — according to the US and literally nobody else. As other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal point out, the Trump administration’s invocation this weekend of sanctions from the JCPOA holds little legal power, since the US quit that very same deal more than two years ago. “The whole world is saying that nothing special has happened. Mr. (US Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo’s fantasy, he is fantasizing this. He wants to make everyone believe this but nobody’s buying this,” said Iranian Foreign Minister spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh at a Sunday press briefing in Tehran. But the question is how far the US might go to enforce that “fantasy.”

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