The Read On Redistricting | Crooked Media
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November 12, 2021
What A Day
The Read On Redistricting

In This Episode

  • The 2020 Census data and the redistricting that comes after will have big implications for who gets represented and who gets to stay in power for the next decade. The debate over redrawing maps is currently being worked out in key states such as Florida, South Carolina, and Maryland. Michael Li, senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, joins us.
  • And in headlines: nearly one million 5- to 11-year-olds have received COVID vaccines in the last week, Belarus’ autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko threatened to cut off gas supplies to Europe, and a federal appeals court granted former President Trump a temporary victory yesterday.


Show Notes






Gideon Resnick: It’s Friday, November 12th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, where we’re currently calling ourselves What A Day: Taylor’s version.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, she has a lot of new releases today. Red, WAD, maybe blue if we’re lucky and we wait around long enough. Who knows?


Priyanka Aribindi: Who knows?


Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, the crisis intensifies at the border of Belarus and Poland. Plus YouTube will no longer show how many people dislike videos.


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, exactly three months ago, the U.S. Census released its latest data from its 2020 count. With those numbers a lot happened and will continue to happen, including political maps being redrawn throughout the country based on who lives where. And redistricting has big implications for who gets represented and who gets to stay in power for years to come.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, it does. In North Carolina, for example, the GOP-controlled legislature recently finalized maps for the state. So even though it is a battleground that Trump won by a single point in 2020, Republicans creatively moved around some district lines, and so they stand to gain at least two seats in the U.S. House in next year’s elections. It is a truly wild situation, but not uncommon.


Priyanka Aribindi: Truly.


Gideon Resnick: And maps are being debated currently in other key states like Florida, South Carolina and Maryland, just to name a few.


Priyanka Aribindi: Today, we’re going to get an overview of the process and where it stands in a few places, because the decisions that are made soon will be in place for the next decade. With us today is Michael Li, the senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. Michael, welcome to What A Day.


Michael Li: Thanks for having me.


Priyanka Aribindi: Thanks for being here. So let’s start with the basics before we get into all the nitty gritty with what’s going on state by state. We’ve talked about redistricting on the show before, but can you give us all a quick overview about how it works and what all is at stake?


Michael Li: Redistricting is one of those things that people think about a lot when it’s happening, but then don’t think about for ten years and by the time it rolls around people have forgotten all the details, but redistricting is the process of redrawing maps at all levels of government from City Council all the way up to the U.S. House every 10 years. And the primary purpose for doing that is to make sure that districts are equally populated. That’s a requirement of the Constitution. But states and local governments also make sure that they’re complying with voting rights laws and are creating enough opportunities for communities of color to elect. At least, that’s what’s supposed to happen. But a lot of times it doesn’t work out quite that way and instead, people put their thumb on the scale and manipulate maps for either discriminatory or partisan purposes, and that’s called gerrymandering.


Gideon Resnick: Right. And 2020 was a census year. Where are we now in the whole redistricting process, are states moving at different speeds? How is the process different state by state?


Michael Li: So right now, we’re really right in the middle of redistricting, about 18 or so states have completed redistricting, but there’s a bunch more to go. But what will come will come really fast. So by early January or the end of January, certainly, the latest both states will be done with redistricting. So the next few weeks are really critical ones.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So there are a couple of states that you have zeroed in on that you think, you know, should be on all of our radars. The first one is Texas. So can you tell us a little bit more about how that state’s population has grown? And you know what that could mean for local elections that are coming up?


Michael Li: Sure. So, Texas last decade, like the decade before, was the fastest growing state in the country at about four million people, 95% of them were people of color and about half of them were Latino. And yet, when it came time to draw maps, it didn’t create any new electoral opportunities for communities of color. And instead, in many cases, it actually went backwards. It did really strange things like put suburban Latinos around Dallas County in a rural, mostly white district. I mean, they really made a lot of bizarre choices in order to shore up Republican incumbents, but they did it really at the expense of communities of color.


Priyanka Aribindi: Hmm. Is that kind of like the conclusion from the whole congressional map? Where are people falling in terms of how fair they think it is?


Michael Li: Well, I think it varies. You know, like in states where partisan lawmakers draw maps, I mean, I think there are a lot of problems and that is the case, certainly for Republicans, but also Democrats, right? The map in Illinois that Democrats passed, some Black groups are suing, saying that Black voters were divided up to shore up Democratic incumbents in this case, but because Republicans control the pen in more states there is certainly more gerrymandering going on by Republicans, particularly in the South. Like the way that you gerrymander is that you inevitably have to target communities of color because of residential segregation. It’s much easier to break apart or pack together communities of color in order to move the partisan dial up or down. And that’s exactly what happened in Texas and what you’re going to see happen in other states, especially in the South.


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow. I didn’t think about it that way.


Gideon Resnick: And you’re kind of talking about this a little bit states in the South. Another one that you’re watching is Georgia, the demographics and politics there are kind of shifting in ways that are similar to Texas. So what are you watching for in Georgia specifically?


Michael Li: Yeah. So Georgia is another state that saw really rapid growth. And in Georgia’s case, 100% of the population growth last decade came from people of color. The white population of Georgia actually fell. So like Gwinnett County, where Newt Gingrich was from in 1990, was 90% white. Today, it’s only about 35% white. And you’ve seen multiracial coalitions have really effective success in places like Gwinnet county. Gwinnett County elected a Black sheriff in 2020, it elected the first Chinese-American woman to the state Senate in 2020, it’s elected openly gay Korean man to the State House, a Latina to the State House—and so you’re seeing multiracial coalitions really come together and have a lot of electoral success. But in redistricting, there’s a real danger of that a lot of that will be kneecapped.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. And with Georgia, at this point, the maps have been drawn, but there might be more wiggle room for regular voters and activists to have a say in the process. So how do the maps look at this point and where actually in the process are they at the moment?


Michael Li: You know, Georgia is in a special session, but the map should be done by the end of Thanksgiving. So there isn’t necessarily a lot more time. And you know, the challenge is that, you know, whatever lawmakers draw maps, they really do try to cut the public out, right? Like in Texas, they didn’t go around the state to hold hearings because it said there was COVID, right? They couldn’t go around the state and hold hearings and engage the public. They also got the data late, so they said, gosh, we have to rush, right? So they’re using every excuse they can to cut the public out. But that doesn’t mean the public can’t participate. It doesn’t mean you can’t submit testimony or, you know, register your complaints or even put alternative maps out there. There’s a lot more map-drawing software than there ever was before. Sometimes it’s hard to draw your own map, but it’s easy to point out the mistakes in their map and say like this makes no sense what you did here. And just getting that out there, I think, you know particularly like telling the story of the impact of on communities of color, right? Because there’s the tendency to think about this as a battle between D’s and R’s. And really, at the end of the day, it’s talking about like these groups that are providing all of Georgia’s growth, 95% of Texas’s growth really being shut out and locked out of power for the whole of a decade. And that’s the thing about redistricting is that, you know, once the maps are drawn, it will largely lock in power for most of the decade. Maybe all of it.


Priyanka Aribindi: Right. So we’ve talked a little bit about Georgia and Texas, but what are some models of what a good map redrawing process looks like? Or are there any, like, you know, states out there that are doing it in a way where maybe we are not as concerned that people aren’t being heard and kind of like packed or cracked in crazy ways?


Michael Li: I’ll start by saying that the biggest thing that a state can do, or reformers can do, to have better maps is simply to break up the one-party monopoly. Because when one party controls all the marbles, that’s when you have problems. Whether it’s Democrats controlling all the marbles or it’s Republicans controlling all the marbles. You could do things like what California and Michigan and Colorado and Arizona have done and create independent commission that have strong conflict of interest rules, that have strong map-drawing rules, that require really high levels of transparency. What we’ve seen from the commission states, is that the maps that they draw both last decade of this decade are much fairer. People will always quibble about any map, right? No map is going to satisfy 100 percent of people. But they’re at least in the range of reasonableness and people can kind of see how you got there, right? And in states like Texas and Georgia, the whole process is behind closed doors.


Gideon Resnick: So let’s say you are in one of those states, Texas or Georgia or any of those others where the process is not transparent to you or being controlled in this sort of partisan manner, how do you get to a point at which the redistricting process is better?


Michael Li: Yeah, the reality is that states that have reformed the process have tended to be states where you can go to the ballot directly. You can bypass legislatures because not surprisingly, lawmakers have a self-vested interest in not turning over their own district boundaries. But you know, it’s hard because in states like Texas and Georgia, really east of the Mississippi, you don’t really have ballot initiatives and so that makes things really challenging. You do have to go through the legislature. And so it is kind of a long slog campaign in some ways for that. There are places like Austin, Texas created an independent commission for its city council districts. And, you know, I think you can start to sort of build momentum and say, gosh, these things work, and they’re actually not that scary by starting at the local level. That’s one option. Also speaking truth to power, like bearing witness to how bad these maps are, creating sort of public anger about this process. Because really, the reason we saw so much reform last decade, you know, in states across the country was because of how bad the maps were. And so that’s why you saw commissions adopted in states like Michigan. And so, you know, if there’s another bad round of gerrymandering, I think you’ll see it reform in other states where you can. But of course, again, that’s not possible in states like Texas or Georgia, where you have to try something else. The other thing that could happen, Congress has the power to, for example, mandate that states use independent commissions, at least for congressional redistricting. And that’s something they’ve talked about, but they haven’t done yet. But that’s something, you know, that’s another avenue that, you know, if you had the right reform-minded Congress could use its powers to create a better redistricting process.


Gideon Resnick: Well, let’s hope that one or both can happen, maybe simultaneously. Michael Li, thank you so much again for taking the time today and joining us. Michael Li is a senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. Thank you so much again.


Michael Li: Yeah, thanks for having me.


Gideon Resnick: We’re going to link to more resources in our show notes where you can learn a little bit more about the Brennan Center’s work and where things stand with redistricting around the country at the moment, but that is the latest for now. It’s Friday, WAD squad, and today we are doing a segment called The Solution, where we propose a fix to a news story that has created chaos in our world. And guiding us through it, as always, is our head writer Jon Millstein. Hello.


Jon Millstein: Thank you guys for having me again. This is very important.


Priyanka Aribindi: Pleasure is truly all ours.


Gideon Resnick: Yes.


Priyanka Aribindi: You have one more reason to share your trove of homemade ASMR videos with the world because YouTube is officially removing the public dislikes counter from their site. The move is aimed at promoting a more positive, respectful and inclusive culture. Interesting. YouTube experimented with hiding the counter back in March and found that doing so made it less likely for users or groups of users to use the dislike button to orchestrate attacks on creators. The dislike counter started getting phased out on Wednesday, but uploaders can still see the number, so don’t worry about anyone’s ego growing out of control or growing at all. With this move, YouTube has definitely taken a step towards creating a more positive space online. But there is still room for improvement. So for the future of a dislike counter for YouTube, here is Jon with the highly anticipated solution.


Jon Millstein: If YouTube wants to promote a culture of respect, positivity and love, they need to go beyond getting rid of dislike counters and limit user feedback to only one type of interaction: comments from senior citizens on concert videos from the 1970s and 80s. Where YouTube comments are commonly used to attack creators, comments by senior citizens on concert footage can only attack our hearts, and a part of our eyes that make tears, by putting us face-to-face with the bittersweet and fleeting beauty of life. This real comment on a Bruce Springsteen concert from 1980 is just one example. Quote, “I was there. One of the greatest nights of my life despite the miserable weather and the loss of a Beatle the night before. I was with a woman who I’ve never stopped loving, even though she left me a year or so later.”


Priyanka Aribindi: Excuse me?


Jon Millstein: True, getting rid of other types of comments could have a devastating impact on businesses that make money off YouTube engagement, such as the one called Crooked Media. But for every dead startup and media company, we’ll have 1,000 extremely heavy paragraphs that remind us to cherish our time on Earth, like this one from Simon and Garfunkel’s concert in Central Park: quote, “I remember as a young 19-year old in 1967 on my way to Vietnam in a U.S. Navy ship singing this new song and already wishing I was homeward bound. Here I am, aged 75 and how this song brings back memories. Where did the last 55 years go to? One moment I’m a kid, and the next moment I’m an elderly man.”


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh my god. What!?


Gideon Resnick: That is the truth. Wow.


Jon Millstein: There is a chance that “older person live music comment tube” is so unpopular that it kills YouTube entirely, and if that happens, preserving these comments will be a matter of life and death. I’ll be in charge of archiving this one from a Fleetwood Mac concert in 1983: quote, “Why am I watching this on my iPad at six a.m. at 77 years old on December 15, 2020?”


Priyanka Aribindi: Wow, those are beautiful. Those are so unexpected. I really like that. Now I want to go look at some old concert footage.


Jon Millstein: It’s really, the first ten minutes of Up have absolutely nothing on any comment that’s left on an old concert video.


Gideon Resnick: The reason I’m not speaking right now is I am managing my waterworks at the moment. Like I am crying at all of these beautiful comments.


Priyanka Aribindi: I can imagine it happening on the iPad, early in the morning, just reminiscing.


Jon Millstein: Yeah, I want to be 77 as soon as possible, but I also want to have a good time at my current age so that I can be stoked at 77.


Gideon Resnick: Looking at Charli XCX video on iPad when I was 77, thinking about the good days.


Jon Millstein: Oh my God.


Right, I met the love of my life at one hundred Gecs and she left me one year later.


Priyanka Aribindi: That was The Solution. We will be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Nearly one million young kids have received COVID vaccines since the CDC approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s shot for 5 to 11 year olds last week. That is according to an estimate that the White House made on Wednesday. Jeff Zients, President Biden’s top coronavirus adviser, noted an additional 700,000 pediatric vaccination appointments have been scheduled across the country. Staying on this topic, a federal judge overruled the Texas governor’s ban on mask mandates in schools on Wednesday. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed an executive order back in July, banning mask rules throughout the state of Texas. He argued that protection against the virus should be a personal decision and COVID mandates infringe on people’s freedom. The man is pro-choice, except in one extremely important circumstance. The judge said that the executive order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act because the spread of COVID-19 poses higher risks for kids with special health needs, and the ban could prevent them from going to school.


Priyanka Aribindi: Fact. One million kids got their shot. That is, one million kids who are seeing Santa this year. Everyone else, get in line. You want Santa, you know what you’ve got to do.


Gideon Resnick: You got to get a shot to prove that he’s real. Those are the rules.


Priyanka Aribindi: Those are the rules. Some updates on the crisis at the Poland-Belarus border: on Thursday, Belarus’s autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko threatened to cut off gas supplies to Europe as EU officials are reportedly planning to issue new sanctions against him as soon as the beginning of next week. As we mentioned earlier this week, Lukashenko is accused of directing migrants to the Poland-Belarus border as retaliation for sanctions that were imposed on him by the EU. In recent days, a large group of migrants have attempted to try and cross at the border between Belarus and Poland, only to be left stranded in freezing conditions. At least eight people have reportedly died, and on Thursday, Polish news media reported that a 14-year old boy had frozen to death. Both countries have barred journalists from entering the area and have blamed each other for the crisis. One man who spoke to The New York Times has been stuck on the Belarusian side of the border with his wife and baby daughter for more than a week. He is from Iraq’s Kurdistan region and said “We became like a chicken in a cage in the hands of the Belarussian and Polish police.” We will continue to keep you updated as the story develops.


Gideon Resnick: A federal appeals court handed former President Trump a victory yesterday. The court agreed to temporarily halt delivery of presidential records to the House Committee that is investigating the Jan. six insurrection. The Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit said it is giving its judges more time to review the case. The National Archives was supposed to deliver its first set of documents related to the Capitol attack today at 6 pm D.C. time, but Trump is arguing that he can withhold the documents based on executive privilege. Meanwhile, Trump is appealing a lower court decision made earlier this week that said a former president does not have the power to keep secret records that the current president wants released. So here is what is coming next. The appeals court will hold oral arguments on November 30th, and the case could eventually be appealed further to the extremely right-leaning U.S. Supreme Court, full of great decision making.


Priyanka Aribindi: Listen, we all saw what happened on January 6th. I do not understand why anybody needs any more time. It’s been 11 months and it’s all there. We’ve known, we’ve known for all this time. The startup that allowed many of us to see a thousand movies that were certified rotten for just $10 a month, MoviePass might be coming back. Our lucky day. The company’s co-founder, Stacy Spikes, told Insider that she bought the theater-ticketing company out of bankruptcy. She said quote, “We believe if done properly, theatrical subscription can play an instrumental role in lifting movie-going attendance to new heights.” Spikes would know what it looks like when this is not done properly. Towards the end of MoviePass’s run when the company was facing massive losses, it used truly dastardly tactics to stay in business, including resetting users passwords to make it harder to use the app and re-enrolling former customers without their knowledge. No word on the timeline for the MoviePass resurrection. Hopefully, it comes at a time when all of us are on a very long vacation.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, but all the movies are Clifford, The Big Red Dog. That is, the only one you’re allowed to see with the new MoviePass.


Priyanka Aribindi: That movie looks horrifying.


Gideon Resnick: It does. That dog is out for blood to cover his coat, which is already covered in blood. And those are the headlines. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, teach a new grift to MoviePass, and tell your friends to listen.


Priyanka Aribindi: If you’re into reading, and not just YouTube comments that are more beautiful than any painting like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And thanks for listening to WAD: Taylor’s version.


Priyanka Aribindi: I cannot wait to listen. Not to this. I mean, obviously we’ve listened to this, but to Taylor’s version of Red.


Gideon Resnick: I mean, we knew it all too well. You know? That’s what they would say.


Priyanka Aribindi: Whoa. Gideon is about to get a lot of credit on the internet for doing that.


Gideon Resnick: I hope so. I hope so. What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine as our associate producer, our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.