Obama urges voters to focus on down-ballot races to combat gerrymandering
Former President Barack Obama urged voters to focus on down-ballot races in new remarks published Thursday, arguing that while the presidential race gets the most attention, it is down-ballot races that could have the greatest impact on politically-motivated gerrymandering.Posted — Updated
The video represents the latest attempt by top Democrats to focus attention on down-ballot races, like those for state legislatures across the country. The party hopes that they can take control of a handful of state legislatures in November, wins that could be key because the state bodies elected in 2020 will play major roles in redrawing the congressional and legislative maps in 2021.
"You've heard a lot about the presidential race, maybe too much," Obama says, "but there is a lot more that will be on the ballot this fall."
Obama adds: "In this election, the state leaders we elect will help redraw electoral districts all across the country."
Obama is not new to the fight over redistricting and has focused a portion of his post-presidency work on the issue, including by folding his Organizing for Action group into the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group run by his former attorney general, Eric Holder, that looks to link Democratic issues with the need to take on gerrymandering.
"President Obama has said this is an all hands on deck moment, and one of the main drivers is redistricting that will happen based on November's results," Eric Schultz, an Obama adviser, said. "Now more than ever, we need to elect Democrats up and down the ballot. The Presidential campaign generally gets most of the attention, but President Obama believes these other races are mission-critical."
The former president says in the video that he doesn't think people "completely appreciate how much gerrymandering affects the outcome" of elections. The video then notes how Republicans swept into control in key states during the 2010 elections, allowing them to redraw maps in places like Georgia, Louisiana, Texas and Ohio.
Obama argues that many priorities of his presidency, including immigration reform and gun control measures, were thwarted, in part, because of gerrymandered districts electing Republicans to Congress.
"Those maps will stand for 10 years, that could mean a decade of fairly drawn districts where folks have an equal voice in their government, or it could mean a decade of unfair partisan gerrymandering," Obama says in the video.
The video was made with NowThis News, a progressive mobile news outlet.
Democrats, emboldened by considerable excitement among their party's key voters, hope they can flip at least one legislative body in Texas, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arizona and Minnesota. And the party hopes it can make substantial inroads in states like Ohio, Wisconsin, Kansas, Georgia and Florida.
Groups like the National Democratic Redistricting Committee and Forward Majority, a super PAC that aims to pour millions into key state legislative races, have been leading the fight to focus Democratic attention to these races.
Forward Majority announced earlier this month that they would direct $15 million into state legislative races in Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Arizona, so-called Sun Belt states where Democrats believe President Donald Trump could lead voters to reject Republicans in November.
"Without having a seat at the table next year, we will likely see an unprecedented level of gerrymandering," said Forward Majority co-founder Vicky Hausman, who argued that these four states "represent the most powerful points of leverage in our democracy."
The is partly a newfound focus for Democrats on down-ballot races like state legislatures. Republicans spent millions to control the legislative bodies over the last decades, leading Democrats to lose control of several state legislatures during Obama's presidency.
But Democratic groups have been making the case, like Obama does in the video, that these local officials wield notable power on everything from how a state responds to something like the coronavirus pandemic to how they deal with issues of police brutality.
"This year, educate yourself on the candidates at every level on your ballot," Obama says. "They can make a profound impact on your community and our country."
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