WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 06: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testifies before the Senate Appropriations Committee June 6, 2013 in Washington, DC. Holder testified on the Justice Department's 2014 budget, and also faced questions on recent reports of surveillance of phone calls by news reporters. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Former Attorney General Eric Holder has a lot to say about the 2018 midterm elections and the political climate that has been fostered by the GOP and the Trump Administration.

Holder is the chair of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC) which serves as a strategic hub for developing a comprehensive redistricting strategy. The group believes the only way to truly restore fairness to politics is to combat the unscrupulous Republican gerrymandering that, in the group’s words, is ‘plaguing our country.’

How has the GOP used gerrymandering against African Americans?

It’s no secret that states that are the most gerrymandered also have the most restrictive voter I.D laws; laws which consistently (and disproportionately) affect African-Americans and other minorities.

“During the redistricting process that happened in 2011, republicans used new technology to take gerrymandering to unprecedented levels,” Holder said at event in Washington, D.C. “By creating safe districts – they locked themselves into power and they shut out voters from the electoral process. In particular they used racial gerrymandering to pack minorities into districts in ways that diminished their voting power.

What they did – I think – is inconsistent with our founding documents, inconsistent with the voting rights act and inconsistent with who we say we are as a nation. It’s not a coincidence that after they gerrymandered states like Texas, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin to lock in their power in the state legislature, they systematically passed voter I.D laws.

The North Carolina legislature passed a law which one federal judge said targeted African-Americans, ‘with surgical precision.’

You have to understand, for a judge to use that kind of language is an indication of how strongly that judge felt. Federal judges are very careful with the language that they use. To say ‘with surgical precision’ is a testament to how bad the situation was – and is – in North Carolina. Republicans have systematically attacked American’s right to vote and voting power. ”

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What makes the 2018 election cycle such a turning point?

“Because the new maps are drawn following the census every 10 years, the officials who are elected to four-year terms this year are gonna be the people who are sitting at the table when the redistricting is done in 2021. This makes the elections in 2018 really a crucial step for people to begin taking power back from politicians and create voting districts that are fair and that represent the will of the voters.

We’ve identified 12 key states that represent our best opportunities to unrig the republican gerrymandering in this country and bring about fairer maps. We have an additional 8 states on our watch list.

The president, (when he ran), talked about a rigged electoral system, well THIS is the rigged system. The rigged system is what the republicans did after the 2010 census and after the 2011 redistricting efforts. They rigged the system so they could end up with representation that is not consistent with the support they have among the American people.”

The key state elections that the NDRC is focused on this year are: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

The additional states on their watch list are: Arizona, Maine, Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah

What role will Barack Obama play in the 2018 elections?

“I’ll be focused on making sure that African Americans understand the long term ramifications of these elections so that they’re organized and energized about getting to the voting booth.

Last week I sat down with [former] President Obama to brief him on our plans and strategy. I expect that later this year when he’s campaigning he’ll be focused on races that will matter for redistricting as well. And I suspect you’ll see him involved and campaigning in places you wouldn’t expect a former president to be. There are strong indications that this is gonna be a good year for democrats as we saw in Virginia this past fall. It was a good election but we also saw that democrats were at a structural disadvantage. Democrats won by ten percentage points and yet in the state assembly democrats were unable to retake the assembly. And that shows the power of gerrymandering; when you have a ten point wave but that’s still not sufficient to give you control of one of the state houses.”

Will there be any special attention given to black female voters?

“I don’t think there’s any question that there has to be particular attention given to the people who constitute the core base of the democratic party; women, people of color, young people.

So yeah, there’s gonna be particular focus on women. We can’t become complacent. We’re not gonna get the results we want in November simply by riding the wave. We gotta work between now and then. And that means targeting groups of people who have indicated an interest. We’ve seen record numbers of women running to the polls, especially women of color. So that’s one of the places where we’re going to be putting particular emphasis.”

Why should the average person care about gerrymandering?

“Gerrymandering affects your life. Redistricting has a direct impact on your life. It has an impact on the way in which you interact with government. And the NDRC is working to unrig a system that has been unfairly rigged against people. We’re using a variety of methods to do that.

Which include:

  1. Supporting democratic candidates
  2. Supporting ballot initiatives
  3. Filing lawsuits against those who abuse the system
  4. Creating an infrastructure
  5. Advocacy

People need to be involved in the process, maybe even run for office. But at a base level everybody has the ability to be participants in this fight by voting. You gotta vote! Too many people gave too much, to give us the ability to cast a ballot. People literally gave their lives so that we would have a right to vote. And if you don’t vote you are disrespecting those people and you’re not paying the debt that we owe them.”

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