Former Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) participated in a how-to-gerrymander training for right-wing lawmakers in August.
For years, corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been the place where right-wing state lawmakers and corporate lobbyists go to conspire in secret. But thanks to Slate, the leaked audio from a recent session on how to get away with gerrymandering has been made public.
The presentation was moderated by voter suppression advocate Cleta Mitchell and featured voter fraud conspiracy theorist Hans von Spakovsky, unsuccessful Trump judicial nominee and alleged white supremacist Thomas Farr, former Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA), and Texas state Rep. Phil King (R). Their focus was on teaching the 1,413 attendees that gerrymandering is a "political adult blood sport" and that those doing it should pretend to be transparent but destroy the real evidence of how they devise maps.
Mitchell warned that since Republican lawmakers devising maps to overrepresent their share of the population were likely to be sued, they should not keep anything incriminating.
"My advice to you is: If you don’t want it turned over in discovery, you probably ought to get rid of it before you go home," Mitchell said.
But perhaps most shocking were the comments from Westmoreland, who represented Georgia in Congress from 2005 to 2017. Before that, he served as Republican leader in the Georgia House of Representatives, where he opposed gerrymandering by the Democratic majority in 2001.
When Westmoreland went to the House of Representatives in 2005, he pushed Georgia Republicans — who has regained control of the state legislature in the 2004 election — to ram through a controversial mid-decade redistricting plan.
Westmoreland bragged that he expressly tricked Democratic lawmakers in the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus into undermining their own interests.
In 2010, he recalled, he co-chaired a GOP gerrymandering effort called called "REDMAP" and relied on a map-making computer system. He invited black Democrats in Georgia to try the software to devise "perfect districts" that packed in the most minority voters possible and left neighboring districts more Republican. Then he would use these racially packed districts in the redistricting.
According to the Slate article:
Westmoreland recalled inviting the members of the "black caucus" to his office, "off campus," to create their "perfect map." One incumbent, he said, "finally fell into the trap and came over there and drew his perfect district." To show the redistricting plan benefited black Democrats too, he "immediately got the local paper down there" to run an article on that lawmaker’s perfect district. Westmoreland then included a district as close as possible to that overwhelmingly black and Democratic one in the state’s official map. The legislator, he said, voted against the map and soon lost his seat.
"I promise you it’ll be beneficial to you," he told the ALEC attendees. "They still want to be reelected. They still want to have the best district they can have."
Dan Vicuña, Common Cause's national redistricting manager, said Wednesday that this is "about as clear an example as you can have" of illegal racial gerrymandering without having a court trial.
Noting that the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that race-based gerrymanders like the ones Westmoreland described are unconstitutional, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as well as Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, he observed that Westmoreland effectively admitted to illegal activity.
"You've got clear admission by a Republican leader of conspiring with sitting legislators to pack black voters into as few districts as possible to ensure white dominance of the rest of the state," he said. "If that's not illegal racial gerrymandering, I don't know what is."
The Center for Constitutional Rights, a progressive watchdog group, helped sound the alarm about two ALEC gerrymandering panels before they took place at the August conference.
In an interview on Wednesday, the group's advocacy program manager, Dominic Renfrey, said the leaked audio confirmed "the suspicions that activists have had for years that ALEC is a bootcamp for corporate executives and conservative lawmakers determined to rig the system in their favor."
He added that Westmoreland's admissions are "just as shocking as can be."
"ALEC has been the platform for the development and passage into law of many initiatives over the years that have directly attacked black and brown communities," Renfrey said, pointing to model legislation like so-called "Stand Your Ground" laws and voter ID requirements. "This initiative, with this recording, doesn't seem to be changing that trajectory for ALEC."
Vicuña noted that the leaked audio is "important evidence of a process gone terribly wrong."
"There is a public process for show," he added, "a dog-and-pony show where legislators with serious looks on their faces are accepting public testimony — and then they go back to smoke filled rooms ... and devise legislative districts to advantage themselves."
Patrick Rodenbush, communications director for the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, said in an email that the audio should be a "wake-up call."
"Republicans are plotting behind closed doors to ensure they can manipulate the redistricting process in 2021 to lock in power in state legislatures and congressional delegations across the country," he wrote. "If we don’t win back power at the state and local level over the next couple of years, the next Democratic president will have her (or his) agenda hobbled by a gerrymandered House of Representatives and conservative state legislatures around the country."
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.