Arnold Schwarzenegger is back — and he’s launching a big fight against what he calls an unfair political process.
The former California governor has kick-started a new, crowdsourced campaign on the political fundraising site CrowdPac to support nationwide redistricting reform. Specifically, Schwarzenegger wants to go after the practice known as gerrymandering — a topic he’s addressed with ATTN: before in February.
Simply put, gerrymandering happens when lawmakers redraw the boundaries of their voting districts for their own political gain, or to otherwise keep their party in power. In other words, they can effectively choose who can vote in their elections — and who can't.
Schwarzenegger explains that gerrymandering has “broken our political system.”
He says that’s part of the reason we're experiencing such a deep partisan divide. “Our politicians have literally divided us,” he said in a Facebook post to announce the campaign, “drawing map lines so that they can pick the voters they want to represent, instead of letting the voters pick them.”
In many states across the country, voting maps are regularly redrawn by elected representatives — and typically by whichever party is in the majority. But studies have shown that the practice has dramatically skewed election results in recent years, and it's gotten more sophisticated, thanks to more advanced polling and mapping techniques. Author David Daley, who has studied the phenomenon over the past decade, told the New Yorker that gerrymandering is now in a "steroid era."
Though the practice has recently gotten a lot of attention because of how it's disproportionately benefited Republicans, Schwarzenegger argues it’s ultimately a bi-partisan issue.
During his time as governor, he spearheaded an effort in 2008 to establish an independent commission to oversee redistricting in the state of California. Without that kind of impartial oversight, he says, elected officials weren't motivated to work for their constituents:
Most politicians came from hardcore Democratic districts or hardcore Republican districts and had no incentive to leave their partisan corners to come together for the people of California. In 265 congressional elections over the past decade, only ONE seat changed party hands. We had no turnover. Politicians were so safe in their jobs, they had no reason to fear a voter backlash or to even feel accountable to us.
But stopping gerrymandering across the board is a complicated process, largely because changing redistricting rules varies from state to state.
For instance, California is one of just four states in the country that has an independent commission set up for this purpose. Arizona established its own back in 2000, but it’s had to weather several legal challenges over the years, and ultimately survived its biggest test in the Supreme Court last year. However, a similar effort to change who can redraw voting maps in Illinois was recently struck down by the state's highest court. Illinois currently uses a special redistricting panel, it's made up of elected officials -- which critics say isn't a fair set-up.
And while redistricting rules can currently be changed at the ballot box in 37 states, the rest require a combination of appeals to state legislatures and governors, and that's typically a higher bar to clear.
That's why Schwarzenegger's campaign is zeroing in on case that could have a nationwide impact. Daniel Ketchell, a spokesperson for Schwarzenegger, told ATTN: they're looking to raise funds to support a case out of Wisconsin called Whitford v. Gill, which is likely to end up in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court by the end of the year. The case would ultimately determine whether it's legal for states to redraw voter maps based on partisan lines.
“You can win in states across the country, the same way that we won in California," Ketchell explained, "but if we win in the Supreme Court, that’s the kill shot.”
Another case out of North Carolina, McCrory v. Harris, is also on the campaign's radar. A Supreme Court decision on this case would determine whether race can play a role in redistricting efforts. That practice has stoked controversy, with critics arguing that minorities in some areas are "packed" out of certain districts, which effectively weakens their overall voting power.
Ketchell says the campaign is also looking at ways to help redistricting reform efforts on a state-by-state basis, and they're planning to set up individual fundraisers for those cases as they turn up. In the meantime, Schwarzenegger is putting his money where his mouth is:
And as of Thursday morning, the campaign has raised about $6,000.
“He said he knows how expensive legal fees are, so he didn’t want to put a cap on this," Ketchell told ATTN:. "He wanted to send a clear message that he's committed to this issue."