Will Covid-19 Virus Trigger A Voting Rights Crisis?
ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Moyers on Democracy.
Bill’s guest in this episode is the journalist David Daley. His best-selling first book, RATF**KED-WHY YOUR VOTE DOESN’T COUNT showed how Republicans used gerrymandering to lock up control of many state and local government for years, possibly decades – and remains their strategy. In his most recent book – UNRIGGED –HOW AMERICANS ARE BATTLING BACK TO SAVE DEMOCRACY he travels America to report on the grassroots activists devoted to voting rights for all citizens.
He and Bill talked by phone on the eve of the Wisconsin primary where the governor of Wisconsin tried to postpone the election to help protect voters from the pandemic only to be blocked by the conservative dominated state supreme court and then by the five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Here’s Bill Moyers.
BILL MOYERS: David, Are you comfortable talking about down and dirty politics, the very week a killer pandemic maybe reaching its peak?
DAVID DALEY: I am. Yes. I think that there is a really big connection between how we got here and down and dirty politics, and where we go from here. We have to be really careful that in this moment, a public health crisis doesn’t also turn into a full blown constitutional crisis. And there’s lots of evidence that it may well turn in that direction.
BILL MOYERS: You say in your Rolling Stone report that this is an urgent moment. What do you mean?
DAVID DALEY: If you look around the nation right now, [you see] the number of cancelled or postponed elections and primaries. If you look at the lack of preparation towards safeguarding the presidential election in the fall, my concern is that our elections in November may face the exact same chaos that elections in Ohio and Wisconsin are seeing now.
There are really simple steps that we could take to guard against that happening. We could expand vote by mail, most importantly among them. And really ensure that every American have the right to vote without risking their health.
But what you see are Republicans who are talking about non-existent voter fraud in this moment, a state representative in Georgia talking about how increased turnout would be bad for the Republican party.
And what it adds up to is this intense politicization of democracy and voting rights itself. And that plays against a background of this last decade and longer, what has become extreme minority rule in this country. Fifty-nine million Americans right now live in a state in which one or both chambers of the state legislature are controlled by the party that won fewer votes in 2018.
So, this backdrop of toxic partisan gerrymandering, of voter roll purges, of voter ID, of disingenuous voter fraud commissions, precinct closures, all of which are designed to make it harder for specific people to vote. And if this is what is going to be the response to a pandemic, our election in the fall is in deep trouble.
BILL MOYERS: What’s your worst nightmare?
DAVID DALEY: My worst nightmare is that it is very difficult for individual states, perhaps in some swing states, to hold elections or that it is not safe for folks in big cities in swing states to line up. And you see some state legislatures invoking the right under Article II, section 1 of the constitution to appoint Electoral College electors themselves.
And if that were to happen from, say, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin or Arizona or Michigan or Ohio, you’re talking about swing states that have Republican legislatures that could, if they wanted, appoint electors that would vote in the opposite direction, perhaps, of the wishes of the people of that state.
BILL MOYERS: So your nightmare is that we still might not have a winner after the election ’til, say, December? And that the individual state legislatures have the constitutional opportunity to nullify the results if they wish, right? By exercising the authority to appoint the state’s representatives to the Electoral College so they could say, “We’re gonna reverse the decision of the majority of voters in November because of X, Y and Z.” Right?
DAVID DALEY: They most certainly could, and I fear that what we are hearing from many of those state legislators now, suggests that they are not of a mind not to do this. This would be one of the greatest crises of democracy that the nation has faced. And we could be staring at it.
You know, you wrote in Moyers on Democracy — maybe the very first line is — “A democracy is a series of narrow escapes. And we may be running out of luck.” I don’t know if we will have the luck to escape this particular crisis.
BILL MOYERS: So you’re not vesting any credibility in the speculation about Donald Trump cancelling the presidential election? You say it’s deeper than that. It’s more institutional and widespread throughout state by state.
That the speculation whether the president would just say, “We can’t have an election with conditions like this threatening people’s health. So I’m gonna remain on it ’til the situation is resolved.” You don’t see that happening?
DAVID DALEY: I hope that’s not what happens. The president I don’t think has the ability to do that. Election Day is set by Congress. I can’t see Congress changing Election Day. I think that it would be extraordinarily difficult to see where in any presidential emergency powers he would seize that authority from.
The bigger threat comes from state legislatures acting in such a way as to overturn or nullify the wishes of voters in those states, and awarding electoral college electors to the president. And giving him a second term in office that most voters may or may not want to see.
And it’s the very gerrymandered nature of those particular states that has given all of the power to Republicans. Republicans deeply gerrymandered in the legislature in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin. [In] all of these swing states, you see with regularity Democrats winning more statewide votes for the state house, and Republicans holding huge advantages, even sometimes veto-proof supermajorities. The lines they drew themselves have been that stout. So if you were to have those gerrymandered legislatures already representing a minority of the state able to pick electoral college electors, this is a huge crisis.
BILL MOYERS: This was the subject of your first book, of course. You took on gerrymandering, which as most of us realize, is a very old features of democracy in America that allowed partisan state legislatures to draw congressional districts to their advantage. Both parties did it.
Then it got out of control. This is stunningly clear in your book. You showed the country how Republicans had weaponized gerrymandering. Just briefly summarize the story you told for our listeners and our readers. You know, what The New York Times review called the “true story behind the secret plan to steal America’s democracy.”
DAVID DALEY: Well, I would say that Republicans after the 2008 election needed to find themselves a pathway back to power. In 2008, you not only had the election of Barack Obama, our first black president, but you had a Democratic supermajority in the U.S. Senate and a renewed Democratic majority in the U.S. House.
And you had these changing American demographics that many observers, both Democrats and Republicans, looked at and thought that it meant that the Democrats were going to be the majority party in this nation for a generation.
And as we know, it didn’t exactly work out that way. Right? And I think the most important reason for that is because these Republican strategists recognized that as historic as 2008 was, 2010 had the ability to be much more of a consequential election.
Because 2010 is a Census year, which means it’s a redistricting year. Because we would redraw every congressional and state legislative seat in the country in the year following the U.S. Census. So elections ending in zero are just much more consequential. Because you can win back the power to draw all of these districts.
Republicans recognized the opportunity in this. It’s state legislatures that have the ability to draw most of these lines, both for themselves and also for Congress. So a handful of Republican operatives, something called the Republican State Leadership Committee, they launch a plan called The REDMAP, which is short for the Redistricting Majority Project.
And it’s a $30 million strategy, centered around flipping and winning state legislative chambers control in swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina, Florida. And by winning 117 state legislative races in 2010 across these states, they are able to lock in the power, not only to redraw all of their own maps, but to redraw Congress.
And so in 2012, Democrats win 1.4 million more votes for the U.S. House than Republicans. But Republicans hold onto the chamber, 234-201. Barack Obama’s second-term agenda is dead in the House before his second term even begins. And it lays the groundwork in all of these states for the same sort of deeply anti-majoritarian decade that we have seen.
BILL MOYERS: When I read your book, I agreed with the Republican strategist, Ben Ginsberg, who said that David Daley has exposed, “The strategy of shadowy, but thus far, legal hacking, splicing, and dicing of congressional districts to secure Republican domination, and in turn, subvert the will of the American voter.”
That’s a Republican saying that. Admitting that gerrymandering was crucial to the Republican party’s strategy of undermining democracy. Some people were shocked, David. But I wasn’t. And I wanna take a step back here, I mean, back to 1980.
I was reporting for a documentary on the founding of the Moral Majority. Thousands of religious conservatives gathered in Dallas, Texas, to launch what is now the most influential base of the Republican party. Ronald Reagan running for the Republican nomination, spoke to them.
And one of the most influential Republicans of the past 60 years was there. Paul Weyrich was his name — right-wing Catholic, brilliant strategist, outspoken partisan [who] founded the Heritage Foundation, founded the Moral Majority, on and on and on. He really was an architect of the Republican domination today. Here’s a brief excerpt of what he said. It brought cheers from those religious conservatives.
Paul Weyrich: “Now many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome — good government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people, they never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”
DAVID DALEY: That’s the whole game plan right there. And it is shocking to hear people admit it. But Republicans are beginning to say the quiet part [out ] loud now as well. This is an intentional strategy. What Republicans have done over the last 50 years in this country is attempt to make it harder for people who are not going to vote for them to vote.
They have built barriers between specific groups of people and the ballot box that have been surgical, that have been specific, and that have been deeply intentional. They have appointed judges to the federal bench that have backed up this deeply pinched vision of voting rights.
And they have developed a sustained sense of minority rule in states across the nation. They have insulated themselves from the ballot box. And it is because they are afraid that they will lose an honest election. One of our two political parties is so afraid that it will lose an honest election that they have spent 50 years building barriers between voters and the ballot box.
BILL MOYERS: David, is it conceivable to you that one of our major parties could say to themselves that if they can’t win free and fair elections, they will just get rid of democracy?
DAVID DALEY: I think that is what they have done. It is inconceivable to me that a party founded by Abraham Lincoln, founded in such beliefs of the equality of man is in this position right now, in which they believe that they cannot win.
And so they would rather try to keep people from voting than lose. That is the position American democracy finds itself in in 2020. And I believe that it is there because of specific decisions that Republican leaders have made, and then doubled down on, year after year after year.
In 2012, after Barack Obama is reelected, Republicans do a famous autopsy, right? And they try to look and say, “Well, what are we doing wrong that we keep losing national elections?” And they say, “Well, we have to do a better job of talking to young people, of talking to minority voters.” They couldn’t do any of those things. They couldn’t change. Because the party had already set itself on this agenda of gerrymandering and voter suppression that put the base in charge.
BILL MOYERS: Where were the Democrats? I come from a part of the country where you were polite to each other until you discover that your opponent is using brass knuckles. And then you sharpen your elbows to fight back. Democrats just seemed unaware of the potential of being overly indifferent when your other side if fighting for the kill.
DAVID DALEY: They still seem that way, even today. It is just as inconceivable to me that the Democratic leadership in the House and Senate is not doing a stronger more fuller-throated job of trying to ensure that the elections this fall go off as Americans expect them to.
They need to work this into stimulus packages. They need to be really focused on this in a way that they have not been. Republicans are able to pull this strategy off in 2010 because Democrats fell asleep at the switch. Republicans reinvent and weaponize the gerrymander in the 2010 election.
And they didn’t necessarily do so secretly. I mean, Karl Rove lays out on the Op Ed page of the Wall Street Journal the entire plan, and even tells the Democrats which states and which counties they’re going to be operating in, trying to flip state legislative districts with the goal of locking in a decade of control in state legislatures and Congress.
And it’s as if the Democrats simply didn’t even get their newspaper that day. Because they did nothing to defend these crucial state legislative races. And in my new book Unrigged I talk with Eric Holder, who is leading the Democratic efforts, ahead of 2020 on this topic.
And I say, “So when did you become aware of REDMAP, and what the Republicans were up to?” And he says, “I really hadn’t heard of REDMAP.” And he says he and Barack Obama were in the White House a couple weeks after the 2012 election. And they’re looking at the numbers. And they couldn’t understand why their vote totals didn’t lead to better outcomes across all of these states. And even after the 2012 election, the highest echelons of the Democratic Party didn’t understand what had happened to them in 2010, or how deep the problem was and how long it was going to take for them to come back.
BILL MOYERS: David, you saw that in the stimulus bill that Congress enacted voting rights groups asked for, I think it was $4 billion to make sure our elections this fall are fair and square. Senate Republicans reportedly held out in the end. And it only provides about $400 million for election security. What did you take from this when you learned that this had happened?
DAVID DALEY: That the Democratic Party still is unwilling to use any leverage that it has to stand up to the brass knuckles being used by the other side. I don’t think that the Democrats understand even in 2020 the extent to which Republicans have proven themselves willing to go to subvert the idea of free and fair elections.
All of these reform groups are saying this is going to take between $2 and $4 billion, which let’s face it, is a rounding error in a package that is $2 trillion of economic bailout. We’re talking about $2 to $4 billion for democracy. Because it’s going to take a lot of money to get states up and running for a vote-by-mail system.
This has to be established. You have to pay to print ballots, to translate ballots for optical scanners. You have to pay to train all of these new workers. There are laws that are gonna have to be passed in at least a third of our states that make it possible to have no excuse absentee voting.
There’s a lot that has to be done, and only about 200 days left in which to do it. And this stimulus package was going to be the best chance the Democratic leadership had to get something done. Whatever was in this package was going to move. This was the opportunity. We don’t know if there will be another one. And this possibility went by with Democratic leadership securing about 10 percent of what the experts say is going to be necessary to safeguard democracy. It’s not good enough.
BILL MOYERS: Well, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee said election assistance funding such as that in the stimulus bill, “has nothing to do with COVID-19.” Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas took exception to the provision that would establish early voting and access to equal vote by mail. He called it a naked attempt to use a public health emergency as a smokescreen for a radical agenda. And Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming said that new early voting requirements “have no place in an emergency rescue package for the American people.” How do you respond to them?
DAVID DALEY: They have every place in an emergency package for the American people. These are the provisions that are going to make it possible for the American people to have a voice in November. It’s as if all of these senators are unaware of all of the elections that are being postponed right now.
BILL MOYERS: Ohio one of them, right?
DAVID DALEY: Ohio one of them, as well as Texas, Louisiana — multiple states have been pushing their elections off into June. And frankly, they’re not even sure that they’ll be able to hold them in June. All we have to do is look at the chaos in Ohio and Wisconsin and elsewhere and you see the connection between COVID-19 and our crisis is democracy so clearly that even a Republican senator from Montana and Wyoming ought to be able to understand it.
BILL MOYERS: Did you see The Washington Post story, quote “Trump and GOP challenge efforts to make voting easier amid Coronavirus pandemic.” They’re open about it. President Trump told Fox and Friends last week about voting by mail,
Donald Trump:“The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again,”
And in Georgia the speaker of the House, a Republican, opposed sending out absentee ballots applications. You saw probably what he said, quote, “This will certainly drive up turnout… and will be extremely devastating to Republicans and conservatives in Georgia.”
And in North Carolina the Republican responsible for drawing the states voting maps admitted he rigged them. He said, “I think electing Republicans is better than electing Democrats. So I drew this map to help foster what I think is better for the country.” In other words, fraud as a patriotic act. I mean, they’re very open about what they’re doing.
DAVID DALEY: They’ve been open ever since the time of Paul Weyrich. Right? I mean, they’re not denying it. They are very willing to come out and talk about it. When I went out and reported my last book, I was actually staggered at how open and honest all of the Republican strategists were who worked on these issues. They were all willing to sit down and talk with me. And it’s not as if any of them had any trouble sleeping. They were largely proud of what they did.
BILL MOYERS: You describe the United States as a country covered with, quote, “democracy deserts.” What’s a democracy desert?
DAVID DALEY: We talked about supermarket deserts sometimes, you know, places in which it’s really hard to find fresh food. What we are seeing across this nation is an outbreak of democracy deserts as well. Places where it is very, very difficult to ensure that you will have free and fair access to the ballot box or that a majority of citizens are able to translate their votes into a majority of seats.
What you see as you look around the country are blue states, largely coastal states, that are making it easier for people to vote. You see things like automatic voting registration taking hold or expanding days of early voting, [and] making it possible to register online. All of these things that make it simpler and easier for people to vote. None of which, by the way, are partisan. All of these reforms are deeply nonpartisan and the academic studies make it clear that they do not help voters of either party.
And then you see all of these red states which are going the exact opposite direction. You see voter ID bills. You see toxic, extreme partisan gerrymandering. You see racial gerrymandering. You see purges of voter rolls, 16 to 18 million Americans knocked off of voting rolls in the last two years alone. You see precincts being closed, especially in minority neighborhoods. You see days of early voting being taken away and often those days of early voting are exactly the days that state legislatures know that minority voters are most likely to go to the polls.
You see all of these new voter ID requirements and that they have specifically chosen the forms of voter ID that they believe young and minority voters are least likely to have. I was able to obtain the files, tens of thousands of documents of Thomas Hofeller, the master Republican gerrymandering operative of the last 40 or 50 years after he died. And as I went through his files, and looked at his draft maps that he drew in North Carolina, he had on his computer the addresses of every single college-age voter in North Carolina along with whether or not they had a driver’s license. Because he knew that if they didn’t have a driver’s license they wouldn’t be able to vote. And he drew his districts knowing this. He drew these districts completely aware of who would and would not be able to vote.
BILL MOYERS: Can you give us some other examples of how particular information like that was used in drawing up districts that would advantage the Republicans?
DAVID DALEY: Oh absolutely. In Alabama, for example, you had a gerrymandered Republican legislature there passes a voter ID bill and they say, “Well, if you don’t have a state driver’s license you can go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and fill out a form and get the specific ID that you need there.” And then where people were going to be most affected by this they closed most of the driver’s license bureaus for almost the entire month. It was just amazing to watch this.
In North Dakota, for example, and North Dakota is one of the best administered election states in the country. They actually don’t require voter registration there because everybody knows each other. You are able to just walk up to the polls on election day and cast a ballot.
And in 2012, something interesting happened. A Democrat, Heidi Heitkamp is elected to the U.S. Senate there. And she wins a very close race. And it’s Native American voters in North Dakota that tip this Senate seat. So suddenly in the winter and spring of 2013, Republicans in the state legislature in a state where you don’t even have to register to vote decide that they’re going to enact a voter ID bill.
Not only a voter ID bill but one of the most stringent in the nation. And they’re going to require one thing on that voter ID. It has to have a street address. Well, they are fully aware that the one thing you do not have on the Native American tribal land in North Dakota is a street address.
So they intentionally picked the one way to disenfranchise those Native American voters in North Dakota immediately after they made their voices heard. The exact same thing happens in North Carolina where the driver’s license requirement for the voter ID there — a federal court finds that this is surgically focused on black North Carolinian voters. Because the legislature actually did research into the form of identification least likely to be held by blacks in the state. And it was a driver’s license. In a state like Texas you can vote with a gun license but not with a student ID. Why do you think that is? It’s really, really clear.
BILL MOYERS: In 2013, as you know, Chief Justice John Roberts led the conservative majority of the Supreme Court in gutting the key enforcement of the Voting Rights Act that had been passed in 1965 so that states notorious for sanctioning discrimination over decades against minorities were now liberated from any federal oversight. What impact have you found that ruling had on voting in America?
DAVID DALEY: It’s tragic. All of these democracy deserts begin to take hold after that ruling. The chief justice could not have gotten it any more wrong. He argues that it’s not 1965 anymore and that all of these states across the south — you know, Bull Connor is not on the doorstep stopping people from going to school or voting.
And he said this, “It’s a different time, it’s a different south.” Except it’s not. Because the very week that the court renders this sadly and tragic mistaken five-four decision, you have state legislatures in Texas, in Mississippi, across the south, beginning to add back all of these surgically focused voting restrictions.
And what you see, ever since 2013, is this explosion of new voting restrictions in all of these states that would have had to have proven to the Department of Justice that there was no racial impact of those moves in the past. And as soon as John Roberts wiped that away all of these states were ready.
And they came roaring back with all of these restrictions. They are more subtle than they used to be. You know, it’s no longer a fire hose, it’s no longer a literacy test or an obvious poll tax. But all of these new restrictions work in precisely the same way.
BILL MOYERS: You say it was a tragic mistaken decision that the court handed down. But what if it were not tragically mistaken but politically intended? What if it was part of the strategy that we’ve been talking about, of achieving partisan domination over American democracy?
DAVID DALEY: I think it well could be. I mean, that certainly has been the impact of it. That has been the consequence of that decision [it] has been rolling back the state of voting rights across all of these states in the south and the west, and elsewhere, that had been under the protection of section five of the Voting Rights Act.
And it’s gone. And as it has disappeared, so has the protection of this most elemental of American rights, the right that animates all others. And in many American states right now the right to vote is deeply and intentionally unequal.
BILL MOYERS: So the foundational notion of democracy, one person, one vote, depends largely on where you live. As you’ve written one nation, indivisible increasingly looks like two when it comes to voting rights. One inclusive the other exclusive. One that works to make voting easier and the other doubling down to make voting harder.
DAVID DALEY: If you live in North Carolina, you have to jump through very different hoops to get to the ballot box than if you live in Oregon. And this is increasingly separate and unequal. We are increasingly two nations when it comes to voting rights.
And this is going to be a huge problem, especially in the fall of 2020 if we don’t have Congress step forth and safeguard elections. What we could have is a patchwork of states, some of which decide to make it easier for their citizens to vote and some which don’t.
And the ones that don’t make it easier for their citizens to vote could very well be blue-leaning states like Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin that are controlled right now by gerrymandered Republican legislatures, that are locked into place even though a majority of folks in those states election after election vote for the other side.
BILL MOYERS: But if parts of red America, as you just said, resemble democracy deserts, aren’t some blue states blooming with innovations?
DAVID DALEY: Yes. Maine is now using ranked choice voting which is a wonderful solution that ensures that winners of elections there actually achieve 50 percent of the vote. Maine has a proud tradition of third-party independent candidates. They’ve had independent governors and independent U.S. senators. And they wanted to hold onto that but they didn’t want to keep electing candidates with 35 percent of the votes who most people didn’t want. So they added ranked choice.
You have seen a dramatic expansion of vote by mail and absentee balloting across states that have recognized that it’s not simply enough to offer voting from 8:00 in the morning until 8:00 at night on election day.
That is not always convenient for people. So, you know, let’s open it up. Let’s make it possible for people to vote from home. Let’s take away some of these things that make it difficult to vote. There are lots of really impressive innovations taking place, especially out west, that simply are not being matched elsewhere.
BILL MOYERS: As I said earlier, David, your first book stunned a lot of people. They just hadn’t thought much, if anything, about how democracy was being undermined right around them. The new book is entitled Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy. You went across the country looking for those activists to tell their story. Summarize for us what you found.
DAVID DALEY: I went off in search of hope and optimism and inspiration. I needed it after talking about the decline of democracy. And I found what I was looking for at the state and local level around the country.
I met Katie Fahey in Michigan, a 27-year-old woman, who two days after the 2016 election, already afraid of what’s gonna happen in her house on Thanksgiving with Bernie and Hillary and Trump people throwing mashed potatoes and gravy across the room.
And she goes to Facebook and she writes, “I want to end gerrymandering in Michigan. If you wanna do this with me, let’s go.” And that starts a redistricting revolution in Michigan that leads to 430,000 signatures on a petition that successfully amends Michigan’s constitution. And they’re gonna have independent redistricting there in 2021.
I went down to Florida and met Desmond Meade, who had run up against hard times — drug addiction, a weapons conviction — who gets out of jail and he’s still homeless. And one day he’s standing in front of the railroad tracks thinking about committing suicide.
And the train doesn’t come as if by, you know, magic or some higher force that day. He walks across those tracks. He finds himself outside of a drug treatment clinic. He turns his life around, gets a college degree, gets a law degree.
But the one thing he couldn’t get back in the state of Florida along with 1.7 million other people who had a felony conviction there was his right to vote. Your civic voice is completely taken away from you if you’re one of the 10 percent of Florida adults who have a felony conviction.
He takes over the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition and leads this amazing, moral movement that unites left and right and black and white, young and old. It’s funded by the Koch Brothers and the ACLU. And they win with 64 percent of the vote in Florida.
I went out to Idaho and drove across the state with these amazing millennial activists who wanted to expand Medicaid there, in this red state where their state legislature was so entrenched that they did not want to expand the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare for the 70,000 people in that state who fell in the gap between the national and the state exchanges.
Even though the taxpayers were already sending that money to Washington, Idaho’s legislature wouldn’t take it back. They would not take no for an answer. They bought an old RV. They drove across the state. They collected all of these signatures. They got it on the ballot. And they expanded Medicaid in Idaho with more than 60 percent of the vote.
So there’s all of these amazing, inspirational stories out there of citizens who stood up, battled back. Even though the odds were long and the chance of victory small, they stood up, they organized, they fought and they won.
BILL MOYERS: The variety of activists and patriots you found does give you some hope that if they could mobilize, organize and agitate sufficiently enough we might turn this downward spiral around. Do you think that’s possible?
DAVID DALEY: I do. Because I’m not willing to believe that this democracy is over yet. The thing that I saw as I reported this book was that to the average American these issues were about fairness. They weren’t partisan issues.
Medicaid doesn’t get expanded in Idaho if it’s looked as, you know, a red versus blue. In Florida, rights restoration passes with 64 percent of the vote in a year in which voters elect a Republican U.S. senator and a Republican governor.
You know, it doesn’t pass if people don’t think that this is profoundly a question of right and wrong. It’s the same thing in Michigan and Missouri. In all of the states where these basic questions of democracy were on the ballot in 2018 they won with 60 percent or 70 percent of the vote. And that regular Americans could fight and win these battles — and that Americans saw this not as a question of red versus blue, but a question of right and wrong — I think ought to give us all a lot of heart.
BILL MOYERS: And then there’s the movie released just last weekend, Slay the Dragon, that’s gonna make a star out of you, David.
DAVID DALEY: If you had ever told me that they could make a movie about gerrymandering that would make you cry and cheer — they did a fabulous job of telling this story. And it is moving and profound. And you watch it, you wanna get up off of your couch and start a citizen’s movement of your own.
BILL MOYERS: How does it feel to move beyond the journalism of a newsroom like The Hartford Courant where you wrote many years ago, into this new world of social media and documentaries and advocacy. You’re now advocating, not just reporting, but advocating for a different America. How does that feel?
DAVID DALEY: This is a crucial moment for American democracy. And what American democracy needs right now are truth tellers. It needs people who are willing to stand up and tell the stories behind the scenes and bring them out into the open.
I think traditional journalism failed to tell the story of gerrymandering. And it has failed to tell the story of the war on voting rights. It’s so grounded in a sense of both sides that it is hard to actually explain that it’s not both sides in the traditional way.
This is a case of one side resorting to extraordinarily undemocratic means to try to hold a power. This is the story of the growing anti-majoritarianism of America. And I think we have to stand up and call it what it is.
BILL MOYERS: I’m gonna become an advocate here at the end of this conversation by urging all of you listening to get his new book, Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy. And to see the movie, Slay the Dragon.
David, Thank you for being with us.
DAVID DALEY: Thank you, Bill. A real pleasure. Thank you.
ANNOUNCER; Thanks for listening to Moyers on Democracy.
David Daley is a senior fellow for FairVote and the author of Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy, which helped spark the recent drive to reform gerrymandering. Dave's second book, Unrigged: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy, chronicles the victories and defeats in state efforts to reform elections and uphold voting rights. A frequent lecturer and media source about gerrymandering, he is the former editor-in-chief of Salon.com, and the former CEO and publisher of the Connecticut News Project. He is a digital media fellow at the Wilson Center for the Humanities and the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, The Washington Post, The Guardian, New York magazine, the Atlantic, the Boston Globe, Rolling Stone, Details, and he's been on CNN and NPR. When writing for the Hartford Courant, he helped identify Mark Felt as the "Deep Throat" source for Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.