A masterclass on election rigging: How Republicans ‘dismembered’ a Democratic stronghold | American voting rights

Republican lawmakers in Tennessee gave final approval on Monday to an aggressive plan to split Nashville, a Democratic stronghold, in a deeply Republican state, into multiple congressional districts as part of an effort to tilt the state’s congressional map in their favor. The plan now awaits approval from Governor Bill Lee, who is likely to sign it.

Nashville currently sits in the state’s fifth congressional district, represented by Jim Cooper, a Democrat who has held the seat for nearly 20 years. It’s a solid Democratic district — Joe Biden carried it by nearly 24 points in 2020 — but on Tuesday Cooper announced he was retiring from Congress.

“Despite my strength at the ballot box, I could not stop the general assembly from dismembering Nashville. No one tried harder to keep our city whole,” he said in a statement. I explored every possible means, including legal action, to stop gerrymandering and win one of the three new congressional districts that now divide Nashville. There is no way, at least for me in this election cycle, but there may be a path for other worthy candidates.

New neighborhoods are cracking the concentration of Democratic voters in Nashville and cramming them into three districts that stretch across the state and are filled with reliable Republican voters. Donald Trump would have easily won all three proposed districts in 2020. The plan is one of the clearest and most brazen efforts to dismantle a Democratic district in favor of Republicans.

Cooper, who served in Congress for more than three decades in total, told the Guardian the plan was “an outrage”.

“It’s just crude politics,” he said. “They’re trying to fix something that isn’t broken.”

Republican leaders in the state legislature have defended the plan, saying it would be good for multiple people to represent Nashville in Congress. “I’ve never accepted the approach that having multiple people representing a big city is a bad thing,” Cameron Sexton, Republican Speaker of the Tennessee House of Representatives, told The Associated Press.

Odessa Kelly, a progressive activist from Nashville who has already launched a campaign for the seat occupied by Cooper, said the proposal pulled by the Republicans made her “livid”.

“For someone to simply ignore your humanity, ignore democracy and trample on everything this country is supposed to stand for, just because they have a personal interest in taking power, is one of the most racist and most blatant things I’ve ever experienced,” she said. “It’s the kind of thing you sound the alarm bells for.”

The proposed plan would clearly diminish the influence of black voters and other voters of color concentrated in Nashville, inserting them into predominantly white and Republican districts. About a quarter of the voting population in the Fifth Congressional District is black. According to the new lines, black voters would make up about 14% of the new Fifth District and about 17% and 10% of the other two new districts in the city.

Cooper agreed that the cards would significantly reduce the influence of minority voters. “At most, it will be symbolic,” he said.

Tequila Johnson, co-founder and vice-president of the Equity Alliance, said: “We see this as racism, as an intentional effort to dilute the voting power and electoral voice of black people in Nashville. It was a lack of representation that would have a “ripple effect,” added Johnson, whose organization focuses on mobilizing black voters.

“We are less likely to have a relationship with our congressman. The people who are going to represent Nashville don’t live in Nashville, don’t understand what the needs are in Nashville,” she said.

Whatever lines end up in place, Johnson said his group will continue to mobilize voters and reach out to voters outside of Nashville.

“We are using this as an incursion to build relationships with our rural neighbors,” she said. “We’re going to make sure that the area you’re clustering us in where they have hospitals that are closing, where they’re not able to pay for certain amenities for kids, buses and enough teachers, things like that, we We’re going to go out there and arrange and have conversations with them and make sure they know why they don’t have these things.

This article is part of The Guardian’s The Fight to Vote series

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