NPR: Redistricting Guru’s Hard Drives Could Mean Legal, Political Woes For GOP
NPR: Redistricting Guru's Hard Drives Could Mean Legal, Political Woes For GOP
The way Thomas Hofeller talked about redistricting — the drawing of political boundaries and the sifting of voters into buckets — you could be forgiven if you assumed he was speaking about a loved one or a favorite holiday.
“Redistricting is like an election in reverse! It’s a great event,” he said with a smile at a National Conference of State Legislatures event in 2000. “Usually the voters get to pick the politicians. In redistricting, the politicians get to pick the voters!”
A mapmaker and Republican strategist, he saw holes in the democratic system that could be exploited by technology and guile. Hofeller, who died in August 2018, saw a way to turn small vote margins into supermajorities for GOP legislators.
Now a trove of his data has been uncovered that could undo some of the work he spent decades perfecting.
In North Carolina, after Republican successes in the 2010 election, Hofeller helped draw new maps that netted the party 10 of the state’s 13 congressional seats, despite the popular vote in that state being nearly even.
Hofeller also knew the key to success in this niche field was protecting against lawsuits. He spent 10 PowerPoint slides in a presentation he gave about redistricting in 2011 just on legal issues and privacy.
“Treat every statement and document as if it was going to appear on the FRONT PAGE of your local newspaper,” he implored on one slide. “Emails are the tool of the devil.” …
After Hofeller’s death, his daughter found hard drives and thumb drives holding close to 100,000 files, according to The New York Times. She turned them over to Common Cause, a voting-rights nonprofit. …
Attorneys for Common Cause said in court filings made public Thursday the Hofeller files reveal that Republicans in North Carolina made false statements to a federal court to avoid special elections in 2017.
Legislators repeatedly said districts that had been ruled unconstitutional couldn’t be quickly thrown out because work on new ones had not yet begun. The newfound files, however, show that Hofeller had almost completely finished new maps at the time those statements were made.
Kathay Feng, the national redistricting director for Common Cause, wouldn’t discuss what else is in the files because of ongoing litigation, but she spoke generally about the dangers of politicians drawing district lines that favor their own party.
“This is an American democracy, and we don’t want a situation where, perhaps the best analogy is like Russia, where you have fake choices on the ballot,” Feng said. “Where there is no such thing as true democracy, where your vote doesn’t matter.”