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Politics

Obama takes on partisan gerrymandering with new initiative

Michelle Obama and Barack Obama
Former First Lady Michelle Obama and former President Obama appear at the Obama Foundation Summit in Chicago in 2017.
(Charles Rex Arbogast / Associated Press)

Former President Obama announced a new initiative on Monday aimed at ending partisan gerrymandering.

In one of his first public political actions since he left the White House, Obama unveiled Redistricting U on Twitter as an in-person training arm of the All on the Line project, a grassroots advocacy campaign fighting for fair electoral maps ahead of the 2020 census count and redistricting in 2021.

“Training is at the heart of organizing. It’s why I’ve always made it a priority — from my 2008 campaign until now. And it’s why I’m proud to announce @allontheline’s in-person training initiative,“ Obama tweeted.

Redistricting U says it will train volunteers in U.S. cities about the redistricting process in their states and how they can counter unfair redistricting practices. The campaign says “rigged electoral maps” create a system in which elected officials “feel more accountable to the most radical parts of their base rather than to the rational, reasonable solutions that most Americans support.”

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When legislative maps are drawn, partisan gerrymandering is a way politicians can manipulate boundaries to ensure as many seats as possible can be won by a given party’s candidates to preserve that party’s power. The project argues that when politicians are focused on manipulating maps to preserve their party’s political power, the legislative progress is slowed on behalf of voters.

“Republicans in the House of Representatives refused to vote on common-sense gun laws, blocked meaningful action on climate change, and tried again and again to repeal the Affordable Care Act and strip down the security it offers to millions of Americans,” Obama wrote in May as part of a series of Medium posts he wrote for All on the Line. “Progress on so many of the issues we care about was hurt or hindered by gerrymandering — by politicians who knew their seats were safe from any real challenge.”

One of Obama’s priorities since he left office has been supporting the work of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, a group that is trying to counter gerrymandering of congressional districts in Republicans’ favor. In late 2018, the former president consolidated his political efforts by folding Organizing for Action, a nonprofit political group that grew out of his presidential campaign, into the redistricting committee. The All on the Line campaign was then founded by the National Redistricting Action Fund, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. The campaign identifies Obama and former U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder as active members in the project.

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“The movement for fair maps will determine the course of progress on every issue we care about for the next decade,” Obama said. “We can’t wait to begin organizing when the redistricting process starts in 2021. We need to build this movement from the ground up — right now.”


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