Political Animal

Senate Democrats Have a Big New Corporate Tax Idea

As they struggle to put together a budget reconciliation bill that both progressives and moderates can get behind, Senate Democrats are considering a revenue-raising idea that has the potential to help bridge the gap.

The chief steward of the tax code in the upper chamber, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden of Oregon, has put on the negotiating table a bill that Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Independent, first introduced in March, which would restructure the incentives around executive compensation. The measure would fund the multi-trillion-dollar social services and climate change package that Democrats intend to pass via reconciliation, the parliamentary procedure that lets them circumvent an almost certain Republican filibuster.

The bill, called the Tax Excessive CEO Pay Act, would impose a surcharge on corporate income tax if the company paid its CEO 50 times or more what its median employee earns.

According to sources familiar with the matter, Wyden isn’t throwing the idea out there as a gimmick or negotiating tactic. He’s serious. “Wyden’s staff is putting real time into drafting this,” said one person briefed on their work. “It’s not just on their options list as populist window dressing.”

Needless to say, it is going to take some wrangling. President Biden’s initial proposal envisions spending $3.5 trillion over 10 years. Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, seems set on a much lower spending target, creating a do-or-die matter in the evenly divided Senate.

The CEO pay legislation is built around the idea that the tax code can penalize negative externalities, to use economists’ inelegant phrase. Under the provision, a corporation’s tax rate would depend on the ratio of its CEO compensation to the median wage at the company. The higher the ratio—that is, the more the CEO gets compared to the employees—the higher the federal income tax. It builds on a provision in the Dodd-Frank law, passed in 2010, that requires publicly listed companies to disclose the ratio between the pay of the CEO and that of the median employee.

As I wrote in these pages in June, the idea has political and policy advantages over competing ideas to raise the corporate income tax. First of all, it builds on public opinion; there’s survey data showing that 86 percent of Americans think CEOs are overpaid. Second, for self-professed moderates, the tax is, plausibly, a voluntary one; if a company doesn’t want to pay it, it need only pay workers more—or the CEO less.

Indeed, in theory, the measure could be a way to meet both Manchin’s demand that the official corporate tax rate not exceed 25 percent and progressives’ desire for a higher rate. Companies that pay their CEOs at or below the 50-to-1 ratio would pay the 25 percent corporate tax rate, while those that outstrip the ratio would pay more (Wyden hasn’t settled on any ratio in particular).

Finally, it would create an incentive for corporations to raise employee pay to avoid paying the higher tax rate. This would not only be popular with voters and reverse the decades-old trend toward income inequality. It would also answer the chief objection some economists lodge (one that holds sway with many moderate lawmakers) against traditional corporate tax increases: that they lead companies to pay workers less.

According to Senate staffers, the bill was resurrected during the reconciliation negotiations because of pressure from Sanders and the general popularity of taxing CEOs, a fact not lost on progressive advocates.

Public interest groups that have railed against skyrocketing CEO pay, such as the AFL-CIO, Americans for Financial Reform, and Take On Wall Street, have turned these ideas into a rallying point for activists interested in tackling wealth and income inequality. “Each of these proposals would raise significant revenue while curbing a key driver of our nation’s skyrocketing inequality—excessive CEO pay,” these groups wrote in a letter to Wyden. “Americans across the political spectrum have been outraged about overpaid CEOs for a long time.”

Sanders’s proposal is just one of several being considered by the senators that would take aim at practices and loopholes that benefit executives in particular. Another such idea is a levy on stock buybacks, a practice that regulators once deemed market manipulation but that is now a garden-variety way CEOs boost share prices and, not coincidentally, their own bonuses, which are usually linked to them. A separate measure on the table would restrict business deductions for people making more than $1 million per year.

A final provision on Wyden’s list is to close the carried interest loophole, a particularly outrageous provision that benefits mainly Wall Street’s private equity barons, already among the richest people in the world. President Obama once made a move to get rid of it, prompting Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the private equity giant Blackstone, to compare the attempt to the 1939 Nazi invasion of Poland. Even Donald Trump criticized the loophole as part of his faux populism, but he never ended it.

“The public investment proposals on the table in the budget reconciliation negotiations, from universal child care to free college, would dramatically reduce our nation’s staggeringly high levels of inequality,” wrote Sarah Anderson, director of the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies. “Paying for them with tax reforms that tackle key inequality drivers—including runaway CEO pay—would move us even further down the path towards an equitable society.”

She’s right. If Democrats—moderate and progressive alike—want to deliver on a massive budget bill while making the tax code more equitable and just, there is a wildly popular idea just waiting for them. There’s no reason they shouldn’t seize it.

Memo to Nick Kristof: Forget Governor. Run for City Council.

Last week, the editor in chief of The New Republic, Win McCormack, wrote an article supporting a potential bid for governor of Oregon by the New York Times columnist Nick Kristof. The first four paragraphs of the piece are dedicated to making the case that, in McCormack’s words, “Nick never really left his hometown of Yamhill,” even though he departed that small town in Oregon after high school in the late 1970s and only returned in 2019.

McCormack lives with his partner, Carol Butler, a Democratic political strategist who has worked for current Oregon Governor Kate Brown and is now consulting with Kristof. So McCormack’s column is, arguably, the beginning of a campaign rollout—one designed to neutralize the most obvious critique of a Kristof bid: He’s a carpetbagger with no experience in government.

But that critique has a whole lot of truth. Yes, Kristof has long-standing ties to Oregon—a family farm that he has regularly visited throughout adulthood and now helps run, as well as nearby property that he bought nearly 30 years ago. But having ties is not the same as residing full-time, being routinely involved in the local community, and regularly engaging in state issues. He is undoubtedly an Oregonian, but it’s hard to argue that he’s the Oregonian best suited to run state government.

After Donald Trump’s shocking 2016 presidential victory, one can always sketch out a possible scenario in which a famous outsider wins an election by campaigning against the status quo and promising fresh ideas. But Andrew Yang’s train wreck of a New York City mayoral bid is more indicative of how such campaigns usually pan out.

Granted, Kristof shouldn’t decide whether to run based on his chances of winning. Just because you’re a long shot doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. However, Kristof should decide based on whether he’s the person best prepared for the job or—to put it slightly differently—whether he’s the best prepared he could possibly be for the job.

Yes, Kristof’s professional accomplishments are stunning. For 37 years, he has worked for The New York Times as a reporter, editor, and columnist. He has traveled to more than 150 countries, often shining a spotlight on—and seeking solutions to—poverty, genocide, military conflict, gender discrimination, criminal injustice, and child mortality. Two Pulitzer Prizes. Five best-selling books (all cowritten with his wife, Sheryl WuDunn). A reputation as “the moral conscience of our generation of journalists.” (Though perhaps Kristof won’t be putting that quote from Jeffrey Toobin on any campaign literature.)

Kristof has put an immense amount of thought into how to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. But thinking about and reporting on social problems is not the same as holding public office, balancing the demands of constituencies, and manipulating the levers of government.

There is a way for Kristof to gain that kind of experience. It’s called local government.

Kristof could seek elective office with his city council. His farm is reportedly “between Yamhill and Carlton.” Both cities have a “strong council” form of government, in which the mayor does not have veto power. He might be able to exert a fair amount of influence from a council seat, or consider running for mayor. Granted, both Yamhill and Carlton are tiny municipalities of fewer than 2,500 people, whereas Yamhill County has a population of about 100,000. So a more tempting post may be a seat on the Yamhill County Board of Commissioners, which oversees the county administrator.

If it proved hard to win an elected position, he could probably land an appointed position on one of several county committees, such as the Planning Commission, Housing Authority Board, or Budget Committee, which would have direct relevance to the issues of poverty and dignity that have long been in his interest.

Whether in elective or appointed office, serving the public at the city or county level would give Kristof invaluable hands-on experience in how the levers of government actually work, as well as how state and federal policies can help—or frustrate—local communities. He would be able to do good and also learn when good intent proves insufficient.

One prominent writer who is a huge believer in the power of local government is James Fallows, a former Washington Monthly editor and a longtime contributor. After several years of flying his own plane 100,000 miles across America, town by town, Fallows and his wife, Deborah, have been chronicling “the extent of locally based renewal and experimentation, directed at many of the same challenges that now seem practically hopeless from a national perspective.” Together they have produced a series of dispatches for The Atlantic, a book titled Our Towns,  an HBO documentary of the same name, and a nonprofit helping “now-disconnected innovators and reformers realize that they’re part of something larger.”

In a phone conversation, Fallows assured me that Kristof “will be great at whatever he does.” But he did agree that, for anybody considering public service, local government has a lot to offer. “You see the objects of your policy every day,” Fallows observed, which has a “leavening and maturing and improving effect on the way people [feel] about their towns, and the way the government work[s].” Another bonus is that “there’s probably a lower proportion of your time you have to spend raising money in most local offices.”

One particularly compelling insight Fallows picked up from his talks with mayors and councilors around the country is that “it’s often more possible to make really long-term changes at the local level and think they’ll stick, than in a lot of other offices, because there’s not the whipsawing back and forth in policy. You can get a park built and think it’s going to be there for another 100 years. You can change a trash-laden waterfall to becoming a public place and think that that will be there in the long run.”

To make a difference at any level of government, Kristof would have to develop a whole new set of skills, because these jobs are harder than they look. Back in May, Amanda Ripley wrote a fascinating article for Politico, telling the story of Gary Friedman of Muir Beach, California. Friedman had helped “invent the field of conflict mediation” and personally “helped more than 2,000 people work through all manner of unpleasantness.” So his neighbors thought he’d be perfect for Muir Beach’s Community Services District Board of Directors. He not only got elected but also became president of the board.

The board, which handles roads and water, had become a highly contentious body. Friedman and his supporters assumed that his deep experience in conflict resolution would defuse tensions. But, as Ripley explained, “one of the nation’s leading gurus of conflict management fell into the same traps he’d taught thousands of people to avoid.” Friedman himself admitted that faced with an “Old Guard” resistant to change, “I became defensive. I became aggressive.” He says he suffered a period of “personal derangement” and was humbled in the process: “I was never thrilled with the way politicians behave, but I do have much more appreciation now of how easy it is to get caught.”

Yet after the humiliation of being ousted from the board’s presidency, he remained on the board and finally figured out how to transcend the political divides that had made local governing dysfunctional. “In the end,” Ripley wrote, “Friedman did help to heal politics in his town. The road got repaired. The water rate got raised. The tone of the meetings improved.”

Learning lessons from suffering setbacks may be easier at the local level, where the spotlight is far less hot than it would be in the governor’s mansion. But if Kristof won municipal office, he might consider keeping his New York Times column, if the paper allowed it, and using it to popularize participation in local government—because local government could use some popularization. And there’s Substack, of course, if the paper couldn’t countenance both.

Many local offices are begging for candidates to fill them. A 2017 study from the Center for Local Elections in American Politics, reviewing 16 years of mayoral races in six states, found that “about half of all mayoral elections feature only one candidate,” and the number is higher in small towns, “where 79 percent of contests are uncontested.” Moreover, “since 2000, unopposed elections are on the rise. By 2016, on average, 60 percent of mayoral contests . . . featured only one candidate.”

Presumably, the numbers on local legislative races aren’t any better and aren’t poised to get any better. Serving in municipal office has always been a notoriously thankless task. Now, school board and city council public comment sessions are increasingly becoming culture war battlegrounds. In all likelihood, fewer thoughtful citizens will voluntarily choose to get yelled at in their spare time.

Kristof is uniquely positioned to change those perceptions. He could regularly share with readers worldwide the challenges and rewards of local government service. And as we got to vicariously travel with him on his political journey, perhaps along the way we would be inspired to follow his lead.

Finally, if Kristof did run for local office, he might discover that he doesn’t want to run for anything else. Fallows shared with me an anecdote about the former mayor of Duluth, Minnesota, Don Ness, who had been encouraged to run for Congress. When Fallows asked him his reaction to being courted, Ness said, “Higher office? Are you kidding? This is where I can make a difference.”

Terry McAuliffe Is Right: Glenn Youngkin is Trumpy. But Can That Win Him Virginia?

Terry McAuliffe is often described as a force of nature, which sounds like a cliché unless you’ve met him. McAuliffe once wrestled an alligator to secure a campaign contribution for Jimmy Carter in 1980. (Then 22, McAuliffe already had a senior position on the president’s reelection finance team.) With a salesman’s firm handshake and direct eye contact, McAuliffe has had a remarkable trajectory as a party fund-raising machine, Democratic National Committee chair, and governor of Virginia. Those gigs have put him at the center of Democratic politics for more than a generation. (McAuliffe once boasted that his Rolodex has more than 18,000 cards.) Now McAuliffe is trying to regain Virginia’s governor’s seat. (The commonwealth doesn’t allow governors to run for consecutive terms, so McAuliffe was ineligible to run for reelection after he left office in January 2018.)

Can he win? The polls are very close. It will largely depend on two things: an off-year reaction to the party in power, and whether McAuliffe’s opponent, the former private equity executive Glenn Youngkin, can sell a Trumpian agenda without alienating too many voters in an increasingly blue state.

A little history: Virginia voted Republican in every presidential election from 1968 to 2004. (It was the only former Confederate state not to back Jimmy Carter in 1976.) Barack Obama broke the GOP’s 36-year streak in 2008. No Republican presidential candidate has won it since. Chalk up its turning blue to the growth of the Washington, D.C., suburbs, a surge in Hispanic residents, and moderate Democrats like McAuliffe and U.S. Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner, who managed to lure swing voters, motivate minorities to get to the polls, and hang on to enough rural whites to get over the top. The last time Virginia elected a Republican governor, Bob McDonnell in 2009, he was convicted of corruption charges for taking luxury gifts from a wealthy businessman while in office (his own wife testified against him), until the Supreme Court unanimously overturned the charges.

McAuliffe had a successful term as governor from 2014 to 2018, so chances should be good for him to get his old job back. The economy boomed under McAuliffe, in part because of the recovery from the financial crisis during his post–financial crisis tenure, but also because of his legendary hustle. A former banking executive, McAuliffe has been in all kinds of businesses, from green energy to campaign tchotchkes. As governor, he took dozens of trips overseas to lure business to the commonwealth. By all measures, he succeeded, including getting Nestlé USA to move its headquarters to Virginia.

On September 17, McAuliffe brought his usual brio to his first debate with Youngkin. At 64, McAuliffe is a decade older than Youngkin. Still, he had more energy than the laconic Republican, whose lanky demeanor, at six foot seven, was somewhere between aw-shucks (he grew up in Richmond and has a lilt) and that of a bored banker at a private school’s silent auction. (Youngkin has an MBA from Harvard and is said to be worth upward of $300 million.)

McAuliffe did well at the forum, held at a law school in the rural, far southwest part of the state, near the Tennessee border—closer to Cincinnati than to D.C. He reiterated that Youngkin was essentially Trump. This echoed McAuliffe’s ubiquitous TV ads, which hammer home Trump’s endorsement of Youngkin and the one-time executive at the Carlyle Group’s own admission, on a radio show, that “Trump represents so much of why I’m running.”

Aside from turning Youngkin into Trump, McAuliffe did a lot to turn himself into Gavin Newsom (or Joe Biden) on the question of vaccine mandates. McAuliffe is all for them. As he said of Youngkin:

He doesn’t believe in forcing people to understand what COVID is going to do to the state and to this country. It’s still raging all across the country. Right here in this county, all the ICU beds are full. So I am for requiring, mandate vaccinations . . . I am for mandating vaccinations for people who teach our children in school, for children who go, and higher ed, hospitals, nursing homes.

Youngkin is against mask and vaccine mandates, but this is the part that should worry Democrats: He did a respectable job with a lousy hand. Youngkin said he has gotten the vaccine, and he has encouraged others to as well. When asked about mandatory vaccinations for health care workers, Youngkin, who has a soft touch, said he’d try to persuade an unvaccinated nurse to get her shot: “Yeah, I think that nurse should fully understand that getting the vaccination’s the best way to protect her health and those around her.” Of course, that’s insane policy—letting your kid’s ICU nurse dither about a COVID-19 shot. As a political maneuver, however, it’s not terrible. It’s a more formidable tack than, say, Larry Elder breathlessly screaming about freedom and socialism.

McAuliffe scored points on abortion, too: “I’ll say this, again, to every woman watching tonight: I will protect your rights. I believe a woman ought to make a decision about her own reproductive rights.” (There’s a tape of Youngkin talking about abortion, saying he can’t be forthright now about how he’ll crack down on a woman’s right to choose if he wins.) McAuliffe also had a good twist on crime, boasting about his sheriffs’ endorsements and noting that Youngkin’s tax-cutting plan would leave the state with a shortfall, forcing it to “defund the police.” (McAuliffe’s words.) Youngkin had some old-school Republican lines: “By the way, if Terry McAuliffe is your next governor, get your checkbook out, because he’s gonna have to raise taxes for you.” And some newer lines, too, like jabs at critical race theory.

The biggest problem for McAuliffe, though, is that this is an odd-year election—and those often help the party out of power. Virginia elected Democrats after George W. Bush’s two victories and Republicans after Bill Clinton’s. The record’s a little more mixed this time, but Democrats are worried that the tide is against them.

There’s also this: Youngkin may represent the Republicans’ best hope this year and be a model for next year—Trump with a human face, a genial mien. (In Trump style, Youngkin refused to declare Biden the winner of the presidential election for months, but he finally relented, and unlike Elder in California, Youngkin said at the debate that he expects a fair election and will abide by it.) I talked to a few prominent Democrats after the debate, and they were all very concerned and didn’t want to be quoted. McAuliffe had been great, they said. They love Terry. They’ve known him forever. (That Rolodex!) But they know that Virginians need to fear Youngkin—and they worry that he wasn’t scary enough.

The Newest GOP Plan to Maintain Minority Rule

When the 2020 census data was released in August, there were plenty of reasons for liberals to celebrate. For the first time in history in American history, the portion of white people dropped below 60 percent. People of color, who overwhelmingly vote for Democrats, now make up the majority of the under-18 population. And metro areas, the hotbeds of liberal thinking, grew by almost 9 percent. As the Democratic political strategist Max Burns wrote in a column for NBC THINK, such results portend a “potential demographic nightmare for a Republican Party that increasingly depends on consolidating white, working-class voters to win elections.”

But things are no easier for Democrats. GOP-dominated state legislatures control some of the country’s most important swing states, such as Florida, Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina, where Republicans could add six to 13 House seats with additional gerrymandering this year. They may gain even more seats by breaking up safe Democratic districts and packing them with Republican-heavy suburbs and rural areas.

Rather than celebrating, then, Democrats are stuck playing defense.

This is especially true in Missouri, where voters in 2020 were essentially tricked into approving sweeping changes to the way the state legislature can apportion districts. Last November, Missourians voted on Amendment 3, a reversal of a 2018 anti-gerrymandering policy that looked like a crackdown on lobbyist gift giving. It threatens to be far worse than anything Missouri Democrats have experienced so far. The new law allows the state legislature to exclude undocumented immigrants and anyone under the age of 18 when apportioning House districts.

If the legislature did that, it would diminish the electoral power of Democrat-dominated districts—and infringe on minority rights and privileges. In other words, it’s a new method of data pulling that Republicans could use to draw districts inherently more favorable to the GOP. The result: even fewer blue districts in Republican-controlled states. As a consequence, swing counties that sent Democrats to Congress in 2018 and 2020 could fall firmly into the ruby-red category.

“What moving away from total population and redistricting would do,” says Yurij Rudensky, a lawyer at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice, “is it would claw away power from these dynamic areas where people live and return it to areas that are moving in the opposite direction, where fewer and fewer people reside.”

Missouri Republicans haven’t yet taken advantage of their expanded apportionment powers, but they have certainly set the stage to do so one day soon. Rudensky and his team at the Brennan Center also worry that two other states, Texas and Georgia, could soon enact and perpetuate a voting-age apportionment standard, too. If Republicans succeed, they could be embarking on yet another scheme to maintain minority rule—as the constituencies they represent continue to shrink on the national level.

Since the landmark Baker v. Carr decision in 1862, districts have been drawn up on the basis of total population size, with representatives elected to serve everyone in their district. But, of course, not everybody votes. Children, undocumented immigrants, and convicted felons sometimes make up large swaths of the populations of major electoral districts and are ineligible to vote, giving those districts more voting power.

Voting-age redistricting, however, first made its way into the national spotlight in 2015, when Sue Evenwel and Ed Pfenninger sued their native state of Texas because they felt their votes were being devalued compared to people living in large cities. Evenwel was a Tea Party activist who believed that Barack Obama’s real father was the communist activist Frank Marshall Davis. Pfenninger was a religious fundamentalist who believed that unicorns are real. Together, they tried to get the court to make a uniform national standard for drawing up legislative districts—based on eligible registered voters, not total population.

The Supreme Court didn’t bite. It unanimously ruled that elected officials serve everyone who lives in their districts, not just those who cast ballots. But two of the court’s conservative justices, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas, opened the door for a broadened understanding of apportionment and vote counting. Both said it wasn’t technically off-limits for states to base apportionment on concepts other than total population—and that legislatures could draw districts based on voting-age populations and other metrics that weren’t technically discriminatory in nature. Under that logic, states could base apportionment on voting-age populations, or even on aggregated totals of how many people usually vote in a place.

Against that backdrop, Missouri voters approved a Democrat-led initiative to overhaul district-drawing practices in 2018. At the time, it looked like governance in the state was turning over a new leaf. House districts would be drawn up by independent judges, allowing gerrymandering to become a far smaller part of the political process. The referendum was dubbed “Clean Missouri.”

After all, change was sorely needed. In those same 2018 elections, Republicans won 71 percent of the seats in the statehouse despite taking home just 57 percent of votes statewide. Decades of GOP gerrymandering had created a fundamentally unfair system in which politicians chose the people who would vote for them, not the other way around. In the past decade, 90 percent of the state’s house elections have been “predetermined,” meaning an opponent from another party stood no shot of winning, according to Sean Soendker Nicholson, principal at the Missouri media firm GPS Impact. Fifty percent of the races during that time weren’t even contested by the other side.

Nicholson has spent the past decade fighting for fair representation around the state. He helped lead the campaign for Clean Missouri and remembers hearing Republican operatives actively planning for a reversal of the new policy the very night that 62 percent of Missouri voters approved it.

The challenge to Clean Missouri made it onto the ballot in 2019—but most voters didn’t realize it. The referendum on the ballot was Amendment 3, which looked like a good thing. The description began by saying it would impose restrictions on lobbying and campaign donations. But deep in the bottom of the paragraph, where most voters stopped reading, was language on new redistricting rules that would undo the popular new nonpartisan redistricting system, under the guise of creating a “bipartisan commission.”

In other words, voters thought they were mainly voting on campaign finance, Nicholson says. “But then, process-wise, it was redistricting. It is a silly system that they’ve instituted where we now have these partisan commissions.”

Missouri isn’t the only state poised to enact voting-age apportionment rules. The Brennan Center published a report in July that focused on Texas and Georgia moving in that direction, in part because both states “are especially susceptible to an apportionment shift because legislators and activists there have deep ties to Republican gerrymandering operatives and are trying to preserve Republican rule.”

Texas is the birthplace of age apportionment plans, which are the brainchild of Republican operatives like the late gerrymandering wizard Thomas Hofeller. Hard drives released after his death show that Hofeller thought a new system in Texas would be “advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic Whites.” He argued that it would inflate the political capital of Republican-dominated demographics while ignoring a fast-growing Hispanic community.

He was right. Rudensky and a team of four other researchers at the Brennan Center found that the effects of apportionment by voting age would disproportionately harm young people in inner-city communities while decreasing the political influence of minority voices. Cities like Atlanta, St. Louis, Kansas City, Houston, and Dallas would see “sharp reductions” in political representation.

If legislators come from areas where they represent more people, they’ll be casting votes in the legislature on behalf of a larger share of the state’s population than representatives from rural districts, accounting for a far greater variety of interests and needs. Under the new system, however, legislators who represent far fewer people—who are mainly Republicans—will gain power, while those who represent more people­—who are mainly Democrats—will lose it.

Despite the passage of Amendment 3 last November, Missouri Republicans have no stated plans, at the moment, to use a new apportionment standard in drawing districts this cycle. Nicholson says that’s likely because the process would immediately be challenged in the courts.

Nathaniel Persily, a professor at Stanford University Law School, says the Supreme Court did not adjudicate the constitutionality of a voting-age apportionment plan in the Evenwel ruling, but Republican advocates of any voting-age apportionment standard would need to substantiate non-discriminatory intent to prove its constitutionality.

“You cannot do it because of its impact on racial groups,” Persily told me. “And that’s not an apportionment concern. That’s a Fourteenth Amendment and equal protection concern about discriminating on the basis of race. As well as potentially a Section II Voting Rights Act violation. You have to have a reason to use something other than the traditional total-population number. And that reasoning cannot be to just take out certain groups.”

Nicholson sees the implications on the ground. Voting-age apportionment would exclude one in five white Missourians when drawing districts. The numbers of Black and Latino Missourians excluded from the political process, however, would be far greater. One in four Black people in the state, and half of Missouri’s Latino community, would not be reflected in district counting. It would drive down their influence as voting blocks—and limit the number of legislators advocating on their behalf in government.

“If you were to draw maps that only counted adult citizens . . . it would be remarkably discriminatory in its impact,”Nicholson said. “And it’s that way by design.”

District drawing by voting age may not necessarily be happening tomorrow. But it’s clearly in the works as a new Republican strategy to stem the tide of demographic change favorable to Democrats.

The GOP exerts complete control over district drawing in several major southern states. Experts worry that despite checks on extreme redistricting in the Midwest, Republicans could do enough damage in Georgia, Texas, Florida, and North Carolina to solidify control of the House for at least the next decade.

In February, the Brennan Center researcher Michael Li unveiled a report that detailed the implications of single-party control over redistricting in those states. This year will be the first in 50 years in which legislatures in the Sunbelt don’t need to clear their districts with the federal government, a key provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act that was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Li predicts that the gerrymandered districts will blunt the effects of dynamic nonwhite population growth at the ballot box. Since 2010, voters of color have represented 78 percent of the increase in the nation’s voting-eligible population. By 2030, a majority of Americans 30 and under will be nonwhite.

To be sure, Democrats gerrymander too. In New York, where the party enjoys a supermajority in the House and Senate, Democrats captured 70 percent of the state’s congressional seats despite winning just 60 percent of the vote in 2020. New maps could purge five additional seats that are currently held by Republicans, skewing the numbers even more.

Still, because of their sheer numbers, Republicans are projected to come out ahead nationally if “both parties maximize their advantage in the states they control,” according to the Cook Political Report analyst David Wasserman.

Republicans are clearly feeling the heat. Now might be their best chance to hold power in key states for decades to come. Voting-age apportionment is a tactic they are preparing to deploy. Democrats should start to take notice—and prepare.