Arizona Republicans are proposing to gerrymander the state's most populous county, Maricopa, into four smaller counties and to put nearly all of the state's Latino and Black residents in one of them, starving them out for resources and letting Republicans run the other three. Michael Greenberger at WaPo's Monkey Cage blog:
Counties oversee the administration of presidential elections, and elect their own important officials such as sheriffs, school superintendents and election administrators. That makes them critical units of political organization. As The Washington Post reported, critics of the push to divide Maricopa County see this as an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of elections, which are administered at the county level. The new counties, Republicans must calculate, will either vote for Republicans legitimately, or be more likely to be run by election officials who will support attempts to paint future elections as fraudulent.
In my research, I’ve analyzed the history of county division during the Jim Crow era. There I’ve found that newly created counties, like those proposed in Arizona, were more likely to administer fraudulent elections. I also find that these new counties hurt Black voters and Black officeholders the most.
From 1865 to 1920, the period from the Civil War through the early 20th century, state legislatures created more than 300 counties and significantly adjusted the borders of 1,000 existing ones. This geographic manipulation happened during the same period that the federal government ceased enforcing Reconstruction, enabling the former Confederate states to abandon democratic elections and voting rights for African Americans. During this time, new counties were created to target Black voters and officeholders, helping the then-white-supremacist-aligned Democratic Party solidify control over the South and institute Jim Crow rule.
I used the Newberry Library’s online atlas of historical county boundaries, which has data on the historical boundaries of every county in the United States, to detect changes to county boundaries and track the emergence of new counties from 1865 through 1920. Of the roughly 1,500 total counties that existed as this period ends, about 300 were established in the South during the Jim Crow era. Then, using historical election and demographic data, I compared new counties created in the South and counties targeted for manipulation with other counties in the South to see whether they had been targeted for political or racial reasons. By comparing the demographics, turnout, and partisanship of newly created counties and the counties from which their land was taken, I can determine whether the geographic changes were made with racial and political factors in mind. I also looked at whether these changes benefited the party that controlled that state’s legislature.
Over the years leading up to and during Jim Crow in the South, I find that Democratic state legislatures disproportionately ``packed’’ Black voters into new counties, thus reducing their voting power statewide by concentrating their electoral influence in fewer political units.
New counties had a much higher proportion of Black residents than the counties that were divided or adjusted to allow the new county to be created. While most counties in the South had only small concentrations of Black residents, making up from zero to roughly 20 percent, most new counties had between 20 and 75 percent Black residents — leaving the old counties disproportionately White.
Putting all of a minority group into a single county or district, which scholars of congressional gerrymandering call “packing,” served several purposes — just as it would in Arizona today. First, the new counties that are more likely to vote in line with the political goals of the state legislature — Democrats in the Jim Crow South, Republicans in contemporary Arizona — would elect more like-minded political officers and would certify election results favorable to the state legislature. Second, the new counties packed with non-White residents can be policed in ways that discourage voting or have the results manipulated for fraudulent outcomes.
What Arizona wants with three new blood red GOP counties are three new county boards of voting officials that will stack the deck to steal the 2024 election for the GOP.