Review: 'Unrigged' shows how grassroots efforts can improve voter access and democracy


"Unrigged: How Americans are Battling Back to Save Democracy," by David Daley

UNRIGGED: How Americans Are Battling Back to Save Democracy. By David Daley. Norton. 253 pages. $26.95.

David Daley’s first book, the 2016 nationwide best-selling "Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count," exposed how Republican operatives weaponized gerrymandering across the nation in 2000 to entrench GOP power in state and federal elections, even when the party earned far fewer votes than the Democrats.

His newest effort, "Unrigged," is largely a photograph of the national movement that his previous book helped spawn, and suggests the possibility of a nationwide grassroots voter rebellion.

Daley researched his book by crisscrossing the nation to meet grassroots organizers, attend their meetings, and accompany them as they went door-to-door and town-to-town seeking signatures for petitions. He tells the story by focusing on a few individual how-could-it-happen-here personal accounts, which, when taken together, paint a portrait of what has become a vibrant national movement.

For example, Daley tells the story of Katie Fahey, a 27-year-old who worked at a Michigan recycling nonprofit. After the 2016 elections, Fahey became so incensed over the results of gerrymandering in her state, the most gerrymandered state in the nation, that she wrote on her Facebook page, “I’d like to take on gerrymandering in Michigan. If you’re interested in doing this as well, please let me know.”

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The result? More than 4,000 volunteers collected more than 400,000 signatures, raised almost $15 million, and forced the state government, which strongly opposed them, to end gerrymandering, according to Daley.

As the understanding spread that Republicans in 25 states had used gerrymandering and other tools to make it difficult, even impossible, for Democrats to win elections, and to make it hard for black people and other likely Democrats to vote, ordinary citizens all across America began to rebel. The movement was led mostly by Democrats, but a large number of Republicans who also felt every American should have equal access to the ballot joined them.

Grassroots movements in Colorado, Utah, Ohio and Missouri forced their states’ governments to rewrite their laws to ensure that everyone had an equal chance to vote. Voters in other states took on such issues as voter ID laws, precinct closures, putting precincts in places hard to reach by people likely to vote Democratic, restoring voting rights for released felons, and more.

These initiatives all were led by ordinary citizens, many of whom had no experience with government. They took on overwhelming opposition, including decidedly unfriendly legislators and their deep-pocketed backers. But no matter how powerful the opposition, no matter how politically connected or financially strong their opponents were, the activists refused to quit. They spoke truth to power.

And, they won.

Reviewer Skip Johnson is a writer and editor in Charleston.

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