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The Go-To Source on Redistricting

By Richard Whittaker, Fri., March 9, 2012

Michael Li
Michael Li

One truly unexpected consequence of the redistricting farrago has been the rise of Michael Li. A year ago, he was a campaign finance lawyer in Dallas – hardly the most headline-grabbing of careers. Now, courtesy of his blog www.txredistricting.org, Li is arguably the most trusted name in the battle over election boundaries.

The initial drive behind the site was simple: Li was not seeing the kind of coverage he was expecting or wanted. He said, "The information was hard to find, and I thought the reporting was periodic from the press." There is nothing ornate or technically fancy about his site. It is a standard Tumblr account, but what has made it invaluable is the quality, quantity, and clarity of information he provides. He said: "When I started a year ago, I was doing a post every week or so, and then it rose up from there. Then in November and December, it really picked up. ... To be honest, I didn't expect it to be quite as time-consuming as it turned out to be."

That's an understatement. At the height of the trials in San Antonio, Li was posting multiple times a day. His site had all the maps, all the legal filings, and all the press releases, all usually before any other outlet. Increasingly, rather than having to hunt it all down, Li said, the parties are sending such information straight to him. The blog quickly became the one-stop shop for anyone trying to track the ever-shifting sands of the redistricting battleground. Its value may be measured by the list of people following his Twitter feed (@mcpli): It may not be big, but it's a who's who of office holders, office seekers, campaign managers, election officers, and journalists. In fact, Li acknowledges that part of the blog's growth and value is due to the vacuum left by the shrinking press corps – the same reporters who now depend on his work.

As the readership has expanded beyond the original audience of lawyers and policy wonks, Li said, "I've tried to write it in a way that's accessible in plain English. ... So even if you haven't been reading it daily, you'll understand who the Latino Redistricting Task Force is and who MALC is." He was not surprised at the popular interest. "It's a complicated story that intersects law, politics, and political ambition," he explained. "It's almost novellike for such a dry topic."

As time went on and the story became more complicated, Li increasingly found a role battling misrepresentations from both political parties about the law. He is a Democrat, but he has some harsh words for his own party: "The Voting Rights Act is not here to protect partisanship; it's here to protect minority voices. On the other side, there's a lot of misrepresentation about what the [Department of Justice] is doing." For all that, he said, "The response has been pretty positive from both sides, aside from a few people who love writing to tell me I'm obviously completely biased."

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