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  • 21 Feb 2019 7:41 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Frederick County could return completely to 6th District - The Frederick New-Post - by Samantha Hogan

    ANNAPOLIS — An emergency commission assigned to redraw Maryland’s congressional map ahead of the 2020 election has given preliminary approval to return all of Frederick County to the 6th District.

    The proposed map would unify Garrett, Allegany, Washington, Frederick, and portions of Carroll and Montgomery counties into one congressional district. The commission settled on this concept because it will affect the smallest number of existing congressional districts while meeting a federal order to redraw the 6th District.

    The solution, however, may not be as elegant for the rest of the state.

    The challenge of redrawing the 6th District alone is that it will inevitably require other congressional boundaries to be shifted as well. The commission considered on Wednesday whether it should make small changes to all eight districts to fix the map or limit its changes to two districts — namely, the 6th and 8th districts that currently divide Frederick County in half.

    “I would like to see less destruction to the others,” said retired U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams. This became the consensus opinion.

    Williams, a registered Democrat, is co-chairing Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) Emergency Commission on Sixth District Gerrymandering with Walter Olson, who is a registered Republican from Frederick County and senior fellow at the CATO Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. The commission also includes League of Women Voters Administrative Director Ashley Oleson, who is unaffiliated, and six community members.

    Williams cautioned that the commission could open a “hornet’s nest” of lawsuits if it overstepped and redrew all the districts instead of just the 6th District. The General Assembly may also not approve the map if too many districts change, Oleson said.

    The design of the current congressional map — which has been in place since 2013 — makes it difficult to keep the existing districts intact, though. Many of the congressional districts “snake” across multiple counties to reach populated areas, including the 3rd District, which borders the proposed changes to the 6th District.

    “You may think 3 is the worst district ever designed, but there are ways to make it worse,” Olson said.

    He knows this from test manipulations of the 6th District with publicly available mapping software from the Maryland Department of Planning. He and others on the commission noted that small manipulations often led to a “cascade” of changes to the other congressional districts.

    For instance, when some tried to pull all of Carroll County into the 6th District — as it historically was — it required then shifting the borders of the 1st District, which covers the Eastern Shore and northeast Maryland. Then, to fix that district required changes to districts 2, 3, 4 or 7.

    “The map is so messed up, in so many ways. It’s like an auto accident where you’re doing surgery on the shoulder and the leg is amputated,” Olson said in an interview after the meeting.

    What has also become obvious through the test maps is there is no way to keep all Maryland counties intact while also preserving as many congressional districts as possible.

    The majority of the commission agreed it did not want to split counties into multiple congressional districts, but due to the state’s geography and how its population is clustered, it will be impossible not to divide some counties while meeting the strict population requirements for congressional districts. Each congressional district must have an equal population, which for Maryland is approximately 721,000 people.

    Montgomery County has a population of over 1 million people, so there is no way to keep the county in a single congressional district.

    But some potential changes could also make the splitting of counties worse than it already is, Olson said. Certain scenarios would divide Montgomery County into four congressional districts — rather than three — and others would break Anne Arundel County into five districts, instead of the four districts that exist now.

    “We want to minimize where we’re splitting counties,” said Matt Douglas, an unaffiliated voter on the commission from Montgomery County.

    The commission is reviewing approximately seven maps submitted by the public. It will continue to accept map submissions online for one more week, until Feb. 27.

    The commission is leaning toward moving the portions of Frederick and Carroll counties assigned to the 8th District back into the 6th District, and extending the 6th District down to Germantown in Montgomery County. The 8th District would then absorb the remaining area, including Montgomery Village and Gaithersburg.

    It may also consider a map that would bring the “four corners” where Frederick, Carroll, Montgomery and Howard counties meet and pull the rural section of Howard County into the 6th District. But this change would affect the 7th District and potentially others as well.

    Due to inclement weather, the commission met via conference call Wednesday. It will meet in Annapolis next week to vote on a final map, which will then to sent to the governor. The map must be on the governor’s desk by March 4.

    In his executive order forming the emergency commission, Hogan outlined that there would be a public comment period on the proposed map through March 26 and the map would be finalized by April 2.

    In the interim, the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a legal challenge from Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) to the order to redraw the 6th District. The case — Lamone v. Benisek — is on the court’s calendar for oral arguments on March 26.

    “We’re going to do all we can to meet our deadline,” Williams said.

  • 20 Feb 2019 3:23 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Gerrymandering solutions possible, Forum speaker says - Leader Telegram - by Erica Jones

    While Wisconsin waits to reargue a gerrymandering case in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, the state should look to examples of better redistricting procedures, like those found in Pennsylvania, California and Iowa, a UW-Madison political science professor argued Wednesday night to an audience of roughly 75 people at the UW-Eau Claire Forum.

    Barry Burden, also director of the Elections Research Center, said those three states have each come up with different solutions to the problem of gerrymandering.

    Pennsylvania turned to its state courts to create districts that honor its swing state status.

    California founded a citizen commission comprising equal numbers of Republican, Democratic and nonpartisan voters who work together to create maps that don’t heavily favor one party over the other. Iowa, which Burden said is the best example of a strong redistricting solution, has a state agency that looks at census data and produces districts without considering partisanship and generally tries to keep counties together.

    “It’s inexpensive, it’s transparent, it’s done very quickly and there’s no reason Wisconsin can’t do it,” Burden said of Iowa’s method.

    Though a few have made it to the Supreme Court, no gerrymandering cases have ever been settled by the Supreme court. One major reason, Burden argued, was that there was never a standard to measure gerrymandered districts against. Last year’s Gill v. Whitford out of Wisconsin was pushed back to the lower courts for that very reason. The case will be reargued after seeing how a similar North Carolina case is decided.

    Burden said the extra time is beneficial because it gives the plaintiffs more time to collect evidence to prove gerrymandering in the state unconstitutional. On top of that, Burden said, a man named Nicholas Stephanopoulos came up with a measure called the efficiency gap that could aid the Supreme Court in determining unconstitutionality of district lines.

    Wisconsin’s case is different from others. It deals with Assembly districts rather than congressional districts, and 2011 was the first time in roughly 60 years that one party was in charge of drawing the district maps.

    Besides offering solutions for the state’s gerrymandering problem, Burden also made a point to dispel myths about the effects of gerrymandering.

    “It’s our instinct to see the district wiggling around and assume something malicious is happening,” Burden said. “We get the sense that this is bad actors doing terrible things.”

    Gerrymandering, Burden said, can indeed be done for a number of reasons including partisan bias, personal political vendettas, protection of incumbents and more. But just because districts sometimes come out looking odd and misshapen doesn’t necessarily mean they were created out of animosity.

    When mapmakers create new districts, they have a list of things to consider: equal population, contiguity, minority population, communities of interest, jurisdictional boundaries, compactness and competitiveness.

    “It’s a reasonable set of things to think about, but it’s impossible to do all of them simultaneously,” Burden said.

    Thus, it is sometimes hard to avoid ugly-looking maps. Two principles Burden said people should keep in mind are responsiveness — whether or not the number of seats changes when the number of votes changes — and symmetry — whether or not the majority parties would be treated the same way if the roles were reversed.

    Another concern Burden addressed was partisan polarization, and while he contended that gerrymandering can have some effect, “polarization is trucking along on its own just fine.”

    Time is of the essence in finding a solution for gerrymandering, Burden said, as the 2020 census will demand another round of redistricting in the state. It is a process that is vital to democracy, he said.

    Barb Flom, a resident of Knapp in Dunn County, came to The Forum presentation because she is a plaintiff in the Gill v. Whitford case. She was hoping to glean information about the next steps in the case and about gerrymandering in general.

    “I think it’s so surprising that they can draw boundaries in the state that fail to capture the actual vote in the state,” Flon said.

  • 20 Feb 2019 3:20 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Clock Is Ticking on Efforts to Overhaul Redistricting - Oklahoma Watch - by Trevor Brown

    Time is running out for efforts to have a bipartisan, citizen-led commission redraw Oklahoma’s legislative and congressional boundaries – a move that would take the process out of the hands of the Legislature.

    A citizen-led group called Represent Oklahoma and a Democratic state lawmaker are pursuing separate paths to place a state question on the ballot that would allow voters to decide whether to overhaul the state’s redistricting process. Under the current method, the Legislature is responsible for the task after population figures are determined in the decennial census.

    Both plans face significant obstacles as well as an approaching deadline.

    Unless backers can get a state question on the ballot by sometime in 2020, they will have to wait another decade to try to join the growing number of states that have attempted to take partisan politics out of drawing legislative and congressional districts.

    Six states have independent redistricting commissions, including Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana and Washington. Citizen or legislative initiatives, meanwhile, are being organized in several other states.

    “There is an urgency this year,” said Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa. She is sponsoring the only legislation, among more than 2,800 bills or resolutions filed this year, that seeks a change to the state’s redistricting process. “It really is now or never.”

    The Two Plans

    Goodwin’s proposal would allow Republican legislative leaders to select four members of the commission and Democrats to select four. The ninth and final member, who can’t belong to either political party, would be selected by a majority vote of the eight other members.

    This group of unpaid volunteer appointees would be able to hire experts and staff paid out of the budget for the state Senate and House.

    The legislation, however, faces tough odds of being heard, much less passing, in the Legislature either this year or next.

    The proposal, House Joint Resolution 1019, was assigned to the House Rules Committee – a panel Goodwin said traditionally has been a bill “graveyard” because of the high number of bills that are sent to the committee but never given a hearing.

    Goodwin said she believes that given the merits of the proposal, if GOP leaders allow it to be heard, it would easily emerge from committee and find overwhelming support on the floor. Asked if she is optimistic that will occur, Goodwin responded, “Only time will tell.”

    But another avenue exists to overhaul the state’s redistricting process.

    In 2017, Represent Oklahoma, a nonprofit, was formed with the goal of raising $400,000 in an effort to file paperwork, fight off any legal challenges and collect signatures to get its own redistricting plan on the 2018 general election ballot.

    That effort came up empty.

    But Rico Smith, executive director of the organization, said the group has reorganized and is now targeting the 2020 elections.

    Smith, who has worked on Democratic campaigns, said the organization plans to start the signature-collecting phase sometime this year. Organizers would have to collect about 178,500 signatures from registered voters within a 90-day period.

    Smith said his group contracted with the Crowe & Dunlevy law firm to draft the initiative petition, which he said is ready to be submitted to the state.

    Represent Oklahoma hasn’t publicly submitted a draft proposal. But documents provided to Oklahoma Watch show that, like Goodwin’s plan, it calls for an independent commission made up of private citizens from different political parties.

    The group’s current plan calls for a 15-member panel with Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and independents naming two members each and the rest being randomly chosen from applicants selected according to the state’s party affiliation representation and other demographic criteria.

    Need for Change?

    The concept of an independent, bipartisan redistricting commission is not foreign to Oklahoma.

    Under the current process, if lawmakers fail to approve new maps for political districts, an independent commission composed of Republicans and Democrats must be convened to draw up and approve the maps. Voters approved a state question in 2010 providing the backup plan. 

    But this scenario is unlikely for a Legislature in which Republicans control 77 seats in the 101-member House and 38 seats in the 48-member Senate.

    Goodwin said the current process gives lawmakers the ability to protect their own seats and create districts that favor their parties.

    “I think it’s pretty clear cut that people should pick their elected representatives instead of elected representatives picking their people,” she said.

    The question of whether political parties have unfairly gerrymandered districts to their advantage has been a source of intense debate nationwide.

    The U.S. Supreme Court agreed earlier this year to hear two congressional redistricting challenges. One accused Maryland Democrats, and the other North Carolina, of gerrymandering districts. The cases could set a precedent for how the court treats ultra-partisan redistricting plans.

    One argument from plaintiffs in these and other recent cases is based on a measure called the “efficiency gap,” a mathematical formula designed to detect the likelihood of partisan gerrymandering. A pair of researchers applied that measure to a dozen states, including Oklahoma, and concluded there was evidence of gerrymandering in all of them.

    The Coming Deadline 

    Getting on a statewide election ballot is critical because the state must begin redistricting once the Census Bureau finalizes the census population results by the end of 2020.

    Oklahoma’s Constitution requires the Legislature to pass congressional and legislative redistricting plans within 90 legislative days of the start of the 2021 session.

    Goodwin and Smith said they believe their proposed redistricting panel would be ready to go if voters approve it in November 2020, if not in a primary election earlier.

    Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City, said some preliminary work, including hiring legislative staff to support redistricting is already underway.

    But he gave no indication that Republicans would be looking to overhaul the redistrictingprocess.

    “We know it’s right around the corner,” he said. “So we are preparing for that.”

  • 17 Feb 2019 7:53 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Has your legislator supported nonpartisan maps? Here are the NC Republicans who have - The Herald Sun - by Paul A. Specht


    There’s more support for redistricting reform than meets the eye, according to one North Carolina legislator.

    For decades, North Carolina’s election maps have been criticized as biased toward whichever party controlled the legislature when the maps were drawn. And currently, the state faces four different legal challenges to its maps.

    So Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Republican from Henderson County, hopes the legislature will change its ways before the maps need to be redrawn in 2021. On Feb. 13, McGrady introduced a bill that would shift redistricting responsibilities from the legislature to a committee of non-politicians.

    Given GOP legislators have controlled the state House and state Senate since 2011, it may seem like Republicans aren’t interested in redistricting reform. But that’s not so, McGrady claims.

    “In my caucus, nearly half of the Republicans now serving have voted for this type of bill … or have cosponsored one or more of the nonpartisan redistricting bills,” McGrady said Wednesday during a press conference.

    There are currently 65 Republicans in the House. For McGrady’s claim to be correct, about 33 of them need to have previously supported a redistricting bill.

    How close does McGrady come? If we’re talking about House Republicans who supported bills before 2019, McGrady comes up a little short – something he realized when contacted by PolitiFact.

    McGrady said he got his information from Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC, a left-leaning voting rights advocacy group. McGrady miscounted the number of legislators who previously supported nonpartisan redistricting, he said in an email..

    “I didn’t realize I was double counting some members since they were included both as voting for a bill and cosponsoring one or more bills,” McGrady said, referring to a list he was given.

    It’s also important to note that Republicans who previously supported a nonpartisan redistricting bill aren’t necessarily going to support it this year.

    Still, McGrady’s not that far off. His prediction comes close, but only because of Republicans who support his bill this year.

    Let’s walk down memory lane.

    A 2011 BILL

    Among the bills McGrady mentioned in his press conference was House Bill 824, a bill introduced in 2011 that would’ve created a nonpartisan redistricting process.

    Five current House members were among the bill sponsors:

    • David Lewis of Harnett County
    • John Faircloth of Guilford
    • Julia Howard of Davie
    • Sarah Stevens of Surry (House Speaker pro tempore)
    • Harry Warren of Rowan.

    Ten more voted for the bill at least once:

    • Hugh Blackwell of Burke County,
    • William Brisson of Bladen (who in 2011 was a Democrat)
    • George Cleveland of Onslow
    • Jimmy Dixon of Duplin
    • Craig Horn of Union
    • Pat Hurley of Randolph
    • Linda Johnson of Cabarrus
    • Pat McElraft of Carteret
    • Tim Moore of Cleveland
    • John Torbett of Gaston

    That makes 15 Republican legislators who voted on HB 824.

    A 2013 BILL

    In 2013, a bipartisan group of legislators filed another nonpartisan redistricting bill.

    The bill, HB 606, was never put up for a vote. But several Republican supporters of the 2011 bill sponsored HB 606, as well as these six other Republicans:

    • Jay Adams of Catawba County
    • Jon Hardister of Guilford
    • Jason Saine of Lincoln
    • Phil Shepard of Onslow
    • John Szoka of Cumberland
    • McGrady, the bill sponsor.

    So far, that puts our count of nonpartisan redistricting supporters at 21 Republicans.

    BILLS IN 2015, 2017

    In 2015, HB 92 sought to form a nonpartisan redistricting commission. It was never voted on, but several current Republicans supported it, including John Fraley of Iredell County and Lee Zachary of Yadkin.

    A similar bill, HB 200, was introduced in 2017 and never voted on. Cody Henson of Transylvania County was among a handful of Republican sponsors.

    By our count, 24 Republican House members supported nonpartisan redistricting bills before this year.

    That brings us to 2019 and the bill McGrady just introduced, HB 69. It’s sponsored by eight Republicans who weren’t already on our list:

    • Jerry Carter of Rockingham County
    • Kevin Corbin of Macon
    • Ted Davis of New Hanover
    • Edward Goodwin of Chowan
    • Holly Grange of New Hanover
    • Bobby Hanig of Currituck
    • Stephen Ross of Alamance
    • Wayne Sasser of Stanly County

    (Goodwin, Hanig, Ross and Sasser added their names to the bill after McGrady’s press conference.)

    That means, as of 3 p.m. Friday afternoon, 32 House Republicans have cosponsored or voted for a nonpartisan redistricting bill at some point. Additionally, Republican Reps. Greg Murphy of Pitt County and Keith Kidwell of Beaufort signed a pledge with Common Cause NC, to support an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission.


    McGrady said “nearly half” of House Republicans have supported a nonpartisan redistricting bill. Only 24 House Republicans (about 37 percent) supported a nonpartisan redistricting bill before 2019, which isn’t close to half of the 65 GOP House members.

    But, when you consider Republican support for his new bill, he’s pretty much right that nearly half of House Republicans have supported the idea of nonpartisan redistricting at some point. We rate this claim Half True.

  • 17 Feb 2019 7:42 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Senators propose redistricting plans: Legislative committee or independent commission? - Lincoln Journal Star - by Chris Dunker

    Redrawing political boundaries will be a new experience for 48 of Nebraska's 49 state senators when the Legislature tackles the task in two short years.

    The only lawmaker who was in the Legislature during the last redistricting process, in 2011, was Omaha Sen. Steve Lathrop, who returned to the body after sitting out four years because of term limits. He'll be around in 2021, but Sen. Ernie Chambers, who has also been through the process, will be out because of term limits.

    The lack of experience, as well as a tendency for Nebraska to change how it approaches redistricting each decade, has led to several attempts to codify best practices into law.

    This year, a pair of Omaha lawmakers have offered plans that would create greater statutory clarity for the 2021 redistricting and beyond, providing the Legislature a divergent set of options to pursue.

    The first is Sen. Sara Howard's plan (LB466), which would keep the Legislature's Redistricting Committee intact while standing up more guidelines and greater opportunities for public feedback.

    "Nebraska has never redistricted in the same way twice," Howard told the Executive Board on Thursday. "I think that our job is to make sure future Legislatures have some certainty in how we're going to do something as important as redistricting."

    Her proposal requires the Office of Legislative Research to use state-issued computer software to create maps of equal population that do not consider political affiliation, prior voting data, and use only demographic information provided through the Census to propose contiguous districts that give deference to county and municipal lines.

    Once drafted, the maps would go through public hearings in each of Nebraska's three congressional districts before being taken up by the Legislature for consideration.

    The second plan (LB253), by Sen. John McCollister, would create an Independent Redistricting Citizen's Advisory Committee — the same plan sponsored in 2016 by then-Sens. Heath Mello of Omaha and John Murante of Gretna.

    Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the Mello-Murante plan, which passed final reading 29-15, citing concerns that it removed the redistricting plan from the Legislature's control.

    McCollister said the six-member committee, which would include two people from each of Nebraska's three congressional districts and be limited to three members total from each political party, would "have a short lifespan" and be advisory in nature only.

    Like in Howard's proposal, McCollister's bill calls for the maps to be drawn in the Office of Legislative Research, reflecting districts of equal population, that are compact, contiguous and follow the boundaries of counties, cities, villages and subdivisions, while creating communities of common interest without considering political party affiliation or how voters were registered in previous elections, and comply with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    Testifiers expressed support for either option, and voiced hope the Executive Board would advance both for debate by the full Legislature.

    John Else, a retired professor from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, told the committee that both plans reinforced the idea that "voters choose their representatives" and not the other way around.

    Common Cause Nebraska executive director Gavin Geis said advancing both bills out of committee would give the Legislature ample opportunity to discuss both and choose the best option for the state, although he added that McCollister's bill included certain provisions that would prevent diluting legislative districts through "cracking" or "packing."

    Danielle Conrad, the executive director of ACLU of Nebraska and a former state senator who served on the last redistricting committee, said each bill was focused on transparency, taking partisanship out of the process, and reinforcing voting rights.

    And Brad Christian-Sallis, voting rights policy organizer for Civic Nebraska, said Howard's plan moved toward "a more just form of redistricting" with public input and protections against partisan influence, while McCollister's bill afforded more opportunities for Nebraskans to have input.

    There were some questions about how members would be chosen to the independent committee under McCollister's plan, however.

    Speaker Jim Scheer said as more Nebraskans register as nonpartisan or independent voters, they might have the numbers to be named to the committee.

    The vice chair of the Libertarian Party of Nebraska, Matt Maly, echoed Scheer, saying that because McCollister's bill referenced the two political parties receiving the most votes in the last statewide election, a large segment of Nebraskans would be excluded from the process.

    Maly said the Legislature wasn't driven by political parties and that senators had "fairly equal say" in all matters. Just as how Libertarian, nonpartisan or independent Nebraskans would be excluded from the committee, so too would senators who identify themselves in those terms.

    Fixing that snag would be easy, Maly said, by adjusting the language to open up the committee to anyone not in the highest polling political party, rather than the highest and the second-highest.

    Although the Executive Board took no action Thursday, both Howard and McCollister said there was an urgency to the Legislature defining a redistricting process this year.

    Howard said former lawmakers have warned that the 2021 redistricting could be "awful" without a process set in statute.

    "Our nonpartisan Legislature functions best when we take politics out of it," she said.

    McCollister added that any plan — he suggested the best parts of both could be combined into a single bill — should be adopted before the 2020 election cycle in order to keep the nonpartisan nature of the proposals intact.

    "We don't want to wait until 2020, when it's a political year," he said. "That complicates our life considerably so."

  • 12 Feb 2019 4:46 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Anne Arundel delegate proposes 'easily understood' rules to eliminate congressional gerrymandering - Baltimore Sun - by Pamela Wood

    As the Democratic and Republican parties battle over how to draw congressional districts, one Maryland delegate thinks he has a simple solution to the problem.

    Del. Michael Malone is sponsoring a bill that would require congressional districts to be compact and respect geographic boundaries and local city and county boundaries. It’s the same legal standard required for the state’s districts for delegates and state senators.

    “It’s easily understood. It provides clear guidelines,” said Malone, an Anne Arundel County Republican who has long held an interest in redistricting.

    Maryland’s congressional districts are considered among the most gerrymandered in the nation, with one federal judge once infamously describing one of the districts as “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”

    In November, a federal court ordered that Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Western Maryland and much of Montgomery County, be redrawn.

    U.S. Supreme Court agrees to hear Maryland, North Carolina cases on congressional district boundaries

    Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, a Democrat, has appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, with oral arguments set for next month.

    As the court case plays out, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has appointed a commission to suggest new boundaries for the district. He also is pushing legislation that would require congressional districts to be drawn in the future by a bipartisan commission.

    Malone said he supports the governor’s bill, but is putting forth his idea as a simpler alternative with bipartisan support.

    Malone counts 22 Democrats among his cosponsors and has cosponsors from Baltimore City and every county in the state. But he hasn’t been able to gain traction with legislative leaders, and the same bill failed last year.

    Malone said that gerrymandering is bad for democracy because those who are elected don’t end up reflecting the politics of the people they represent.

    Federal judges say Maryland's 6th congressional district is unconstitutional; map must be redrawn for 2020

    He believes that requiring congressional districts to be compact and taking into account geographic and county boundaries will go a long way to creating districts that make more sense, and are less likely to be drawn to favor one political party over another.

    Maryland’s members of the House of Representatives include just one Republican — Rep. Andy Harris — and seven Democrats.

    “It’s causing hyper-partisan politics,” he said. “It’s wrong for Democrats to do it in Maryland and it’s wrong for Republicans to do it elsewhere.”

    Malone’s bill isn’t scheduled yet for a hearing in the House of Delegates, but a companion bill from Sen. Ed Reilly, also an Anne Arundel Republican, is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee on Feb. 28.

  • 12 Feb 2019 4:44 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Liberals eye 2020 takeover of Wisconsin Supreme Court - AP News - by Scott Bauer

    MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin liberals hope to take a key step this spring toward breaking a long conservative stranglehold on the state’s Supreme Court, in an election that could also serve as a barometer of the political mood in a key presidential swing state.

    If the liberal-backed candidate wins the April 2 state Supreme Court race, liberals would be in prime position to take over the court when the next seat comes up in 2020 — during a presidential primary when Democrats expect to benefit from strong turnout.

    The bitterly partisan court, which conservatives have controlled since 2008, has upheld several polarizing Republican-backed laws, none more so than former GOP Gov. Scott Walker’s law that essentially eliminated collective bargaining for public workers.

    If liberals can win in April and again in 2020, they would have the majority until at least 2025.

    “It is absolutely critical we win this race,” liberal attorney Tim Burns, who lost a Wisconsin Supreme Court race in 2018, said of the April election. “It does set us up for next year to get a court that’s likely to look very differently on issues of the day like voters’ rights and gerrymandering.”

    The court could face big decisions on several partisan issues in the coming years, including on the next round of redistricting that follows the 2020 Census, lawsuits challenging the massive Foxconn Technology Group project backed by President Donald Trump, and attempts to undo laws that Republicans passed during a recent lame-duck session to weaken the incoming Democratic governor before he took office.

    A group run by former Democratic U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder that fights gerrymandered maps spent money supporting the winning liberal candidate in last year’s Wisconsin Supreme Court race. It was expected to do so again this spring ahead of the next round of redistricting.

    Given that Wisconsin now has a Democratic governor and Republican-dominated Legislature, the courts will increasingly serve as the battleground where disputes will be resolved, said Douglas Keith, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks spending in judicial races.

    Keith said he expects millions to be spent on the April race by outside groups even though majority control won’t shift by its result alone.

    This year’s race, which is officially nonpartisan, pits liberal-backed chief state Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer against fellow Appeals Court Judge Brian Hagedorn, the choice of conservatives.

    “This is likely going to be the race that determines the philosophy that will govern the Supreme Court for the next 10 to 20 years,” Hagedorn said in an interview. “People understand what’s at stake in this race.”

    Liberals are confident the electorate is on their side. Liberal-backed Rebecca Dallet won a spot on the high court last year in a race where she ran a television ad critical of President Donald Trump. Democrats captured every statewide race in 2018 and recent polls show voters siding with Democrats on a host of issues raised during that election.

    Trump became the first Republican to carry Wisconsin since Ronald Reagan in 1984, and Democrats are determined to put the state back in their column in 2020. The result of April’s court race will be read as the latest indicator of their prospects.

    “They are holding a good hand,” said Republican strategist and longtime court watcher Brian Nemoir. “But we are in a period of political swings right now. What’s true yesterday may not be true tomorrow.”

    Democrats are even more confident about 2020, when conservative Justice Dan Kelly will be up for re-election. That race takes place during a presidential primary that should have heavy turnout by Democrats — but not by Republicans, with Trump at this stage unlikely to face a serious primary challenge.

    Legislative Republicans were so concerned about losing the Kelly seat that they actually considered moving the primary date to improve his chances, but they ultimately dropped the idea amid widespread criticism.

    Both Hagedorn and Neubauer pitch themselves as impartial, despite having partisan ties.

    “I am not running for the Supreme Court to promote any policy agenda whatsoever, whether Governor Walker’s or Governor Evers’,” Hagedorn said. “My job doesn’t change one bit depending on who the governor is or who controls the Legislature.”

    Hagedorn, 41, served as a law clerk for state Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman, whose victory in 2008 gave conservatives control of the court. Hagedorn served as an assistant attorney general, worked in private practice and was Walker’s chief legal counsel for nearly five years. Walker appointed him to the state appeals court in 2015 and Hagedorn won election two years later.

    Hagedorn’s law school blog from 2005 and 2006 has become a flashpoint in the race. He wrote about his evangelical Christian beliefs, calling Planned Parenthood a “wicked organization” and denouncing court rulings favoring gay rights by likening homosexuality to bestiality.

    Hagedorn hasn’t apologized for what he wrote and said his personal views don’t affect his judicial rulings. Neubauer said she was surprised by the posts, but she declined to comment beyond that.

    Neubauer, 61, was appointed to the appeals court in 2007 by former Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle. She previously donated $8,100 to Doyle.

    Neubauer was elected to the appeals court in 2008, re-elected in 2014 and has been chief judge since 2015. She spent almost 20 years as an attorney in private practice.

    Both candidates cite bipartisan endorsements as proof that they would be impartial.

    Neubauer’s campaign is full of Democratic operatives, including Scott Spector, who managed Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s re-election victory last year. Hagedorn’s campaign is run by Stephan Thompson, a former Walker campaign manager.

    Neubauer’s husband, Jeff, was a former Democratic legislator and past chairman of the Wisconsin Democratic Party while her daughter, Greta Neubauer, is currently a state representative from Racine.

    “I have chosen a very different path than my family,” Neubauer said. “I would ask to be judged on the path that I’ve chosen and my path is as a judge.”

    The winner will serve a 10-year term.

  • 9 Feb 2019 3:46 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    California Voting Rights Act survives legal challenge, but it’s not over - San Francisco Chronicle - by Bob Egelko

    A federal judge has rejected a challenge to the California Voting Rights Act, which has required numerous local governments to switch from at-large to district elections to empower their minority populations. But the conservative who won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a key section of the federal voting-rights law says the California case is headed for higher courts.

    “We are disappointed with the ruling. We have every intention of seeking an appeal (in) the Ninth Circuit (Court of Appeals), and beyond if necessary,” Edward Blum, president of the nonprofit Project on Fair Representation, said Tuesday.

    The California law, passed in 2002, requires local governments and districts that hold at-large elections, drawing all candidates from the entire area, to change to district elections if a local minority group can show that voting in the community favors the majority because of racial polarization. That requires proof that a majority racial group has historically voted as a bloc to elect its own candidates or to pass race-related ballot measures opposed by minorities.

    “It’s having a big impact in California,” said Rick Hasen, a UC Irvine law professor and election-law expert. He said many school districts, in particular, have had to adopt district election plans in recent years after being threatened with lawsuits. San Francisco switched to district elections under a local ballot measure that took effect in 2000.

    Defenders of at-large elections say they encourage candidates to consider the diverse views of an entire community. Opponents say those elections allow a majority, whether racial or political, to ignore minority concerns.

    California courts upheld the law in 2006, rejecting arguments that it was racially discriminatory, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied review. But Hasen said the high court might take a different view now in light of its 2015 ruling on the federal Voting Rights Act.

    In a suit sponsored by Blum’s organization, the court overturned a provision of the federal law requiring state and local governments with a history of racial bias to seek Justice Department approval before changing their district boundaries or voting rules. The 5-4 ruling by Chief Justice John Roberts said the pervasive discrimination that might have justified the law in the past no longer existed.

    Blum’s group challenged the California law in 2017 on behalf of Don Higginson, former mayor of the San Diego County community of Poway, which had just shifted to district elections to avoid another threatened lawsuit. Higginson’s suit argued that the new districts, drawn to protect minorities who had been harmed by racially polarized voting, amounted to gerrymandering that discriminated against him and other whites.

    But U.S. District Judge William Hayes of San Diego said Monday that Higginson had presented no evidence of potential “racial gerrymandering.” He said courts have allowed election officials to consider race for certain purposes, such as creating “majority-minority” districts in areas that have lacked minority representation, as long as they do not simply “separate voters into different districts on the basis of race,” in the words of a 1993 Supreme Court ruling.

    Even if the California law was passed to “maximize minority voting strength,” Hayes said, the suit failed to plausibly claim that either state lawmakers or the Poway district-designers “classified Higginson into a district because of his membership in a particular racial group” or treated voters differently based on their race.

    Thomas Saenz, president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed arguments in support of the state law, said the ruling “appropriately distinguished California’s attempt to remedy and prevent racial discrimination in voting from discrimination itself.”

  • 9 Feb 2019 3:44 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    US Judge Hears Arguments in Mississippi Redistricting Case - Jackson Free Press - by the Associated Press

    JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — A federal judge heard arguments Wednesday about whether African-American voters in part of Mississippi have a chance to elect a candidate of their choice in a state Senate district with a slim black majority.

    Three black plaintiffs sued the state in July, asking U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves to order that Senate District 22 be redrawn to increase its black majority.

    One of the plaintiffs' attorneys, Rob McDuff, said the district has a history of racially polarized voting that creates hurdles for any black candidate to win in the district.

    "They are always losing, no matter how good the quality of the candidate," McDuff said Wednesday.

    Mike Wallace is an attorney representing Republican Gov. Phil Bryant and Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who are two of the three state election commissioners named as defendants. Wallace said that although Mississippi had barriers in the past to black voter registration and participation, plaintiffs failed to show that African-Americans face hurdles now in District 22.

    "There isn't anything impeding them from exercising the right to vote," Wallace said.

    African-Americans make up about 38 percent of Mississippi's population and hold 25 percent of the seats in the state Senate. That is 13 of the 52 seats, the highest number ever in a state where the white power structure for decades used poll taxes, literacy tests and violence to suppress black people's voting rights. The federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 eliminated some of those barriers, and African-Americans challenged legislative districts that diluted the power of black voters.

    District 22 is more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) long, stretching through parts of six counties from the Delta down into the Jackson suburbs of Madison County. It has a 51 percent black voting-age population and a white senator, Republican Buck Clarke of Hollandale.

    Clarke was elected in 2003, 2007 and 2011 in an earlier configuration of the district and in 2015 in the district as it currently exists. He is in his second term as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Clarke is running for state treasurer this year, which means there is an open race for the Senate seat.

    One of the people who filed the lawsuit is former state Sen. Joseph Thomas, a Democrat from Yazoo City. Thomas served in a different Senate district from 2000 to 2004. When the 52 state Senate districts were redrawn in 2012 to account for population changes shown in the 2010 Census, Thomas' home was drawn into the Senate district represented by Clarke. Thomas lost to Clarke in the 2015 election.

    Plaintiffs want the district redrawn before this year's election. Reconfiguring District 22 could affect one other district nearby.

    March 1 is candidates' qualifying deadline for statewide, regional, legislative and county offices in Mississippi. The lawsuit asks the federal judge to delay that deadline for District 22 and neighboring District 23, which is in parts of three counties and has been represented by another white Republican, Briggs Hopson of Vicksburg, who was first elected in 2007 and is running again.

    William Cooper of Bristol Virginia, a redistricting expert for the plaintiffs, testified Wednesday that it's possible to increase the black voting age population in District 22 by swapping a few precincts between it and District 23.

    Under one proposed plan drawn by Cooper, the Madison County precincts and some Yazoo County precincts would move from 22 to 23, and some Warren County precincts and all of sparsely populated Issaquena County would move from 23 to 22. Madison County precincts that are in other state Senate districts would not be affected.

  • 8 Feb 2019 4:22 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    NC and Texas might face more redistricting lawsuits than the other 48 states combined - The Herald Sun - by Paul A. Specht

    North Carolina isn’t exactly known for having fair election maps.

    In the last few years, state legislators have been sued multiple times, accused of drawing unlawful maps. And, in some cases, judges have ordered redraws.

    State Rep. David Lewis, who led map-drawing efforts as senior chairman of the House Redistricting Committee, once said, “I propose that we draw the maps to give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans and three Democrats, because I do not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

    So Lewis made news during an event sponsored by The News & Observer’s opinion section on Jan. 30, when he said he’s willing to consider new ways for drawing the maps. North Carolina has been in court so much over election redistricting that it stands out from the rest of the country, Lewis said.

    “North Carolina and Texas have more (redistricting) litigation than the other 48 states, combined,” Lewis said.

    His staff later said Lewis was joking.

    “We are pretty sure that Rep. Lewis said that as a joke during that forum, but it is broadly reflective of the litigation picture,” Mark Coggins, a policy advisor for Lewis, told PolitiFact in an email.

    Turns out, he’s not necessarily wrong.


    It’s difficult to track redistricting lawsuits, experts told PolitiFact. Legal challenges are usually filed in separate courts, and there’s no widely accepted standard for defining which cases are credible.

    The National Conference of State Legislatures has an interactive map that keeps track of which states have faced legal challenges to their election maps in recent years. But the NCSL doesn’t have a list of active cases, according to Wendy Underhill, director of elections and redistricting.

    For a comprehensive list of cases, the NCSL recommends the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School and the “All about redistricting” website operated by Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor. (Other experts, including Eric McGhee, a frequently cited redistricting researcher at the Public Policy Institute of California, as well as the experts at The Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law, also directed PolitiFact to Levitt’s work.)

    Levitt and the Brennan Center each keep lists of active redistricting cases across the country. They are similar, but not identical.


    Screen grab from

    A LIST

    North Carolina faces four redistricting lawsuits, according to Levitt and the Brennan Center. They are: Rucho vs. Common Cause (over partisan gerrymandering), Rucho vs. League of Women Voters of North Carolina (partisan gerrymandering), Common Cause vs. Lewis (partisan gerrymandering) and North Carolina State Conference of NAACP Branches vs. Lewis (over racial gerrymandering).

    Here’s the list of active cases across the rest of the country, according to Levitt:

    Alabama: Chestnut vs. Merrill

    Connecticut: National Association for the Advancement of Colored People vs. Merrill

    Georgia: Dwight vs. Crittenden

    Louisiana: Johnson vs. Ardoin

    Maryland: Benisek vs. Lamone

    Michigan: League of Women Voters of Michigan vs. Benson

    Mississippi: Thomas vs. Bryant

    Ohio: Ohio A. Philip Randolph Inst. vs. Smith

    Texas: Abbott vs. Perez

    Virginia: Bethune-Hill vs. Virginia State Board of Elections

    Wisconsin: Gill vs. Whitford

    (As PolitiFact reported this story, the Brennan Center’s list included more cases than Levitt’s. But Levitt pointed out that the center included some cases that had closed. The Brennan Center reviewed its list and agreed.)

    According to Levitt’s list, North Carolina and Texas are facing a combined five lawsuits, while there are 10 across the rest of the country. However, Levitt said, the Texas case includes five other challenges that were originally filed separately: MALC vs. Texas, Morris vs. Texas, Quesada vs. Perry, Rodriguez vs. Perry, and Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force vs. Perry.


    “They’re technically separate suits, but they’ve all been combined. So I don’t know whether you want to count this as one or six,” Levitt told PolitiFact in an email.

    Texas has six cases if we count those individual challenges, giving the Lone Star State and North Carolina a combined 11 cases — which would be more than the rest of the country.

    So should they be counted separately?

    “The only issue remaining in all of (the Texas cases) right now is whether Texas should be put back under federal supervision going forward, not about challenges to the existing lines,” Levitt said in his email. “That’s a (very) big deal, but I don’t know whether you’d consider it an active case about redistricting or not.”

    What would Levitt do? “I’d probably lean in favor of counting it, since the reason it exists is because of redistricting,” he said.


    Lewis said North Carolina and Texas have more redistricting litigation than the other 48 states, combined.

    PolitiFact began looking into this claim thinking it would be simple to count the redistricting lawsuits and then rate the claim on the Truth-O-Meter.

    But occasionally, the truth isn’t so clear. Depending on how we count the Texas cases, Lewis could be completely right — or he could be completely wrong.

    Experts certainly agree on Lewis’ overall point: North Carolina is dealing with far more redistricting lawsuits than most states.

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