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  • 20 May 2019 11:27 AM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Senate Committee Backs Independent Redistricting Commission in N.H. - NHPR- by Josh Rogers

    A state Senate committee has given its approval to establish an independent panel to advise lawmakers on drawing New Hampshire's election districts. The unanimous vote makes it all but certain the plan will reach the desk of Governor Chris Sununu.

    This plan would allow lawmakers to vote on redistricting maps and but would keep them out of the process of drawing them.

    Instead, maps would be created by a 15-member commission selected from a pool of applicants collected by the Secretary of State. No commission member could have been an elected official or have been a lobbyist in the preceding 10 years.

    Sununu has yet to take a clear position on this bill. 

    In a statement, he said, “I believe the current system works well, but have been encouraged by recent improvements to the legislation. I will review the final language of the bill should it reach my desk.”
  • 20 May 2019 11:22 AM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Missouri GOP Effort To Gut Gerrymandering Reform Is Dead — For Now - Talking Points Memo - by Tierney Sneed

    Thanks to an unforced procedural error earlier this week, it looks like Missouri’s GOP legislature will not — during this year’s session at least — be able to get on the 2020 ballot a measure to gut a recent, voter-approved anti-gerrymandering overhaul to redistricting.

    Of course, it’s possible, and probably likely, that Missouri Republicans try again in next year’s legislative session.

    Nonetheless, the failure to do so this year is embarrassing for the legislature, where Republicans talked a big game about going after the 2018 ballot initiative, known as Clean Missouri.

    Republican lawmakers specifically sought to undo the Clean Missouri provision that gave a non-partisan demographer the power to draw the state’s legislative maps. The measure they failed to pass this year would have also undermined or reversed other redistricting reform provisions of Clean Missouri. Additionally, it contained language that appeared to set the stage for Missouri to exclude noncitizens in the next round of redistricting — a major move that would shift political power away from immigrant communities, and thus boost the electoral advantages of the GOP.

    Had Republicans passed their measure — known as HJR 48 — it would have needed final approval by voters in 2020.

    As recently as a week ago, they’d been moving full steam ahead. The measure had passed easily out of the House, and the Missouri Senate’s GOP leaders indicated that they fully backed it.

    However, the effort hit a significant — and ultimately fatal — roadblock on Monday when not enough Republicans showed up to a committee vote to advance HJR 48 to the Senate floor. Two of those Republicans were complete no-shows for the committee meeting, the Kansas City Star reported, while a third Republican believed incorrectly that he could vote by proxy, as he was recording a Facebook Live event at the time of the meeting with the state’s Republican governor. With a 2-2 party-line vote, HJR 48 was unable to move forward.

    Republicans earlier this week claimed the measure was not dead yet. But in the days since, it appears that they instead put their full attention on passing an anti-abortion bill that bans the procedure after eight weeks into the pregnancy.
  • 14 May 2019 4:00 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    California state auditor announces applicant review panel for 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission - Lake County News - by Elizabeth Larson

    SACRAMENTO – On Friday, the California State Auditor, Elaine M. Howle, randomly selected the names of the members and alternate members of the Applicant Review Panel for the selection process for the 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission. 

    The random drawing was held at their office in Sacramento and was live streamed and a recorded video will soon be posted to .

    The panel will review the application materials submitted by Californians interested in serving on the 2020 Commission and identify 60 of the most qualified applicants to serve on the 2020 Commission who will redraw the Congressional and State district lines.

    The panel members were randomly selected from a group of employees of the California State Auditor who have at least 10 years of independent auditing experience. The completed panel consists of one Democrat, one Republican, and one who is either registered without, or “independent” of, any political party (decline-to-state or no party preference) or with another party.

    The selection of the panel is the first major milestone in the application and selection process for the 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission and occurred just one month prior to the start of the initial application period, set to begin June 10, 2019, and run through August 9, 2019.

    “Today, we selected the second Applicant Review Panel in State history and took the first step toward creating the 2020 Citizens Redistricting Commission. The three members of the panel are highly qualified individuals who, like all of our employees, must meet rigorous standards of integrity in the regular course of our daily duties,” said Elaine M. Howle, California State Auditor. “We look forward to their work identifying the most qualified applicants to form the Commission who will draw fair and legal districts for the good of our state and its future.”

    The panel is made up of the following individuals:

    Angela Dickison: Currently a Senior Auditor Evaluator II and earned a B.S. in Accounting at Sacramento State. She has been with the California State Auditor’s Office since 2005. Ms. Dickison is a Certified Public Accountant and has led audits of California’s financial statements, the State Bar’s financial operations and management practices, accounts outside California’s centralized treasury system, homelessness in California, and the hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego, among others. Ms. Dickison is registered with the Democratic Party.

    Ben Belnap: Serves as a Deputy State Auditor with the California State Auditor’s Office, with responsibility for leading a branch of the Office’s audits division that focuses on performance and information technology audits. In 2001, Mr. Belnap began his auditing career as a staff auditor for the California State Auditor’s Office. In that same year, Mr. Belnap graduated with a B.A. in Economics from Brigham Young University. Before earning his degree, Mr. Belnap worked full time as a finance forms programmer for car dealerships throughout the Northwest. During the last 18 years, Mr. Belnap—a Certified Internal Auditor—has served as Principal Auditor or audit supervisor for more than 40 published audit reports, including reports related to child protective services, the University of California, and Medi-Cal. Mr. Belnap is active in the Sacramento community, coaching numerous sports teams upon which his four children play, and he is registered to vote as no party preference.

    Ryan Coe: Currently serves as an Auditor Specialist II in the IT Audits Unit. He is a Certified Information Systems Auditor with more than 10 years of experience conducting audits of state and local government entities at the California State Auditor’s Office. Mr. Coe has conducted audits on a wide variety of topics including education, public safety, health care, and information security. He earned a B.A. in English from CSU Stanislaus and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Fresno State. Mr. Coe is registered with the Republican Party.

    The three alternate members include:

    Ralph Flynn: Has more than 13 years of experience conducting independent audits with the California State Auditor’s Office. Mr. Flynn currently serves as a Senior Auditor Evaluator II, and he has conducted and led independent audits in a variety of areas, including audits of the California Department of Transportation, California Department of Veterans Affairs, Disabled Veteran Business Enterprise Program, and the Mental Health Services Act. Mr. Flynn earned a B.A. in History from Gonzaga University and a Juris Doctor from Creighton University. Mr. Flynn is registered with the Democratic Party.

    Linus Li: A Principal Auditor with the California State Auditor’s Office. Mr. Li has managed performance audits of state agencies and local governments, including the California Department of Education, California Public Utilities Commission, and the City of Lincoln. In addition to his 13 years with the California State Auditor’s Office, Mr. Li has extensive experience working for management consulting firms that focused on improving governance, operations, and business processes of state and local governments throughout the nation. He also worked as a financial auditor for a public accounting firm, where he was responsible for conducting external financial audits of local governments and other entities. Mr. Li earned a B.A. in Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting from the University of Washington and a master’s degree in Business Administration from Sacramento State. Mr. Li is registered as no party preference.

    Josh Hooper: A Senior Auditor Evaluator I with the California State Auditor’s Office and has served with the Office since 2008. Mr. Hooper has worked on and led a variety of independent performance audits, including audits of the University of California, Judicial Branch of California, and Department of Health Care Services’ provision of preventive services for children in Medi-Cal. He has also worked on investigations of improper governmental activities by state employees and conducted work on the annual independent audit of California's compliance with federal regulations as part of California’s Single Audit. Mr. Hooper participates in the National Legislative Program Evaluation Society and contributes to that organization’s official newsletter. Mr. Hooper earned a B.A. in Business Administration from Sacramento State, is a Certified Internal Auditor and a Certified Fraud Examiner, and he is registered with the Republican Party.

    For more information, please visit

  • 14 May 2019 3:58 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Montana Redistricting Commission Deadlocked On Chairperson Vote - Montana Public Radio - by Corin Cates-Carney

    The two Democrats and two Republicans in charge of redrawing Montana’s political map failed Monday to agree on the fifth and final member of their group. The state Supreme Court will now step in to pick the tie-breaking member of Montana’s 2020 redistricting commission.

    The commission will reshape election districts for the next 10 years for both state legislative races and, depending on the outcome of the 2020 census, Montana’s second U.S. House seat.

    Over the last 50 years of redistricting cycles the partisan commission members have been unable to agree on who should lead them as chairperson, who will cast the deciding vote on how Montana's political boundaries are drawn.

    Monday’s meeting of the 2020 commissioners lead to the same deadlock result following public input about candidates.

    After Republicans and Democrats took turns offering suggestions, and each of their nominations stalled on a 2-2 party line vote, Republican Jeff Essmann called to end the meeting.

    "There’s no sense continuing a charade that, you know, we’re gonna to try to reach a consensus," Essmann said.

    Montana's Constitution now requires a majority of the state Supreme Court to pick the final member. There is no timeline at the moment for the court to announce their selection.
  • 14 May 2019 3:54 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    How Gerrymandering Leads to Radical Abortion Laws - New Republic - by David Daley

    Stacey Abrams still hasn’t conceded that she lost to Brian Kemp in last year’s gubernatorial race in Georgia, and perhaps justifiably so. Kemp, formerly the secretary of state there, administered his own election, shuttered precincts in black communities, and presided over a last-minute voting roll purge that targeted predominantly minority voters. Despite all that help, he eclipsed Abrams by fewer than 55,000 votes—another sign of how purple Georgia has become.

    Last week, however, the state legislature enacted—and Kemp signed—one of the most extreme “fetal heartbeat” abortion prohibitions in the nation. HB 481, which declares that “unborn children are a class of living, distinct persons,” limits abortions to the first six weeks of pregnancy. If the law is allowed to take effect in January—rather than being held up in the courts—women who miscarry could be investigated by the state to determine whether their pregnancy ended unintentionally or with the help of a doctor or an abortion pill.

    How does such a radical law get passed in such a politically competitive state? Gerrymandering has a lot to do with it. After the 2010 census, Republican mapmakers packed Democrats into as few districts as possible and used sophisticated voter data and computer mapping programs to entrench themselves in the others. As a result, Kemp won statewide with just 50.2 percent, but Republicans hold a 30-seat advantage in the state House and nearly a supermajority in the state Senate.

    That ruthless partisan gerrymandering also turned Georgia’s legislative elections into some of the most uncompetitive in the nation. In 2016, 83 percent of state House races lacked a Republican or Democratic candidate. Those numbers improved modestly this past November, as Georgia’s high-profile race for governor propelled the highest midterm voter turnout there in modern history: 112 of the state’s 180 House districts—and 33 of the 56 state Senate contests—featured no major-party opponent.

    We often think about gerrymandering as a wonky electoral problem that leads to oddly shaped districts resembling a praying mantis or Donald Duck kicking Goofy. But it has a major impact on people’s lives. Gerrymandering, in large part, created the conditions under which Michigan’s legislature could override the will of the voters and pass the emergency manager bill that led to the Flint water crisis. It also helps explain how the North Carolina legislature was able to use “surgical precision” to suppress the state’s black voters, and how proudly progressive Wisconsin assaulted collective bargaining and labor unions.

    When a state is ruthlessly districted, voters are robbed of meaningful elections and, as just happened in Georgia, unrepresentative policies become law. For most districts in the state, the only elections that matter take place within party primaries—low-turnout elections in which extremists often prevail. When those legislators then enact the most draconian abortion policy in the nation, there’s almost nothing citizens can do to stop it.

    This is how a minority hijacks politics. This is how Ohio, of all places, also just enacted a fetal-heartbeat abortion bill.

    In 2018, Ohio voters split their votes for state representatives and senators nearly equally between Democrats and Republicans, with the GOP winning 50.3 percent statewide. But thanks to gerrymandering, 50 percent of the vote was enough to win them 63 percent of the seats. The maps were drawn to ensure big Republican majorities even in the most Democratic years: Despite the midterm’s “blue wave,” only six of 99 House seats were competitive enough to be within 5 percentage points.

    Those legislators feel so emboldened and entrenched that last month they passed a bill that bans abortion as early as five weeks into a pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Polling suggested that more Ohioans opposed the bill than supported it.

    Americans have had it with this partisan assault on our elections. Last year, voters in OhioMichiganUtahMissouri, and Colorado passed ballot initiatives that would give citizens more power over the next round of redistricting, following the 2021 census. The courts may be fed up as well. Federal judges have overturned maps in WisconsinMarylandNorth CarolinaOhio, and Michigan; Pennsylvania’s state supreme court invalidated its congressional map.

    The Maryland and North Carolina cases are now before the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices have long recognized partisan gerrymandering to be a problem but struggled to determine when a gerrymander crosses the line—and how involved the court should be in such a political process. But the lower courts, and many voters, have sent a clear message to the high court: Partisan gerrymandering is toxic to American democracy, and it’s within the justices’ ability to curb its worst excesses.

  • 8 May 2019 6:34 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Pritzker and Madigan Are Primed for a Gerrymandering Deathmatch - Chicago Magazine - by Robert Reed

    State Senator Julie Morrison of Deerfield is driving to Springfield on a Tuesday morning, enthusiastically talking up her provocative plan to reshape Illinois elections: Take the power to draw legislative boundaries out of the hands of sitting politicians and give it instead to an independent commission.

    The idea, she says, is to demolish gerrymandered districts designed to protect incumbents, discourage challengers, suppress competitive elections, and favor the status quo in the General Assembly, where last year nearly 50 percent of all races went uncontested. The General Assembly drafts its own legislative boundaries for its 118 House and 59 Senate districts every 10 years, with the next remapping set for 2020. “Passing the bill would give the legislature greater credibility,” argues Morrison. “Right now, I don’t think people feel there’s as much trust as there ought to be.”

    The state’s legislative map looks like a Rorschach test on steroids, with districts of all squiggly sizes and shapes. Take the 13th Senate District, which snakes along Lake Michigan from around Chicago Avenue to about 115th Street, including Streeterville, South Shore, and Englewood. Its elongated boundary has helped make it a Democratic stronghold that was represented by Barack Obama when he was a state senator. And suburban and downstate districts are also a hodgepodge of abstract designs. Remapping advocates say the districts are intentionally drawn to split up Republican toeholds and dilute the party’s statewide influence.

    Even some entrenched Democrats, like Morrison, are embarrassed about the blatant gerrymandering. Introduced in February, her effort — the Fair Maps Amendment — is cosponsored by Ryan Spain, a Republican representative from Peoria. It’s also backed by a deep bench of Chicago-area activists, good government groups, and blue-chip corporate interests who in past years spent more than $6 million and countless hours unsuccessfully trying to dump the old system. The public craves change, too: The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale found that 72 percent of likely voters would prefer that a commission draw the maps, which the institute says is a record high since it started asking the question in 2010.

    The person who’s content with things just the way they are: Mike Madigan, whose Democratic Party controls the Senate, House, and governor’s office and, under state law, also controls the map. Morrison’s effort could spark a nasty political fight between the wily veteran House speaker and the neophyte governor. “If Governor Pritzker makes this a priority, then I don’t see any way he can do it without having a political battle with Madigan,” says Cindi Canary, a Chicago-based policy consultant who has worked on previous Illinois redistricting efforts.

    Madigan’s minions have filed court challenges that squelched stabs at reform in 2014 and 2016. Tactically, though, things are different this time. Whereas those were grassroots efforts, Morrison is calling on the General Assembly to place a redistricting amendment on the 2020 ballot. Three-fifths of the House and Senate must vote in favor of that action.

    Proponents of the Morrison-Spain bill are fervently counting on Pritzker — who has repeatedly vowed to veto a gerrymandered map even if the Dems draft it — to strongly back their plan. “We hope he will weigh in and exert his influence,” says Madeleine Doubek, executive director of Change Illinois, a nonprofit coalition that’s leading the remapping initiative and lobbying the governor and lawmakers this legislative session, which is scheduled to conclude at the end of May.

    Unlike recently ousted Republican governor Bruce Rauner, who favored remapping but had scant political clout with the legislature, Pritzker’s influence could be considerable. He’s off to a decent start with the General Assembly, having signed a popular minimum wage bill while pressing for the legalization of sports betting and recreational marijuana (more state revenue, cha-ching!).

    But Pritzker’s political support — along with his ability to infuse cash from his massive coffers into the campaigns of those who support him in a remapping effort — could have the reverse effect on Madigan and incite him to hamstring crucial parts of the governor’s legislative agenda. In an email statement, Pritzker’s office said: “He believes creating an independent commission to draw legislative maps is the best way to accomplish redistricting reform, but it’s important that any plan to do so reflect the gender, racial, and geographic diversity of the state.”

    That last part about diversity is essential to advancing the 2020 referendum vote — and it’s where previous remap efforts floundered because of opposition from influential African Americans, including former ComEd lobbyist John T. Hooker, Chicago businessman Elzie Higginbottom, former ComEd CEO Frank Clark, and the Reverend Leon Finney Jr., CEO of the Woodlawn Organization, a community activist group. They feared an independent commission would reduce the number of districts dominated by black residents, particularly within Chicago’s South and West Sides, thereby diluting those communities’ political power in Springfield.

    Backers of the newest referendum assert the proposed law will comply with voters’ rights and antidiscrimination laws. But such assurances may not be enough to assuage critics. Hooker, for one, harbors doubts: “If it comes back the same way as the last two times, I would not be in agreement with where they’re going.”

    Echoing that sentiment is Maze Jackson, host on WVON-AM 1690 and a political consultant, who argues that black districts might be better off with the politically astute Madigan at the mapping helm. “While I have not been the biggest Madigan fan in the past, we have a common interest here,” says Jackson. Madigan didn’t support early drafts of the 2010 map, which Jackson says would have watered down black representation.

    In an email, Madigan’s spokesman says the speaker hasn’t closely examined the remap legislation. The spokesman didn’t comment on any potential flare-up with the governor. Remapping advocates concede that they can’t answer how much political capital Pritzker would be willing to expend on a fight.

    At this point, the governor seems more concerned with getting his progressive income tax amendment — a linchpin of his administration’s agenda — on the 2020 ballot. Redistricting could be in a holding pattern or just one cause too many. “My guess is remap is one of the governor’s top priorities, but the progressive income tax is No. 1,” says David Melton, a Chicago lawyer and redistricting specialist.

    Anything can happen in Illinois politics, but should Pritzker stay on the sidelines, this latest remap drive could be over before it begins.
  • 8 May 2019 6:31 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    State will appeal gerrymandering ruling to US Supreme Court - The Columbus Dispatch - by Randy Ludlow

    Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a federal court ruling Friday that declares Ohio’s congressional districts as drawn by ruling Republicans unconstitutional.

    The unanimous decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court in Cincinnati gives the GOP-dominated Ohio General Assembly until June 14 to draw lines for the 2020 election that will meet the court’s approval.

    “Ohioans already voted to reform how we draw our congressional maps,” Yost, a Republican, said in a statement. “This protracted opinion takes that decision out of the hands of the people and is a fundamentally political act that has no basis whatsoever in the Constitution. Ohio will seek a stay of this decision and appeal it.”

    The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in March on a pair of gerrymandering cases — one a Republican gerrymander in North Carolina and the other a Democratic gerrymander in Maryland — that could set new legal precedent on the drawing of congressional boundaries.

    Jen Miller, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, one of the groups that filed the challenge in the Cincinnati court, said the ruling “ensures that voters’ voices will be restored. Ohio voters have been without fair congressional district maps since 2011, and the panel’s decision today means that they will be fairly represented in future elections.” said the decision will lay the groundwork for a revamped congressional map-drawing process already approved by Ohio voters that would start with the 2022 election.

    Ohio voters OK’d the revamped process for redrawing a congressional map starting in 2021, following the next federal census.

    The goal of the new congressional redistricting process is to get a map drawn with significant bipartisan support — either by the legislature or, if that fails, a seven-member commission of three statewide officeholders and four legislators.

    GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose said, “Ohioans overwhelmingly approved our bipartisan effort to create a better process to draw congressional districts following the 2020 census. Make no mistake, our office will work with county boards of election to administer fair, accurate and secure elections in 2020, pending the conclusion of the judicial process.”

    Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof reacted defiantly to the judges’ decree. “Make no mistake, this politically motivated lawsuit was brought for the sole purpose of helping Democrat candidates win more seats,” the Medina Republican said. “It does so at the expense of Ohio’s voters, who would be forced to vote under three different congressional maps in four calendar years. That is bad public policy and is unfair to the people of Ohio.”

    The three-judge panel ruled that district boundaries were manipulated for partisan gain by Republican mapmakers after the 2010 census and violate voters’ rights to democratically select their representatives. The ruling blocks Ohio from holding another election under the current map.

    The “intent to disadvantage Democratic voters and entrench Republican representatives in power dominated the map-drawing process,” the court found in its ruling. “No legitimate justification accounts for its extremity ... the 2012 map dilutes the votes of Democratic voters by packing and cracking them into districts that are so skewed toward one party that the electoral outcome is predetermined.”

    Voting rights groups filed the lawsuit over the 2012 lines, contending that Republicans illegally manipulated the district lines to pack Democrats into a few districts while Republicans emerged with large advantages in others stacked with likely GOP voters.

    “In this case, the bottom line is that the dominant party in state government manipulated district lines in an attempt to control electoral outcomes and thus direct the political ideology of the state’s congressional delegation,” the court said in its nearly 300-page ruling.

    “The current redistricting plan distributes voters in such a way that, even though the Democratic and Republican parties are running in the same races, Democratic candidates must run a significantly longer distance to get to the same finish line.”

    The three judges who made the ruling are Karen Nelson Moore, Timothy S. Black and Michael H. Watson. Moore was appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton and Black was appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama. Watson, a former Franklin County judge who was Gov. George V. Voinovich’s top lawyer in the 1990s, was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.

    The opinion specifically cited the Republican lines drawn in the Columbus area to hand Democrat Joyce Beatty the “safe” seat she now holds while carving up the rest into safe Republican districts held by Republicans Steve Stivers and Troy Balderson (and previously by Pat Tiberi).

    “They drew a new District 3 in Franklin County, efficiently concentrating Democratic voters together in an area sometimes referred to as the ‘Franklin County Sinkhole,’” the judges wrote. “This strategy allowed them to secure healthy Republican majorities in neighboring Districts 12 and 15.”

    However, Republicans headed off serious dissent from black Democratic lawmakers by drawing the 3rd District so it could be won by an African American. Indeed, Beatty became Ohio’s second black member of Congress in the ensuing election, and she has easily won re-election ever since.

    After Friday’s ruling, Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, president of the Ohio Legislative Black Caucus, praised the prospect of a new map: “For too long our communities have suffered and been marginalized through an abuse of power with gerrymandering.”

    Ohio Democratic Chairman David Pepper said, “As a factual matter, this is a damning decision, confirming what we have said for a long time: Through a secretive process, Ohio Republican leaders rigged elections in this state for the entire decade, depriving voters of a meaningful choice in almost every legislative election since 2011.”

    Last year, Republicans received 52 percent of the congressional vote but won 75 percent of the seats. According to an Associated Press analysis, Ohio’s maps allowed Republicans to hold three more seats than they otherwise should hold through gerrymandering.

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

    Federal Court Throws Out Ohio's Congressional Map - NPR - Gabe Rosenberg

    A federal court has ruled that Ohio's congressional map is an "unconstitutional partisan gerrymander" and must be redrawn by the 2020 election.

    In the ruling Friday, a three-judge panel from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio argues that the map was intentionally drawn "to disadvantage Democratic voters and entrench Republican representatives in power." The court argues the map violates voters' constitutional right to choose their representatives and exceeds the state's powers under Article I of the Constitution.

    "Accordingly, we declare Ohio's 2012 map an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, enjoin its use in the 2020 election, and order the enactment of a constitutionally viable replacement," the judges wrote in their decision.

    The decision is likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is currently deliberating challenges to congressional maps from Maryland and North Carolina.

    The League of Women Voters, ACLU and other voting rights groups sued Ohio last year, saying Republicans redrew the state's congressional map in 2011 with intention of maintaining their 3-to-1 advantage. Since the map came into effect in 2012, Ohio's congressional delegation has been locked in at 12 Republicans and four Democrats.

    The judges agreed with voting rights groups in their argument that Ohio's districts were "intended to burden Plaintiffs' constitutional rights, had that effect, and the effect is not explained by other legitimate justifications."

    Ohio's current map was drawn in 2011 by Republican state lawmakers, with input from party consultants in a Columbus hotel room. Democrats argue they were shut out of the process completely.

    "These national Republicans generated some of the key strategic ideas for the map, maximizing its likely pro-Republican performance, and had the authority to approve changes to the map before their Ohio counterparts implemented them," the judges wrote. "Throughout the process, the Ohio and national map drawers made decisions based on their likely partisan effects."

    The judges also ruled that Ohio's map has proven to advantage Republicans in every election. The decision says experts "demonstrated that levels of voter support for Democrats can and have changed, but the map's partisan output remains stubbornly undisturbed."

    A ballot issue overwhelmingly passed in May 2018 to place new requirements on Ohio's map-drawing process, but the new map wouldn't be created until after the 2020 census. No congressional election would be affected until 2022.

    Under the amendment, a congressional map that lasts 10 years must win 50 percent support from the state's minority party. If it fails to do so, the map would be drawn instead by a bipartisan commission. If that map doesn't get enough support, a 10-year map could then pass with just one-third of the minority party's support, or a four-year map could be passed without minority support but with stricter rules.

    The ruling against Ohio comes just over one week after a federal court in Michigan struck down that map as unconstitutional. The judges said Republicans drew the map to unfairly disadvantage Democrats and that the state must redraw its district lines by Aug. 1.

  • 3 May 2019 12:37 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    In long-winding case, court considers federal oversight of Texas redistricting - The Texas Tribune - by Alexa Ura

    SAN ANTONIO — Back in the federal courthouse where most of an eight year-long case has played out, the fight over forcing Texas back under federal oversight of its mapmaking appeared to hinge on whether the state should be held accountable for political maps that never took effect.

    The arguments for a return to the days when Texas needed approval of its political districts diverged significantly during a Thursday court hearing before a panel of three federal judges. The state and the plaintiffs — voters of color, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers — each appeared to have a judge on their side. One judge was skeptical of any sort of supervision for state lawmakers, while another judge openly considered why Texas should be allowed to redraw its maps without any sort of guardianship given its recent discrimination against voters of color.

    But the high-stakes fight — and ultimately the ruling from the three-judge panel overseeing the case — may very well rest on Chief U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, who made few remarks during the hearing but summed up the issue in one question.

    “Is it actual injury or threatened harm that controls the issue?” Garcia asked.

    At issue are a set of congressional and state House maps drawn up by state lawmakers in 2011 that were were never used because they were tied up in court over concerns they undercut the electoral strength of voters of color, particularly the state’s growing Hispanic population. The maps were officially replaced in 2013 amid the legal wrangling, but the panel of federal judges later ruled that lawmakers had intentionally diluted the strength of voters of color in crafting the maps.

    Coupled with other discriminatory actions at the hand of state leaders, the plaintiffs pointed to those rulings as proof that Texas has squandered its freedom from the decades-long federal oversight that automatically blocked new voting laws or political maps until the state proved they did not harm voters of color.

    Like other states with tarnished electoral histories, Texas was required to meet that requirement until 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the federal Voting Rights Act. Though it upended long-standing protections for voters of color, the high court left open the possibility that findings of recent, purposeful discrimination could land states back under federal supervision through a legal mechanism known as “bail in.”

    “If the bail in statute means anything…it has to apply to Texas redistricting,” said Allison Riggs, a lawyer with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice who is representing some of the plaintiffs. “Texas redistricting is where the state again and again and again at every level of government has shown a resistance to recognizing the political power of minority voters.”

    Thursday’s hearing marked the beginning of the final — and perhaps the most significant — stage of the long-running legal fight over the state’s political maps. The case is poised to serve as the latest test of whether the federal Voting Rights Act can still serve as a safeguard for voters of color. If the panel does not invoke bail in, the 2021 redistricting cycle would mark the first time in nearly half a century that Texas could implement new legislative and congressional districts without first proving they don’t undercut the electoral power of voters of color.

    While under federal supervision, Texas proved to be a repeat offender. In their briefs to the court ahead of the hearing, the plaintiffs noted that state lawmakers passed one or more redistricting plans that were declared unconstitutional or in violation of the Voting Rights Act in every decade since 1970.

    Given the rulings of intentional discrimination against the state, the plaintiffs are asking the court to put the state back under oversight of its mapmaking for up to 10 years to cover the next round of redistricting when the state will again rejigger its political boundaries to account for population growth.

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    But Judge Jerry Smith of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals appeared hostile to that proposal, repeatedly alluding to a 2018 Supreme Court ruling in which the court signed off on most of Texas’ current political boundaries and pushed aside claims that state lawmakers intentionally discriminated against voters of color when they replaced the 2011 maps in 2013.

    “This has already been going on for eight years, and you want 10 more despite the Supreme Court saying it’s over,” Smith said. “I don’t understand.”

    The state’s deputy solicitor general, Matthew Frederick, echoed that sentiment. He argued that Texas shouldn’t be placed back under federal oversight based on findings against maps that were never used, especially after the Supreme Court found no intentional discrimination behind the state’s 2013 effort to replace those maps with those offered up by three-judge panel in 2012 as an interim fix to allow elections to move forward that year.

    Bail in “cannot be justified when a state adopts and accepts judicial remedies,” Frederick said.

    “So your argument is we messed up and intentionally discriminated at first, but the court fixed it and as a result of the court fixing it we’re OK?” asked federal District Judge Xavier Rodriguez.

    Frederick responded that those violations weren't enough to invoke bail in because the state had not engaged in widespread, rampant discrimination. He pointed out that any sort of discrimination found by the court in Texas did not amount to the widespread racism that marked the 1960s, when states kept voters of color from casting votes by continuously replacing barriers —for example , requirements that black voters guess how many bubbles are in a bar of soap — with other impediments, such as literacy tests, as they were deemed unconstitutional.

    But Rodriguez continued to question Frederick over whether the state was “engaging in more subtle forms of discrimination” that it then attempted to wash away by replacing discriminatory laws with court fixes and then claiming there was no harm for which it could be held accountable. He pointed to the state’s defense of its strict voter ID law that, like the state maps, was eventually replaced with a court remedy after a judge found it was enacted with discriminatory purpose.

    “But for this court’s changes to those 2011 plans, the state would’ve continued to try to continue to implement them,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what the whole [bail in] paradigm is trying to prevent from happening again.”

    To the state’s legal foes, the maps enacted by Texas in 2011 continued a pattern of discrimination that stretches to this year, when state leaders launched a review of the voter rolls for supposed noncitizens that ended in a legal settlement last week after it was revealed that tens of thousands of the people flagged by the state were U.S. citizens.

    The botched voter review was key context to the redistricting case because state leaders moved forward with that review even though they knew that naturalized citizens — who in Texas are far more likely to be Hispanic or Asian — would have their voting rights questioned, argued Nina Perales, vice president of litigation for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

    “The purpose of bail in is to stop discrimination before it happens so that minority voters don’t have to vote under a discriminatory system,” Perales said after projecting on a screen the litany of Texas counties where the panel found state lawmakers discriminated against voters of color.

    It’s unclear when the three-judge panel, which has proved to be unhurried in its deliberations, will rule on the matter, but the verdict will likely be appealed to the Supreme Court. With the next round of redistricting on the horizon, the voters of color, civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers fighting the state will be pushing to resolve the issue by next year.

    Because few courts have invoked the bail in provision of the Voting Rights Act since the Supreme Court gutted the federal law, the Texas case could set a national standard when it eventually reaches the high court. But on Thursday, Rodriguez seemed more focused on the effect it could have in a changing state with a long history of stymying the rights of voters who will eventually become a majority.

    “Everybody understands what the demographics of this place is looking like. It’s probably going to get more Hispanic and more minority,” Rodriguez said. “What’s to stop the Republican, white-controlled Legislature from engaging in the same behavior the next time around?”

    Sitting with the state’s attorneys after the U.S. Department of Justice switched sides in the case, John Gore, head of the DOJ’s civil rights division, offered that anyone aggrieved by future political maps would still be able to challenge them as unconstitutional and discriminatory.

    “And they’ll have to go through an eight-year cycle to establish that?” Rodriguez asked.
  • 30 Apr 2019 6:36 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Gerrymandering lawsuit stunner: Daughter of deceased GOP mapmaker turns over his documents to Common Cause - NC Policy Watch - Melissa Boughton

    The daughter of late GOP mapmaker Thomas Hofeller – the man responsible for some of North Carolina’s most infamous gerrymanders – turned over four of his external hard drives and 18 thumb drives after his death to the plaintiffs suing North Carolina lawmakers.

    Stephanie Hofeller Lizon gave the documents to attorneys in March, a month after she was issued a subpoena in the state partisan gerrymandering case Common Cause v. Lewis. No one objected to the subpoena initially, but Phil Strach, who represents the lawmakers in the case, is objecting to the plaintiffs’ decision to refrain from opening Hofeller’s sensitive tax and medical documents and to withhold them from the other parties to the litigation

    A three-judge Superior Court panel assigned to the case (Judges Paul Ridgeway, Joseph Crosswhite and Alma Hinton) will consider questions today related to civil procedure and subpoenas to determine whether the legislative defendants can have access to all of the documents Lizon turned over or just the ones that don’t contain confidential information about things unrelated to mapmaking.

    After Lizon mailed the documents to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, they sent them immediately to a third-party vendor for processing, according to court documents. During that process, it became apparent to the vendor from file and folder names that those materials may have included personal information, such as tax returns and medical and family information.

    “We have not opened these files and will not do so,” an email to all parties states. “Because the files at issue appear from their names to be sensitive, personal and plainly irrelevant to the litigation, we do not believe that it would be appropriate or in the interest of any party to further disseminate these files.”

    Elisabeth Theodore, a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter who wrote the email, proposed a solution whereby the vendor would perform a keyword search and then pull out the personal files before making a copy of everything that remains for the legislative and state defendants. And because the keyword search might be underinclusive, the plaintiffs would also seek a protective order to protect any remaining personal data as confidential.

    “Third, with respect to the documents that were identified by the keyword search, we will provide Ms. Lizon with the option of having them returned to her,” Theodore states in the email proposal. “Again, we would not look at any document received in response to the subpoena to Ms. Lizon unless we are also providing that document to the other parties who have requested copies of the materials.”

    Paul Cox, a special deputy attorney general at the North Carolina Department of Justice, said in a response that the solution was reasonable and agreed later to split the estimated cost of creating two copies for DOJ and the legislative defendants, which was estimated at between $3,500 and $4,000.

    Strach responded that the legislative defendants did not agree with the proposed process or the splitting of the costs.

    “We believe plaintiffs should comply with the North Carolina Rules of Civil Procedure and produce to us all of the subpoenaed files, without filtering,” he wrote in an email. “We are capable of protecting the confidentiality of the materials. Cost-shifting can occur after the final judgment in the case. Please produce these files immediately.”

    There are a number of further emails between all of the parties, but the plaintiffs ultimately filed a motion for clarification pursuant to Rule 45, which means they asked the court to decide whether sensitive information should be filtered out before everything is disseminated.

    Thomas Hofeller (Image: C-SPAN)

    The document states that the plaintiffs’ vendor stands ready to filter out Hofeller’s personal information, and that the legislative and state defendants and their own vendors could be physically present as the process is carried out if they wish.

    What’s not clear from court documents is how much information is contained in the electronic data Lizon turned over or what type of information is now in the plaintiffs’ possession. Hofeller, who died in August of last year, helped propel Republican Party mapmaking in North Carolina, but also in state legislatures across the nation and the U.S. House of Representatives.

    Michael Li, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, called the development interesting in light of Hofeller’s passing.

    “I think a lot of people will be watching to see what’s on [the computer drives],” he said.

    The subpoena specifically requested documents of, created or held by Hofeller in Lizon’s possession related to or concerning North Carolina State Senate and State House redistricting in 2011 or 2017, including but not limited to correspondence, reports, notes, memos, data, electronic files, maps and more. It also requested information from Hofeller about what dates North Carolina maps were created and or modified, in addition to other electronically stored data.

    Hofeller is responsible for drawing the gerrymandered North Carolina maps in 2011 and redrawing them in 2017 after top Republicans re-hired him. There has long been speculation that the 2017 maps were finalized before the public redistricting process.

    Li speculated that emails might be the most telling documents in the data Lizon turned over.

    “What we know from redistricting cases in general, people do say a lot of things in email that is quite revealing,” he said. “You really get a chance to see how the sausage is made, and it’s not pretty.”

    He cited an email example in Michigan that talked about cramming “Dem garbage” into districts and another in Texas that discussed making districts look Latino as possible but still having them perform for Republicans.

    “People seem to forget that the “e” in email might as well stand for evidence,” Li joked.

    In a more serious vein, he said that Hofeller’s documents are probably the best source of telling the real story of what happened in North Carolina.

    Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party and a group of individual voters filed the lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court last year challenging the redrawn 2017 maps used in the 2018 election. They are using the state constitution’s Equal Protection and Free Election clauses as well as the free speech and association guarantees to make their case.

    Protesters attend a rally for “Fair Maps” on March 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. The rally was part of the Supreme Court hearings in landmark redistricting cases out of North Carolina and Maryland (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

    “No matter how the U.S. Supreme Court resolves longstanding questions about partisan gerrymandering under the federal constitution, North Carolina’s Constitution independently secures the rights of North Carolina citizens,” the initial lawsuit filing states. It asks for fair maps for the 2020 elections next year.

    In addition to deciding how to proceed with the Hofeller data, the three-judge panel today will work out some more discovery issues between the plaintiffs and legislative defendants. Court documents reveal “he-said, she-said” style arguments over late evidentiary deadlines, deficient and incomplete evidentiary searches and requests for extensions of expert reports.

    The case is set for trial starting July 15.

    In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court is set to rule on a group of federal partisan gerrymandering cases that could put limits on the redistricting practices of legislatures across the country. It is considering two North Carolina sibling cases involving Republican partisan gerrymandering and a Maryland case involving a Democratic gerrymander. A decision is expected by June.

    North Carolina lawmakers also have several redistricting reform bills before them during the current legislative session (many with bipartisan support): five bills that focus solely on redistricting and two broader measures to “fix democracy.” None have been heard in a committee yet.

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