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  • 27 Nov 2018 5:58 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Democrat-led panel OKs redistricting amendment in New Jersey - San Francisco Chronicle - by Mike Catalini

    TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey lawmakers late Monday advanced a proposed constitutional amendment that would overhaul how the state creates legislative districts.

    The Democrat-led Senate budget committee approved the proposal after a marathon marijuana legalization hearing that drew large crowds and significant news coverage.

    If approved, the new legislative redistricting scheme would lead to the creation of districts that would last a decade, until the next federal census in 2030.

    Republicans, a civil rights coalition including the League of Women Voters, and one of the state's highest-profile pollsters opposed the plan. They say the proposed question obscures a built-in advantage for Democrats by tying districts' makeup to political party performance in statewide elections over the previous decade.

    But supporters say the proposal increases transparency by requiring public hearings and adding public members to the commission that draws the state's 40 legislative districts.

    New Jersey reconsiders its legislative districts after the federal census every 10 years.

    Under the current system, a 10-member commission with appointments split between the state Democratic and Republican party chairmen create the maps. The state's chief justice selects a neutral tiebreaking member.

    Under the proposal, in addition to the public meetings, power of appointment would be taken away from state party chairmen. Instead there would be a 13-member commission, and the party chairmen would each appoint two members. At least one would be from the public at large.

    The four legislative leaders from both major political parties would each pick two members, with at least one of each of those being a member of the Legislature. The chief justice would appoint the 13th member.

    But the proposal's definition of competitiveness drew significant opposition.

    The proposal defines competitiveness based on party performance in prior elections over the previous decade. Specifically, a district could favor one party over the other if a party's percentage of votes for president, senator and governor over the past decade exceeded the statewide percentage in those elections.

  • 27 Nov 2018 5:47 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Democrats make legislative gains over GOP in redistricting battle - The Hill - by Reid Wilson

    Two years before state legislatures begin the high-stakes process of redrawing congressional district boundaries, Democrats made significant inroads in the midterm elections to guarantee themselves at least some say in how those lines are drawn in many states.

    But, in a sign of just how far Democrats fell during Republican wave elections in 2010 and 2014, the GOP still controls the redistricting process for nearly twice the number of House districts as Democrats.

    If the redistricting process were to happen today, Republicans would be in complete control of how district lines are drawn in 17 states, which hold a combined 163 seats in the House of Representatives. Democrats would be in complete control of just 10 states, accounting for 83 seats.

    “Round one of the 2020 redistricting conversation has gone to the Republicans in our opinion,” said Matt Walter, who heads the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group dedicated to electing Republicans at the state and local level.

    Democrats counter that the first round does not decide the entire match. There are three elections yet to come — four states hold legislative elections in 2019, most states hold legislative elections in 2020 and two states elect legislators in 2021 — before the redistricting cycle truly begins.

    “It was always about ’18 plus ’20, like a one-two punch over the two cycles,” said Kelly Ward, who runs the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an outfit headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder.

    The most consequential gains for Democrats this year came in New York, where the party now controls all levers of state government after winning a majority in the state Senate. Democrats hold 21 of the state’s 27 congressional districts after picking up three seats this year, and the Democratic-led legislature could redraw districts to solidify those gains or expand into GOP-held territory.

    In Illinois, Democrats will control the redistricting process once Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker (D) is sworn into office. Democrats already control 13 of 18 House seats there, but Reps. Mike Bost (R) and Rodney Davis (R) both escaped with narrow wins and may find themselves the target of Democratic map-makers in the future.

    Democrats also made significant gains in the Texas legislature, where Republicans maintain control. If Democrats maintain or grow their minorities in the 2020 elections, the party would at least be able to filibuster Republican-drawn maps, forcing a compromise in a state expected to add two or three seats in the next round of reapportionment.

    “The [Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee] and state Democrats secured huge gains in critical redistricting states and we’re already working to elect more state Democrats and reclaim more chambers in 2019 and 2020,” said Jessica Post, the DLCC’s executive director.

    Republican-led legislatures will draw lines in four states where a Democrat holds the governor’s mansion, and Democrats will draw boundaries in one state, New Hampshire, where a Republican governor must sign off. Only one state, Minnesota, has a legislature in which Democrats hold one chamber and Republicans the other.

    In 33 states, the responsibility for drawing congressional district lines lies with state legislatures. Ten states give independent or bipartisan commissions the power to draw district lines. The remaining seven states do not need to draw district lines because they have only one representative in Congress, elected statewide.

    The final verdicts on which party controls redistricting will come during legislative and gubernatorial elections in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Once those races are settled and the U.S. Census Bureau formally reapportions House seats based on the results of the 2020 census, legislators in those states will begin the increasingly contentious phase of drawing new boundaries. 

    The battleground is likely to shift because of population changes, too.

    Some projections suggest Rhode Island may lose a seat, dropping it into the category of single-district states. Montana may gain a second seat, which would allow legislators to draw district lines for the first time since 1982.

    Many of the states where redistricting is completely controlled by one party are already so dominated by that side that big gains are not possible. 

    Republicans control the process in West Virginia, Arkansas and Nebraska, where the GOP already holds every seat in Congress. Democrats have control in Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Mexico, where they already hold every House seat. 

    States like South Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee, where Republicans hold total control, and Nevada and Oregon, where Democrats run the show, have districts drawn in such a way that the minority party controls only a minimal number of seats that could not be made more competitive.

    The Republican edge is far lower than it was in the last round of redistricting. In 2012, the GOP controlled the redrawing process in 22 states that accounted for 224 seats, while Democrats drew maps in nine states that sent 56 members to Congress.

    The Republican advantage has been diminished in part because Democrats won key governorships this year in Kansas, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and last year in Virginia. In those states, the Democratic governors could veto a Republican-drawn map, forcing a compromise or, in some cases, challenge a map drawn by courts.

    “When you look at the redistricting process, you have to look at it in terms of all the people who are at the table. To elect a governor is a very important part of that,” Ward said.

    Ten states now hand power to draw district lines to an independent or bipartisan commission, four more than during the last round of redistricting. Voters in Ohio, Michigan, Colorado and Utah approved those commissions this year. Commissions will draw boundaries in 10 states that send a combined 129 members to Congress.

    Proponents of redistricting reform in other states are considering advancing their own ballot measures, in places like Arkansas and Oregon, ahead of the next round of redistricting.

    Strategists on both sides say the renewed focus on the redistricting process has meant an unprecedented injection of money into once-sleepy legislative contests. 

    Groups like the Republican State Leadership Committee and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee shattered spending records this year, and more money is likely to pour into those down-ballot contests ahead of legislative contests in 2019 and 2020.

    “The Democrats have caught up and have expanded the conversation surrounding redistricting. You have multiple groups focused on it spending tens of millions of dollars,” Walter said. “They’re going to in all likelihood escalate their efforts, escalate their rhetoric, escalate the spending.”

  • 24 Nov 2018 3:24 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Utah proposition to battle gerrymandering passes as final votes tallied - Desert News - by Lisa Riley Roche

    SALT LAKE CITY — Proposition 4, the ballot initiative creating an independent redistricting commission as a stopgap against what's known as gerrymandering by lawmakers, won voter approval by less than 1 percentage point.

    The proposition called Better Boundaries had 512,146 "For" votes compared to 505,144 against when counties reported their final canvasses Tuesday afternoon. The 7,002 vote-difference is a represents a 0.68 percentage point victory.

    "This is an exciting day for Utah," the co-chairmen of the Proposition 4 campaign, former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, a Democrat, and Republican Jeff Wright said in a statement.

    The pair said they are confident that after the final canvass, the proposition will win "and the voice of the people will once again be heard in drawing legislative lines — making sure Utahns choose their representatives and not the other way around."

    Becker and Wright thanked "the countless supporters and volunteers who came together in a truly bipartisan and grassroots effort for a cause that will improve accountability and transparency in our state."

    They also said they "expect the voice of the people will be respected and honored."

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah also joined in that call, urging lawmakers "to respect the will of 500,000 Utah voters and let the independent redistricting commission do its job."

    Brittney Nystrom, the ACLU of Utah's executive director, said elected officials who benefit from gerrymandering "are naturally resistant to a more open and nonpartisan redistricting process."

    The proposition put on the ballot by voters creates a seven-member commission appointed by elected officials from both parties to recommend boundary changes to reflect population changes in the once-a-decade census.

    The next census will be in 2020 and redistricting will follow a year later.

    The Utah Legislature still has the final say over boundaries for congressional, legislative and State School Board districts, but must vote the commission recommendations up or down.

    That's seen as putting political pressure on the GOP-dominated Legislature, which has been accused in the past of gerrymandering — the manipulation of political boundaries to favor one party or candidate over another.

    Proposition 4 also sets new requirements for lawmakers as they draw up their own redistricting plans, including having to minimize dividing up counties, cities and towns.

    Among the biggest concerns raised about past redistricting efforts is the division of Salt Lake County into three of the state's four U.S. House districts in 2011, diluting the county's Democratic influence.

    33 comments on this story

    The Proposition 4 campaign, largely funded by out-of-state groups including the national ACLU, emphasized bipartisan support for the independent redistricting commission.

    One of the group's TV commercials featured footage of a Republican icon, President Ronald Reagan, calling for an end to gerrymandering through establishing such commissions to oversee redistricting.

    The chief opponents of Proposition 4, including outgoing Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, have called it "a cleverly disguised partisan plan" to favor Democrats.

  • 24 Nov 2018 3:09 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Maryland faces big battle over partisan gerrymandering - The Washington Post - by Erin Cox 

    The redistricting after the 2020 Census will mark the first time in modern history that Maryland has redrawn its congressional maps under a divided government.

    Early signs suggest a prolonged fight.

    The reelection this month of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), an aggressive advocate for a nonpartisan redistricting commission, has heightened the standoff between the governor and Democrats who hold supermajorities in the General Assembly at a time when more states are moving to an independent redistricting process.

    Maryland is one of three states accused of drawing congressional maps so contorted by partisan intent that judges have declared them illegal. The fate of its 6th District, which stretches from deep blue parts of Montgomery County through the solid red of Western Maryland, will soon lie with the U.S. Supreme Court.

    For these reasons, reform advocates say, Maryland is among a handful of states being watched nationally to see how leaders go about drawing the next round of congressional boundaries after the 2020 Census.

    The Hogan administration plans to announce as soon as next week its plan on how to bring more transparency — and less partisanship — to the process. Aides, noting polls show strong support for a less politicized system, say the governor’s ideas go beyond the redistricting commission proposal he’s unsuccessfully pressed lawmakers to approve for the past three years.

    Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) promised to “fight” to reform redistricting in Maryland the day after he was reelected, saying: “This is what the people want.” (Patrick Semansky/AP)

    “Now is the time,” Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said. “It’s very clear what the public wants.”

    Democrats who have soured on the current system want the Supreme Court to issue guidance that curtails partisan gerrymandering nationwide, so that neither party can use map drawing to give themselves an advantage in Congress.

    But Maryland’s legislative leaders have been tight-lipped about whether they will consider any changes if the Supreme Court does not take action that applies nationwide. It’s unclear whether the state’s dominant party will cave to pressure from Hogan and the public to relinquish control of partisan mapmaking in Maryland alone.

    “There’s a better chance now than there has been in decades for there to be an end to gerrymandering,” said Del. Eric G. Luedtke (D-Montgomery), incoming chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

    “People recognize that it’s a problem,” he said. “The debate is around how to solve it.”

    The term "gerrymander" stems from this Gilbert Stuart cartoon of a Massachusetts electoral district twisted beyond all reason. Stuart thought the shape of the district resembled a salamander, but his friend who showed him the original map called it a "Gerry-mander" after Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who approved rearranging district lines for political advantage. (Bettmann Archive)

    Mapmaking to gain power

    The congressional map that Maryland approved after the 2010 Census was pilloried from the start as one of the most gerrymandered in the nation, an unwieldy hodgepodge of boundaries drawn with questionable intent.

    The most notorious district, Maryland’s 3rd, has been likened to blood spatter, a Rorschach test, a praying mantis and once, by a federal judge, as “reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.”

    The map  was twice taken to court — once for extreme partisan gerrymandering and once for alleged racial gerrymandering — and petitioned to referendum.

    While the racial gerrymandering case was dismissed, and voters upheld the map at the ballot box, the partisan case is now pending before the nation’s highest court. Its outcome, along with two cases involving Republican-led partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina and Wisconsin, could set new rules for mapmakers across the country.

    Even if the court doesn’t offer guidance, some advocates for redistricting reform say the national scrutiny and threat of lawsuits could upend the way Maryland Democrats approach map drawing.

    “Theoretically, they should indeed be humbled,” said Justin Levitt, a Loyola Law School professor and redistricting expert.

    While there’s no universal test to measure partisan gerrymandering, analysts often look at how closely the popular vote aligns with representation. In this year’s midterms, Republican congressional candidates won 32.5 percent of Maryland’s popular vote but just one — 12.5 percent — of the state’s eight congressional seats.

    The 6th District was the only one where the winner didn’t get more than 65 percent of vote.

    Levitt called Maryland “the leading example” of extreme partisan gerrymandering executed by Democrats. But he also noted Republicans, who held sole control of mapmaking in almost twice as many states as Democrats after the 2010 Census, do it more often.

    “When either party gets an advantage, they tend to overuse it,” Levitt said.

    [Democrats did ‘duty’ in Md. redistricting. Now the Supreme Court will evaluate.]

    In a deposition related to the 6th District lawsuit, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley (D) called it his “duty” to counteract GOP gerrymandering efforts elsewhere when the state drew boundaries in 2011 that were designed to elect more Democrats.

    The number of Republicans in the new 6th District dropped from 47 percent of the electorate to 33 percent. Democrats gained influence, rising from 36 percent to 44 percent. In the next election, Democrat John Delaney ousted 10-term incumbent Roscoe G. Bartlett (R) by more than 20 percentage points. Democrats have held the House seat ever since.

    The day after the midterm election this year, a three-judge panel ruled the boundary bending was unconstitutional and intentionally targeted Republican voters because of their political affiliation.

    The judges gave the state until March to redraw it. Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) appealed to the Supreme Court the next week.

    A clash waiting to happen

    Current law sets up a redistricting collision course between Hogan and the state’s leading Democrats, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D-Calvert) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel). Both Democrats declined to discuss their plans for possible reform, citing the ongoing lawsuit. In the past, they have said they would back an independent commission only if Republican-led states also did so.

    Hogan is charged with recommending a congressional map after the 2020 Census and presenting it to the General Assembly as a piece of legislation.

    State lawmakers can redraw the maps before approving them.

    Hogan has power to veto any map he dislikes, but Democrats have more than enough votes to override the governor’s veto.

    Since winning reelection by double-digits earlier this month, Hogan has used some of his toughest rhetoric and promised to “fight” to get politicians out of the process.

    “This is what the people want,” Hogan said Nov. 8. “They want the citizens picking their representatives rather than the representatives picking their constituents.”

    The governor also joked that his arguments might be more persuasive now that the General Assembly would have to work with a Republican to draw the maps: “Maybe the legislature, knowing that I’m going to be the one drawing the districts, might be more open to taking it away from me.”

    State Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, who will chair the Senate committee that takes up the maps, has long been an advocate for redistricting reform. But Pinsky (D-Prince George’s) also refuses to let Maryland act alone, while Republican-controlled states continue partisan gerrymandering,

    Pinsky said there’s broad agreement that “we have to come up with some new approaches. The question is: How do we get there? . . . I don’t want it to be partisan, but the transition to a nonpartisan process has to be bipartisan.”

    He and other Democrats criticized Hogan, a rising star in national GOP circles, for not suggesting that Republican-led states also move to a less partisan process.

    “What a shock, he wants us to go first,” Pinsky said.

    [After Hogan’s political feat, could the national stage be next?]

    Del. Jason C. Buckel (R), who served on Hogan’s 2015 committee to recommend redistricting changes, cautioned there is no silver bullet solution.

    Giving redistricting power to a commission insulated from politics sounds easy in concept, he said, but in execution it is not. Hogan’s committee, for example, could not agree on who should serve on such a commission, he said, and even briefly discussed conducting a lottery to select people at random.

    “How in the world do you construct an independent commission?” he asked. “That’s the question that’s still open and unresolved.”

    What is clear is that public opinion strongly favors an independent commission. A 2017 Goucher Poll that showed 73 percent of Marylanders back that approach, with only 20 percent saying politicians should remain in charge.

    Nationwide, attitudes about partisan gerrymandering have also shifted. In November, four states adopted referendums to transfer redistricting power to independent commissions, joining the four others that already rely on the process.

    In the next round of redistricting, Republicans will control maps for 179 House seats, down from 204 eight years ago. Independent commissions will draw them for 113 seats; Democrats for 76, up from 24 in 2011; and state governments with split control will draw boundaries for 11 seats. (Seven other seats are in single-district states.)

    [How the midterms altered the 2020 redistricting landscape]

    Still, national parties plan to again invest heavily in state legislative seats and governorships in the 2020 elections with an eye to the redistricting that will follow.

    Democrats have labeled their effort “Advantage 2020,” while Republicans call theirs “REDMAP 2020.”

    O’Malley, who oversaw Maryland’s partisan gerrymandering, has had a change of heartabout the practice.

    In his deposition in the 6th District lawsuit, O’Malley said he wished Maryland had a nonpartisan redistricting commission when he was drawing the lines seven years ago.

    “Hopefully, another governor will be able to sign a bill that does that,” O’Malley said in the deposition. He added that he thought Maryland’s legislature might eventually support such a measure — “maybe, as people come to understand and become rightly and more deeply concerned.”

  • 20 Nov 2018 2:12 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Proposition 4 on independent redistricting appears headed toward passage as last votes are totaled - Salt Lake City Tribune - by Bethany Rodgers

    Proposition 4, the ballot initiative designed to prevent gerrymandering, built on its slim lead Monday and seems poised for victory as the last votes are counted.

    The initiative, which calls for the creation of an independent redistricting commission, was ahead by about 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent after the vote tally was updated. The vote count on the proposition has fluctuated since Election Day, as counties have continued tabulating votes.

    Friday closed with Prop 4 up by about 2,900 votes, and by Monday’s end, the initiative was ahead by more than 6,400.

    More than 1 million ballots have been counted so far, and county clerks across Utah are expected to release their final numbers Tuesday.

    With Proposition 4, an independent commission would convene every 10 years to redraw the state’s voting districts. The group would send a recommended map to the Legislature, which would decide whether to adopt the proposed boundaries or drawn lines of its own.

  • 18 Nov 2018 5:05 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Will Utah have an independent redistricting commission? Updated vote tally shows Prop 4 narrowly losing, with more counting ahead - The Salt Lake Tribune - by Bethany Rodgers

    A ballot proposition to create an independent redistricting commission saw its hopes dim Tuesday as counties throughout the state updated their vote totals. It is now down 922 votes, with 50.05 percent against and 49.95 percent in favor.

    Throughout the day, the new totals, which included an infusion from conservative Utah County, bounced up and down for Proposition 4. At one point the measure, billed as an anti-gerrymandering proposal, was up by 32 out of more than 900,000 ballots counted.

    The proposition would call for an independent commission to redraw the state’s political boundaries in its once-per-decade redistricting process. The Legislature would have the option of rejecting the commission’s proposed map but could face public criticism for doing so.

    Vote totals have been updated several times since Election Day as officials continue to tabulate ballots, and the adjustments will continue in coming days. Before Tuesday, the redistricting measure was ahead by 4,619 votes.

    Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune

    Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune "It's fun...I enjoy it," said Salt Lake County elections official Diane McGee of the 8-hours a day of inspecting ballots at the Salt Lake County building, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.

    But state Sen. Ralph Okerlund, a vocal opponent of Prop 4, said the initiative’s fate is sealed already.

    “It’s going to go right down to the wire to see who wins. But I think, as close as it is, it’s not going to matter a heck of a lot,” Okerlund, R-Monroe, said.

    That’s because — without a clear mandate from voters — lawmakers would feel little pressure to abide by the map recommendations of the independent redistricting commission, he explained.

    Okerlund and other state Republicans have argued against Prop 4 by noting that the state Constitution charges the Legislature with drawing new voting districts.

    The measure was championed by the bipartisan group Better Boundaries, which has said politicians shouldn’t be in charge of designing their own districts. Better Boundaries representatives weren’t immediately available to comment Tuesday afternoon.

  • 16 Nov 2018 6:19 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Partisan gerrymandering lawsuit calls for new legislative districts for 2020 elections - - by Matthew Burns

    RALEIGH, N.C. — A new gerrymandering lawsuit calls for a court order requiring voting districts for the state House and Senate be redrawn before the 2020 elections.

    The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Wake County by good-government group Common Cause, the North Carolina Democratic Party and 22 voters from across the state, follows the path of another Common Cause lawsuit in which federal courts have twice found that Republican lawmakers illegally gerrymandered North Carolina's congressional districts for partisan advantage.

    "Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly have egregiously rigged the state legislative district lines to guarantee that their party will control both chambers of the General Assembly regardless of how the people of North Carolina vote," the lawsuit states. "This attack on representative democracy and North Carolinians’ voting rights is wrong. It violates the North Carolina Constitution. And it needs to stop."

    Joseph Kyzer, a spokesman for House Speaker 

    Tim Moore, said the string of lawsuits over redistricting is what needs to stop.

    "The Speaker’s Office is focused on serving the North Carolina voters this endless stream of litigation seeks to circumvent," Kyzer said in an email.

    "Democrats had no problem with the process they employed for over 100 years until they lost control of the General Assembly in 2010," Pat Ryan, spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem, added in an email. "This suit is a corrupt attempt at judicial gerrymandering, hoping the liberal state court will rewrite the Constitution and draw maps favorable to Democrats."

    Federal courts two years ago tossed the legislative district maps drawn in 2011, ruling that lawmakers put too much emphasis on the race of voters when laying down the lines for more than two dozen districts.

    Lawmakers decided to ignore race completely when they redrew the map, choosing to focus on how people voted in recent elections as one of their criteria. But the lawsuit alleges that the new districts, which were drawn by a consultant on his personal computer, unfairly favored Republicans.

    Independent analysts determined that the new House and Senate maps were more partisan for the GOP than under almost any other map that could have been drawn, according to the lawsuit. Despite North Carolina voters being fairly evenly split on statewide elections in recent years, the suit added, that new maps pretty much guaranteed Republicans would maintain a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly.

    The lawsuit details allegations that 74 of the 120 House districts and 19 and the 50 Senate districts were drawn to pack Democratic voters into a few districts so Republicans would be favored in surrounding ones or to split Democratic areas between districts to dilute their voting power.

    In Wake County, for example, the suit notes that Senate District 18 includes a finger that stretches through northwest Raleigh to encompass neighborhoods around three country clubs so more Republican voters could be included. Meanwhile, nearby Democratic-leaning neighborhoods were drawn into Senate District 15 by connecting areas inside Interstate 440 with portions of north Raleigh via a retail area off Wake Forest Road known primarily as the site of a Costco.

    Partisan Wake County Senate map

    "The 2017 plans’ cracking and packing of Democratic voters worked with remarkable success in the 2018 elections," the suit states. "While the Democratic wave did flip some seats, it could not overcome plans that were designed to guarantee Republicans majorities."

    Democratic candidates won a majority of the popular vote statewide in last week's election but captured only 45 percent of the House seats and 42 percent of the Senate seats, the suit notes.

    "The results should outrage anyone who believes in democracy," the suit states. "The maps are impervious to the will of the voters."

    The lawsuit alleges the maps violate the state constitution's guarantees of equal protection, free elections, free speech and free association and should be thrown out.

    "Only North Carolina Democrats would file a lawsuit to overturn districts that they just won," Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, said in a statement.

  • 14 Nov 2018 9:23 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    U.S. Supreme Court to take up Virginia redistricting case on racial gerrymandering - The Washington Post - by Gregory S. Schneider and Robert Barnes

    The U.S. Supreme Court will take up the issue of redistricting in Virginia, agreeing to hear an appeal filed by Republican legislators after a lower court’s ruling that 11 House of Delegates districts must be redrawn to correct racial gerrymandering.

    The action does not appear to halt the redistricting process, though, which is underway at the hands of a “special master” appointed by a three-judge panel of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

    [Court strikes down Virginia House districts as racial gerrymandering]

    House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-
    Colonial Heights), who filed the appeal, said he is considering his next steps, which could include seeking to halt redistricting until the Supreme Court rules on the case.

    “We will take the next few days to consider that and make an announcement at the appropriate time,” Cox said via email.

    Marc E. Elias, an election lawyer representing those who challenged the design of the districts, noted in a tweet: “This is the 3rd time SCOTUS will hear cases related to VA’s unconstitutional gerrymander. We have prevailed in each of the first two and expect to again here. What is most important is that the voters of VA have constitutional maps in time for the 2019 state house elections.”

    At stake is control of Virginia’s House of Delegates. The GOP barely held onto its majority last year in the 100-seat chamber after 15 Democrats flipped seats in elections. One Republican prevailed in a random tiebreaker, leaving the GOP with a 51-49 edge.

    The 11 districts are in Hampton Roads and greater Richmond, but redrawing them will affect several surrounding districts, as well, making next year’s elections crucial for determining the balance of power.

    The federal judges found that the districts were drawn to concentrate black voters and deprive them of representation. But Cox countered in his appeal that the redistricting plan won wide bipartisan approval when it passed in 2011, including among African American legislators.

    Unlike in cases involving partisan gerrymandering, where the Supreme Court has never found a state map so infected with politics that it deemed it unconstitutional, the justices routinely are called upon to examine electoral districts for racial discrimination.

    Under Supreme Court precedents, the maps can sometimes require an examination of race to make sure minorities have a chance to elect candidates of their choice. But race cannot be the predominate factor in drawing districts. In Virginia and other states, challengers have said Republicans have packed minorities into a small number of districts to make surrounding areas more hospitable to GOP candidates.

    Since Virginia’s maps were last redrawn in 2011, the Supreme Court has ordered new lines for congressional districts — resulting in the election of a second African American member of Congress. In 2017, it overturned a lower court’s decision upholding the drawing of the state legislative districts at issue here and sent it back for more work under new guidelines.

    The lower court reconsidered and ordered the redistricting this year.

    Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called the General Assembly into special session over the summer to work on a redistricting plan to satisfy the judges, who had set a deadline of Oct. 30. But legislators failed to come up with one that Northam would support, so the matter moved back to the court.

    [Va. GOP leader cancels vote on redistricting plan, accuses governor of partisan obstruction]

    The judges appointed Bernard Grofman, a University of California at Irvine political science professor, as special master to oversee the drawing of new lines.

    House Democrats said Tuesday that the Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t stop that process.

    “The important thing is the Supreme Court hasn’t granted a stay as of right now. The district court is free to move forward with drawing the maps,” said Kathryn Gilley, communications director for the House Democratic caucus.

    Cox said he hopes the court will use this chance to clear up confusion about redistricting standards, addressing “the chaos that has resulted from a bevy of redistricting laws and court cases in this difficult and confusing area of law.”

    Deciding whether districts were drawn to give minorities fair representation, vs. packing them together to dilute influence elsewhere, is an intensive process. In the three-judge panel’s latest ruling, the majority opinion ran for 98 pages, while the dissent was 103.

    Elias, the Washington attorney representing those who challenged the districts, said he believes the Supreme Court will agree with the majority. “The [lower] court was simply applying the law it got from the Supreme Court” the first time the justices considered the case in 2017, he said in an interview.

    Proving that the lower court committed “clear error” in applying the law is “close to a nearly impossible” task, he said.

    Justin Levitt, a redistricting expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said the court may be more interested in a question it highlighted when agreeing to hear the case: whether Republican leaders in the House of Delegates have the legal standing to pursue the litigation.

    The state’s Democratic attorney general, Mark R. Herring, told the Supreme Court that it is his job to decide whether to continue the lawsuit and that he concluded it was better to agree with the district court’s order and redraw the lines.

    “Virginia law is clear that in the commonwealth, like in most states, the ultimate authority to speak for the state in federal court rests with its elected attorney general,” Virginia Solicitor General Toby J. Heytens wrote in a brief to the court. “Having spent more than three years defending this case, the attorney general has determined that the state’s interests would best be served by bringing this long-running and expensive litigation to a close so that the unconstitutional racial gerrymanders identified in the district court’s opinion may promptly be remedied.”

    The state’s brief argues that one house of the General Assembly cannot represent the state’s position. And while individual House members have interest in where legislative lines are drawn, the House as an institution is not injured by the district court’s order, the state contends. Such injury is necessary for finding a party has legal standing to bring a lawsuit.

    Republicans disputed that in their brief to the court. Such a rule “would place state legislatures at the mercy of state executives, often of different political parties, in redistricting litigation,” wrote Washington lawyer Efrem M. Braden, representing the House. “State executives routinely abandon redistricting legislation for political reasons. . . . No precedent supports [the state’s argument] that, although any district resident can be a plaintiff, only the state executive can defend.”

  • 10 Nov 2018 4:52 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Voters are stripping partisan redistricting power from politicians in anti-gerrymandering efforts - Washington Post - by Katie Zezima and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux

    Voters in three states overwhelmingly chose to overhaul how legislative and congressional districts are drawn, stripping a traditionally partisan exercise from politicians while aiming to create a more level playing field based instead on geography and demographics.

    Supporters of Missouri’s redistricting ballot measure hold signs behind former state senator Bob Johnson during an August news conference outside the Cole County Courthouse in Jefferson City, Mo. Amendment 1, which passed Tuesday, requires Missouri state House and Senate districts to be drawn to achieve “partisan fairness” and “competitiveness.” (David A. Lieb/AP)

    Colorado and Michigan will create independent commissions to decide the boundaries of congressional and legislative districts after the 2020 Census.

    In Colorado, there will be two commissions, one to draw congressional lines and one to draw state legislative lines.

    Missouri will now mandate the use of a statistical, nonpartisan model that decides where lines are drawn, as well as the appointment of a state demographer.

    The fate of a measure in Utah that would create an independent redistricting commission remained too close to call early Wednesday.

    The measures were intended to reduce the likelihood of any political party wielding its power to decide where election boundaries should be drawn — otherwise known as gerrymandering, or creating districts that will more likely lead to that party retaining political control.

    Tuesday was “a big day in the redistricting world,” said Wendy Underhill, director of elections and redistricting of the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures. Voters in Ohio approved a redistricting overhaul in May, and Underhill said citizens are voting on more such proposals this year than at any time in history.

    And on Wednesday, federal judges threw out Maryland’s current congressional map, ordering the state to redraw its lines for future elections. Officials have until March to submit a redistricting plan.

    [Federal judges in gerrymandering case toss Maryland’s congressional voting map]

    The measures passed by large majorities. In Colorado, 71 percent of voters chose to change the way congressional and legislative seats are drawn; Michigan’s redistricting commission passed with 61 percent of the vote; Missouri’s changes passed with 62 percent. Utah’s measure held a razor-thin lead, 50.3 percent to 49.7 percent — a separation of about 4,000 votes — with 76 percent of the state’s precincts reporting, according to the Associated Press.

    “In a night where Democrats take the House and Republicans push the Senate deeper red, it is amazing that everyone could agree on one thing: We all hate gerrymandering,” said David Daley, a senior fellow for the nonpartisan group FairVote and author of a book on gerrymandering.

    In Michigan, the ballot measure was spearheaded by Voters not Politicians, a nonpartisan group. Elizabeth Battiste, the group’s communications director, said her door-to-door pitch was: “Do you know that politicians draw their own voting maps so they can keep their jobs?” Canvassers shied away from the words redistricting or gerrymandering.

    “One woman had a physical reaction — she staggered back,” Battiste said. “In Michigan, we are facing really serious problems about drinking water, about infrastructure. She wanted to know everything.”

    Battiste said voters were especially galvanized in places like Flint, where residents felt redistricting slowly eroded their voting power. After state legislative lines were redrawn, the state appointed the city emergency managers who ultimately switched water sources, leading to widespread lead poisoning.

    Demonstrators rally outside the Michigan Hall of Justice in Lansing, Mich., where the state’s Supreme Court heard arguments in July about whether voters in November would be able to pass a constitutional amendment that would change how the state’s voting maps are drawn. The vote was allowed to take place, and voters chose a new, nonpartisan model for drawing voting districts. (Dale G. Young/AP)

    Celebrities including actress Jennifer Lawrence and actor Ed Helms urged voters to back the measures.

    Former California governor and “Terminator” star Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has also backed efforts to, in his words, “terminate gerrymandering,” calling it “one of the biggest scams politicians have ever pulled on the American people.”

    Activists across the country are trying to make the issue more approachable for citizens. Some advocates even donned Halloween costumes in the shape of gerrymandered districts, which can resemble puzzle pieces. In Asheville, N.C., the League of Women Voters organized the “Gerrymander 5k,” during which 350 people walked or ran the meandering line that splits Asheville’s congressional and legislative districts.

    “I think redistricting reform has become a sexier issue because I think people understand it,” said Michael Li, senior counsel for the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “You go back 10, 15 years ago, and it was a really esoteric issue, it was dry, and that’s completely changed. People understand what we currently have doesn’t work and we need to fix something. And hopefully we can have a robust, nonpartisan debate about what that is.”

    [Redistricting battles heighten the stakes for 2018 gubernatorial races]

    Voters in recent years have been opting for ways to overhaul how districts are created. In 2010, California voters created a nonpartisan, citizen commission to establish the state’s voting maps. Arizona voters created an independent redistricting commission in 2000.

    Kathay Feng, national redistricting director of Common Cause, a nonpartisan grass-roots organization, worked on the California campaign, which is now seen as a model for states that want citizen committees.

    “In California, we had a system where politicians went behind closed doors and decided where the lines were drawn and ended up hurting communities — communities of color, women interested in running, people in the way of an incumbent,” she said, noting the issue was long seen as “an insider game, that no one was paying attention to, and we were told that it’s so complicated and regular people can’t understand it. But that’s not true.”

    Republicans and Democrats have redrawn voting districts into odd shapes that benefit their parties for hundreds of years. It started in the early 1800s, when Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry signed a bill creating a redistricting plan for the state Senate, including a district that looked like a winged dragon. It gave an advantage to his party — then known as the Democratic-Republican Party — and created the term “gerrymandering.” (Gerry went on to become vice president, under President James Madison, from March 1813 until Gerry’s death in November 1814).

    The term “gerrymander” stems from this Gilbert Stuart cartoon of a twisted Massachusetts electoral district. Stuart thought the shape resembled a salamander, but his friend called it a “Gerry-mander” after Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry, who approved rearranging district lines for political advantage. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

    Since 2010, redistricting has largely been under the purview of Republicans, who gained control of Congress and many statehouses and were able to draw new districts based on that year’s Census. The process has been contentious and, some argue, racially charged, because many new districts limit the power of minority voters.

    In Colorado, a state legislator was banned from the Senate floors and chamber for the 2011 session for losing his temper during a redistricting discussion. In Michigan, where redistricting maps were first approved in 2011, there is still ongoing litigation over partisan gerrymanders; the trial is scheduled to begin in February. The next round of district lines will be drawn there in 2021, using new census data.

    “Our politics forced these debates to be extreme, and that’s not really where the people were,” Daley said. “There is a structural issue that is silently corroding our democracy, and we all have this sense that something is broken, something isn’t working. And in many ways the underlying issue is that these district lines have gotten twisted in such a way that made our politics more extreme.”

    The redrawn maps have led to numerous lawsuits around the country. In North Carolina, a federal court declared the state’s Republican-drawn congressional maps were unconstitutional, calling them an “invidious” plan to favor Republicans over Democrats. But plaintiffs conceded there was not enough time to redraw the maps, and North Carolinians voted Tuesday in the gerrymandered districts.

    In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court ruled that a congressional map drawn by Republican legislators in 2011 was “clearly, plainly and palpably” a partisan gerrymander. The court drew its own map with the help of an independent redistricting expert, and that map was used Tuesday.

    The U.S. Supreme Court has been reluctant to wade into the issue of gerrymandering. In June, it skirted the issue of whether redrawing districts in partisan ways is unconstitutional, leaving a Republican-drawn map in Wisconsin and one made by Democrats in Maryland intact for Election Day.

    Scott Clement contributed to this report.

  • 6 Nov 2018 4:04 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Missouri farmers differ on ballot measure to limit political money, redraw voting districts – MissouriNet – by Jason Taylor

    As the November 6th election arrives, a proposal aimed at reining in money in politics and remaking voting maps has proven to be one of the most controversial ballot measures voters will see.  At seven paragraphs, it also has by far the most involved explanation on the ballot.

    Amendment 1, also known as Clean Missouri, has the clear backing of many Democrats and some Republicans while many in the GOP have solidified opposition to the measure.  Those who are against the proposal, which includes some high-profile Democrats as well, generally have issues with the changes it makes to the redistricting process.

    The Missouri agricultural community is also divided over the amendment.  Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst recently labeled it “a Lemon of a Deal” in a news release.  He said the backers of Clean Missouri are “using the same tactics as the greasiest used car salesman” as he viewed the measure’s claim to ethics reform with major skepticism.

    Among Hurst’s chief problems with the ballot measure’s redistricting plan is its use of a non-partisan “state demographer” who would determine voting districts.  The demographer would replace the current system in which the legislature appoints bipartisan House and Senate redistricting commissions.  He also is troubled by the central role the state auditor would play in determining who the demographer would be, noting that the main function of the secretary of state is to oversee elections.

    Hurst indicated he thinks the Democratic minority in the legislature is artificially trying to gain the upper hand in the redistricting process.  “If one team can’t compete, it’s clear to Amendment One backers that the rules must be the problem, not the fact that the losing team might want to get better players or a smarter strategy,” said Hurst.

    He also suggested the redistricting plan would diminish the voice of rural voters.  “One thing is for sure. The only way to get more competitive districts in Missouri is to dilute the impact of rural voters by extending rural districts into urban areas, making adequate representation of rural Missouri all but impossible,” Hurst said.

    Susan Williams is a retired school administrator, who has rejoined her husband to manage a cattle ranch in mid-Missouri.  She disagrees with Hurst’s view that Clean Missouri would impede the speech of rural residents.  She points out rural Cooper County where she lives is already disenfranchised because it’s divided into four legislative districts.

    “Our vote and our ideas are diluted because we are divided between four different districts,” said Williams.  “The Clean Missouri puts those in more square, rectangular districts.  They’re not divided and spread over such a vast area.”

    In addition to changing the redistricting process, the ballot measure would set campaign finance rules and other restrictions on lawmakers.

    It would require Missouri legislative records to be open and it would lower campaign contribution limits for state legislative candidates – $2,500 for Senate seats and $2,000 for House seats.  It would also require Missouri lawmakers to wait two years before becoming lobbyists and would eliminate lobbyist gifts of more than $5 to lawmakers.

    Rick Oswalt is a farmer in Atchison County in far northwest Missouri who is also a former President of the Missouri Farmers Union.  He favors Clean Missouri because he thinks lawmakers have been swayed by the influence of big money.  “What I’ve seen is that we’ve lost a lot of moderate Republicans,” said Oswalt.  “We’ve lost the kind of people who really represent our rural values and are willing to work for the general population because they aren’t willing to tow the party line for some big money donors.”

    Oswalt contends the impact of big money led to a poor decision by the legislature in 2013.  “I’ve seen things happen like actions taken by the general assembly to allow more acres of Missouri farmland to be purchased by a foreign entity, as in particular China, which this country seems to be at odds with right now.”

    The legislature loosened the restriction on foreign agricultural land ownership a week before a Chinese meat-processing giant bought Smithfield Foods, which had significant assets in Missouri.  Shuanghui International Holdings, now known as WH Group, purchased Smithfield Foods for $4.7 billion.

    Williams, the cattle rancher, remembers attending a Missouri House hearing this year with a room full of family farmers to testify on two identical bills that would’ve reversed the 2013 foreign ownership legislation.  The proposals were sponsored by Democrat Martha Stevens of Columbia and Republican Tom Hurst of Meta.

    She says lawmakers at the hearing listened to 5-6 big money lobbyists and largely ignored people like her.  “When an individual tried to get up there and talk it was like the hearing committee didn’t listen to the individual family farmers that were there,” Williams said.  “They listened more to those lobby groups.”

    Williams acknowledged that members of the farming community have differing opinions on the Clean Missouri ballot measure, stating that the Farm Bureau doesn’t necessarily represent the interests of people like herself.  “We’ve got to look at what individual or regional needs are versus what the big money of what maybe the Farm Bureau is supporting.  Those interests are not always the interests of the local small family farmer.”

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