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  • 23 Jan 2019 4:19 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Federal judges choose Va. redistricting map favorable to Democrats; six GOP House districts would get bluer - The Washington Post - by Gregory S. Schneider

    RICHMOND — Federal judges have selected a Virginia House of Delegates redistricting map that appears to heavily favor Democrats, redrawing the lines of 26 districts and moving several powerful Republicans into unfavorable configurations.

    Six Republicans would wind up in districts where a majority of voters chose Democratic President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, according to an analysis of the maps by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. No current Democrats would see their voter majority change to Republican, based on those election results.

    Virginia does not register voters by party.

    If the court’s map selection stands, it would create a favorable environment for Democrats seeking to take control of the House of Delegates in elections this fall, according to the analysis. All 100 seats in the House are on the ballot, and Republicans hold a 51-to-48 majority.

    One seat is open because former delegate Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax County) recently won election to the state Senate.

    Several efforts to amend the state’s constitution to create independent or bipartisan redistricting commissions for future redistricting efforts are percolating through this year’s General Assembly. Those efforts would not impact the November elections.

    [Federal court releases plans for possible redistricting in Virginia, refuses to delay process]

    A panel of judges from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled last June that 11 districts had been racially gerrymandered to concentrate black voters and ordered a new map.

    Most of the affected districts are in the Hampton Roads and Richmond areas; redrawing those lines alters several surrounding districts.

    Because the Republican-controlled General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam couldn’t agree last fall on how to redraw the lines, the judges selected a California professor as “special master” to devise a plan. Late Tuesday, the judges said they had chosen a combination of maps from the special master’s plan.

    The court ordered the special master to complete a final planby Tuesday, and said either side could submit objections by Feb. 1. The judges will implement the new map soon after.

    The maps chosen by the judges would more evenly distribute black voters and put more Democratic-leaning voters into districts held by Republicans.

    House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) would see his district tilt Democratic, shifting 32 percentage points to the left, according to the VPAP analysis of the 2012 results.

    Del. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, would also wind up in a majority Democratic district, shifting more than 27 points to the left, according to VPAP.

    A handful of Democrats who won in 2017 in red or closely divided districts would see their bases get more blue. While many Democratic districts would pick up voters who tend to cast ballots for Republicans, none would become majority Republican, VPAP predicted.

    “The Eastern District Court selected a series of legally indefensible redistricting modules that attempts to give Democrats an advantage at every turn,” Cox said Tuesday night via email. “The modules selected by the Court target senior Republicans, myself included, without a substantive basis in the law.”

    [U.S. Supreme Court to take up Virginia redistricting case on racial gerrymandering]

    The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the case, though it refused to delaythe redistricting effort as it weighs the appeal. Part of what the high court is considering is whether the House Republicans have standing to bring the case.

    “We are confident that the Supreme Court will not allow the remedial map the court appears to be on its way to adopting to stand,” Cox said, noting that Northam had voted for the 2011 redistricting plan when he was in the state Senate and it was approved by the Obama-era Justice Department. “We will continue to fight for the 2011 redistricting plan.”

    Marc E. Elias, a Democratic election lawyer representing those who challenged the design of the districts, tweeted late Tuesday that the court “has ordered the special master to adopt the alternative-map configuration we advocated. We are one important step closer to the end of the GOP’s racial gerrymander.”

    Northam has said he supports establishing a nonpartisan effort to draw future political boundaries, and several proposals to create a new process are alive in the General Assembly.

    A Senate committee on Tuesday defeated a measure seeking to amend the state constitution to set up an independent Citizens’ Redistricting Commission. But the same committee approved a resolution calling for an amendment to establish a bipartisan panel made up of citizens and legislators.

    On the House side, a host of related bills are parked in a subcommittee, awaiting action. Several have bipartisan support, but it’s unclear if any will advance.

    “The governor is a longtime advocate of nonpartisan redistricting reform and looks forward to seeing what progress the General Assembly makes on that front this session,” Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said.

    Virginia is set to redraw all its legislative boundaries in 2021.

  • 20 Jan 2019 1:40 AM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    GOP fights 'secret' settlement in gerrymandering case - The Detroit News - by Jonathan Oosting

    Lansing — Republican lawmakers are fighting an attempt by Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to settle a federal lawsuit alleging partisan gerrymandering in political district maps drawn by the GOP-led Legislature in 2011.

    Benson and plaintiff attorneys filed briefs Thursday indicating they were "committed" to reaching a consent agreement in the federal case. Among the plaintiff attorneys is Mark Brewer, who was the Michigan Democratic Party chairman when the lines were drawn.

    While details of the pending agreement are not known, the deal could lead to new Michigan legislative and congressional district maps for the 2020 election cycle and potentially force a state Senate election that would not otherwise occur until 2022, cutting short what are typically four-year terms in the upper chamber.

    But Republicans in the state House and Congress are fighting the move, saying that any negotiations are being done "in secret." Benson's request to delay the trial pending a consent agreement with plaintiffs is "both procedurally improper and substantively wrong," their attorneys wrote in a Friday afternoon filing.

    An agreement would "affect Intervenors rights" and the trial "would nonetheless be required to go forward regardless of what plaintiffs and the secretary may do," they said. 

    Attorneys Jason Torchinsky and Charlie Spies also disputed a suggestion by plaintiff attorneys that Republican lawmakers had "chosen not to participate" in the settlement discussion.

    "This statement is false," they wrote, telling a three-judge panel that GOP intervenors were never invited to participate and did not reject an invitation. 

    "To the extent settlement discussions have been held, these discussion have occurred in secret without any offer to allow (Republican lawmakers) to participate."

    Former Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, a Republican, had been defending the current political district maps approved by the GOP-led Legislature in 2011. But Benson, who took office Jan. 1, officially replaced her as a named defendant in the case this week and quickly signaled a major strategy shift

    Republican lawmakers had already won permission to intervene in the case, citing "uncertainty" over Benson's position.

    Benson announced the pending settlement Thursday as part of a motion supporting Republican requests to delay the trial, tentatively set to begin Feb. 5.  The suit alleges current maps violate the U.S. Constitution by intentionally "packing" or "cracking" Democrats into certain districts to benefit GOP candidates. 

    "It's clear the court has found significant evidence of partisan gerrymandering, and the likely outcome would not be favorable to the state," Benson said in a statement. "It is therefore my responsibility to ensure a fair and equitable resolution for the citizens of Michigan that would save taxpayers money and ensure fair representation."

    Michigan House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Rep. Aaron Miller were not in office when the maps were approved in 2011 but are among the Republicans fighting the lawsuit, along with U.S. Reps. Jack Bergman of Watersmeet, John Moolenaar of Midland, Fred Upton of St. Joseph, Tim Walberg of Tipton and Paul Mitchell of Dryden. 

    Plaintiffs include the League of Women Voters and several Democratic voters, including U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit.

    The Michigan Republican Party blasted the potential settlement Friday, calling it a "blatant partisan power grab" orchestrated by Democrats, including Benson and Brewer, the former party chairman and one of the lead attorneys for plaintiffs. 

    "The 2019 Best Actress Oscar should go to Jocelyn Benson for promising a fair and nonpartisan Secretary of State office during the 2018 election," said GOP spokesman Tony Zammit. "With Jocelyn Benson's help, Nancy Pelosi and her friends are about to redraw our states' congressional map twice in the next two years."

    It's not clear who would redraw Michigan maps if federal judges approve the pending consent agreement. 

    Benson said Thursday that any potential changes would only affect the 2020 election cycle. Voters in November approved a new citizen redistricting commission that will draw new boundaries for elections beginning in 2022. Benson supported the ballot measure.

    "As a longtime advocate of citizen involvement in redistricting as a solution to end gerrymandering, I look forward to implementing (the commission) in a way that is transparent, nonpartisan and effectively engages citizens across the state in the important task of drawing legislative districts that comply with state and federal law," she said in a statement.

  • 15 Jan 2019 3:00 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Is This the Year for a Redistricting Revolution? - The Atlantic - by Edward-Isaac Dovere

    LOS ANGELES—Barack Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger agree: Neither thinks Donald Trump has any business being anywhere near the White House, but the main political issue they’re going to focus on for the next two years is redistricting reform.

    The clock is ticking. The 2020 census, and the nationwide 2021 redistricting right after, are around the corner. Deadlines for ballot initiatives and legislation are already on the horizon for some states to change their procedures before then. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court could soon take up a case that would gut most of the efforts at redistricting reform that have, over the past 10 years, changed how states draw the maps that determine who runs where for Congress and their own legislatures.

    To hear the redistricting-reform advocates tell it, democracy is on the line. But, they say, the attention to the issue that’s exploded since the 2016 election came at the perfect moment to tap into the anger at a broken system and fundamentally change how the country works.

    Read: A grassroots call to ban gerrymandering

    “The people became more and more frustrated. They decided that the system was fixed, there’s nothing they can do about it. So they look for outsiders to save them—outsiders like myself, or like Trump, or like [Representative Alexandria] Ocasio-Cortez,” Schwarzenegger said at an event at the University of Southern California last Thursday. “But unless outsiders are willing to take on gerrymandering and truly fight the establishment, the people will find no salvation.”

    Standing in a conference hall, with complicated chandeliers and the flag of every state that has passed an independent redistricting commission framing the stage, Schwarzenegger unveiled his latest move in the wonky fight that has oddly become a decade-long obsession for him since changing the California laws while he was governor: the creation of an organization he’s calling the Fair Maps Incubator, run out of the Schwarzenegger Institute on campus.

    Read: Arnold Schwarzenegger’s war on gerrymandering is just beginning

    Schwarzenegger has eagerly been deploying his celebrity to call attention to the topic for years. Now he says he wants to accelerate the fight, bringing together those who’ve won nonpartisan redistricting ballot initiatives to create an ongoing nexus of advice, information, and connections for people in other states putting together their own campaigns.

    The ballot initiatives passed in November in Colorado, Utah, Missouri, and Michigan put one-third of all congressional districts under independent redistricting. Now, with movements to create independent commissions in Virginia and, more distantly, South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, and New Jersey, Schwarzenegger announced from the stage, his goal for 2020 is to get two-thirds of all House seats drawn by independent commissions.

    Read: The Supreme Court could make gerrymandering worse

    In a conversation afterward, Schwarzenegger acknowledged that this probably wasn’t possible. But he kept comparing his crusade to when he started bodybuilding. It, too, was an obsession of out-there enthusiasts, but ended up going more mainstream, and eventually laid the path for him to become a multimillionaire Hollywood icon and a governor for seven years.

    Realistically, Schwarzenegger said, he’s hoping for movement in four to six states over the next two years. “I shoot for the stars. It’s always easier to be short, and by accident go further. That’s not going to happen,” he said.

    At the end of last year, Obama announced that he was folding his Organizing for Action group into the National Democratic Redistricting Committee(NDRC), chaired by his former attorney general, Eric Holder. In doing so, he blamed gerrymandering for the lack of action on everything from climate change to immigration reform. Schwarzenegger agrees. If there were more competitive House districts, he said, members of Congress might actually feel compelled to compromise and deliver for the voters, instead of retreating into their partisan corners.

    Look at the shutdown standoff, Schwarzenegger said. It’s become wall versus no wall, without anyone talking about the Dreamers or border patrol, let alone anything like comprehensive immigration reform. The politicians don’t move for close to a month while workers don’t get paid.

    “How stupid of a dialogue is that? How do they get away with this crap?” he said. “Because they get reelected.”

    Politicians have been using gerrymandering to entrench their own power for 200 years, deciding which voters get to vote for them and crystallizing party control by cutting up neighborhoods and counties to make them less competitive. Digitizing maps and voter-registration records has accelerated that process. Because Republican operatives prioritized gerrymandering efforts long before Democrats started paying attention, the Republican wave in 2010 enabled the GOP to create nearly insurmountable structural advantages.

    Democrats won more votes statewide for the state Senate and assembly in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, but because of maps drawn to split Democrats between districts, they didn’t win a majority in any of those states. In the Wisconsin assembly, for example, Republicans won 63.6 of the seats despite winning just 47 percent of the votes cast—and then went on to do a major power grab ahead of the new Democratic governor taking office.

    In a way that no one was anticipating, over the past two years, it’s become an issue that’s moved closer to the mainstream and started driving votes. The ballot initiative that created an independent commission in Michigan, for example, started with a Facebook post by a woman, who had no experience in politics, griping about how politicians controlled the process. The post, she noted, wasn’t so different from one she’d written after the 2014 elections, though that one didn’t get anywhere near the same reaction.

    And the issue has moved mostly for Democrats, many of whom have landed on gerrymandering as a prime reason the makeup of government doesn’t seem representative. Democratic operatives in Michigan credit the ballot initiative last year with helping to drive some of the turnout that led to their sweep of statewide offices in November. And Democratic turnout didn’t surge only in Michigan. According to data compiled by the former Obama campaign analyst Andrew Claster, the four independent-commission ballot initiatives that passed last year—in Colorado, Utah, Missouri, and Michigan—saw Democratic support ranging from 72 to 83 percent, heavy support among independents, and much lower support from Republicans.

    Obama and Holder argue that if the lines are fairer, more Democrats will win, but the only way to get the lines to be fairer is to back Democratic campaigns and Democratic lawsuits. Obama used redistricting reform to guide many of his endorsements and some of his 2018 fundraising, and he’s expected to keep that up over the years ahead.

    “President Obama believes gerrymandering is one of the most important structural problems currently facing our politics because it touches every issue. When politicians choose voters rather than the other way around, you end up with Republican elected officials at a national level who consistently ignore the will of voters on everything from health care to gun safety to climate change,” said Katie Hill, a spokesperson for Obama. “Fairly drawn maps are key to ensuring that the arc of history bends toward justice.”

    There’s been the pushback against independent redistricting reform from Democrats in several states. In Virginia, for example, the process for getting an initiative on the ballot would require it to pass the legislature in two consecutive sessions. With Democrats hoping to take the majority in November 2019 races, though, Democratic leaders in the state aren’t eager to give up the power right at the moment when they might get to use it to their own advantage.

    “We’ll do everything we can to take as much of the politics out and do it fairly,” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said at an event in December promoting Democratic efforts in the state, when pressed about whether he’d support an independent commission.

    This year, the Obama-backed NDRC group will back candidates in state races in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Virginia, as well as one for a seat on the Wisconsin state supreme court. Next year, the emphasis will be on Florida, Georgia, Texas, Ohio, and North Carolina, in the hope of at least chipping away at the massive Republican advantages in those states. The nonprofit affiliated with the group is also already supporting litigation around changing the districts in North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

    “The fight against gerrymandering is about fairness,” Holder said, adding that he sees the next two years as a crucial opportunity. “It is about ensuring that every American has an equal say in our government and that our elected officials truly represent the will of the people. We will continue using every tool at our disposal to make real a fair redistricting process in the states.”

    Schwarzenegger and the NDRC backed many of the same efforts in 2018. But Schwarzenegger said he’s not looking for an official partnership.

    “It’s the definition of what is fair. I don’t want them to define what is fair. I’m the only one that I know, having been around the country and done this, that really does not care. I don’t even ask anybody when I come to a state, ‘Is this favoring the Democrats or the Republicans?’ I never even talk about that. It doesn’t matter to me,” he said.

    The Schwarzenegger event was a mix of activists who’d flown in from all over the country, a collection of operatives from Common Cause and other groups, curious USC students, and a few stragglers who seemed to have come by for the free food and a glimpse of the old movie star.

    Claster, the data analyst, walked the crowd through voter data and broke down the elements of the winning campaigns. Wording such as “Voters Not Politicians” (the name of the Michigan campaign) helps, or lines such as “Voters should pick their elected officials, not the other way around,” which he said polled well in every state. He advised targeting Republicans with endorsements from Republican leaders and Democrats with Democratic leaders. It takes cash. The Utah campaign featured commercials starring the actors Ed Helms and Jennifer Lawrence.

    “We can’t just take the California model and pass it in each state. We can’t just take the Michigan model and pass it in each state. We need to customize,” Claster said. “Just because we can win everywhere doesn’t mean we will win everywhere—but we will win if we have the right strategy.”

    Still, advocates are running out of states where they can reasonably pass ballot initiatives. For all the activist talk of trying to create an independent commission in Florida, most looking at the situation there pragmatically say they don’t expect an effort to be successful. Others note that the emphasis on creating the commissions often overlooks the details of how those commissions will be structured.

    “Once you’ve had the baby,” said Kathay Feng, the national redistricting director of Common Cause, “you’ve got to have the commitment 24/7 to make sure it grows up.”

    In 2017, the Supreme Court heard a case that began in Wisconsin that some thought might lead to the declaration of gerrymandering as unconstitutional. It didn’t. Now there’s fear among redistricting-reform advocates that the new makeup of the Court will do pretty much the opposite and take a case that would declare the independent commissions unconstitutional. Feng said that if that happened, it would lead to a revolution. “I’m calling us to arms,” she joked. Others believe that it could have a boomerang effect, forcing Congress to address the issue nationally—the same thought process that had people believing that Congress would update the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court struck down a key section of it in 2013.

    It hasn’t even come up for official debate in the years since.

    Even on that front, Schwarzenegger said he’s optimistic. The justices, he believes, will see the tide toward reform in the country and not move so starkly against it.

    “You have to use momentum, but you also have to understand that everything’s not going to happen from one day to the next,” Schwarzenegger said. “But we’re on to something good.”

  • 15 Jan 2019 2:57 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Judge bars citizenship question from 2020 census - Associated Press - by Larry Neumeister

    NEW YORK (AP) — A federal judge blocked the Trump administration Tuesday from asking about citizenship status on the 2020 census, the first major ruling in cases contending that officials ramrodded the question through for Republican political purposes to intentionally undercount immigrants.

    In a 277-page decision that won’t be the final word on the issue, U.S. District Judge Jesse Furman ruled that while such a question would be constitutional, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had added it arbitrarily and not followed proper administrative procedures.

    “He failed to consider several important aspects of the problem; alternately ignored, cherry-picked, or badly misconstrued the evidence in the record before him; acted irrationally both in light of that evidence and his own stated decisional criteria; and failed to justify significant departures from past policies and practices,” Furman wrote.

    Among other things, the judge said, Ross didn’t follow a law requiring that he give Congress three years notice of any plan to add a question about citizenship to the census.

    The ruling came in a case in which a dozen states or big cities and immigrants’ rights groups argued that the Commerce Department, which designs the census, had failed to properly analyze the effect the question would have on households where immigrants live.

    A trial on separate suit on the same issue, filed by the state of California, is underway in San Francisco.

    The U.S. Supreme Court is also poised to address the issue Feb. 19, meaning the legal issue is far from decided for good.

    “We are disappointed and are still reviewing the ruling,” Justice Department spokeswoman Kelly Laco said in a statement.

    In the New York case, the plaintiffs accused the administration of Republican President Donald Trump of adding the question to intentionally discourage immigrants from participating, which could lead to a population undercount — and possibly fewer seats in Congress — in places that tend to vote Democratic.

    Even people in the U.S. legally, they said, might dodge the census questionnaire out of fears they could be targeted by a hostile administration.

    The Justice Department argued that Ross had no such motive.

    Ross’ decision to reinstate a citizenship question for the first time since 1950 was reasonable because the government has asked a citizenship question for most of the past 200 years, Laco said.

    When Ross announced the plan in March, he said the question was needed in part to help the government enforce the Voting Rights Act, a 1965 law meant to protect political representation of minority groups.

    New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose office was among those that litigated the lawsuit, called the decision a win for “Americans who believe in a fair and accurate count of the residents of our nation.”

    Ross said politics played no role in the decision, initially testifying under oath that he hadn’t spoken to anyone in the White House on the subject.

    Later, however, Justice Department lawyers submitted papers saying Ross remembered speaking in spring 2017 about adding the question with former senior White House adviser Steve Bannon and with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

    The U.S. Supreme Court blocked Ross from being deposed, but let the trial proceed, over the objections of Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.

    In a dissent on one of two Supreme Court orders related to the case, Gorsuch wrote there was “nothing unusual about a new cabinet secretary coming to office inclined to favor a different policy direction, soliciting support from other agencies to bolster his views, disagreeing with staff, or cutting through red tape.”

    “Of course, some people may disagree with the policy and process,” he wrote. “But until now, at least, this much has never been thought enough to justify a claim of bad faith and launch an inquisition into a cabinet secretary’s motives.”

    The constitutionally mandated census is supposed to count all people living in the U.S., including noncitizens and immigrants living in the country illegally.

    The Census Bureau’s staff estimated that adding a citizenship question could depress responses in households with at least one noncitizen by as much as 5.8 percent. That could be particularly damaging in states like New York or California, which have large immigrant populations.

    Justice Department lawyers argued that the estimate was overblown and that, even if they were true, that didn’t mean Ross exceeded his legal authority in putting the question on anyway.

    The administration faces an early summer deadline for finalizing questions so questionnaires can be printed.

  • 15 Jan 2019 2:55 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Public will get to propose 6th Congressional District lines to commission online - Maryland Reporter - by Diane Rey

    The public will have the opportunity to help redraw the contorted lines of Maryland’s gerrymandered 6th Congressional District, the Governor’s Emergency Redistricting Commission announced at its organizational meeting Friday in Annapolis, just hours before the Supreme Court agreed to consider the case from Maryland.

    The Supreme Court’s decision to review an appeals court’s order to redraw the lines of the 6th CD because it is unconstitutional could make the work of the governor’s commission irrelevant if the high court decides to reverse the lower court order. But the commission plans to press ahead with hearings and redrawing the lines of the 6th and adjacent districts.   

    Secretary Robert McCord of the Maryland Department of Planning discussed a website the department is developing that will enable the public to provide input into the redistricting process. He said the new website should be up and running this week.

    “The public can create accounts and submit plans electronically. It’s a 21st century way to do it,” McCord said.

    The public can use the state’s Maptitude redistricting software, which will be preloaded with current district data, or their own software. The commission will also accept hard-copy plans from the public for review.

    “I’m trying to make it so the public has multiple ways to get it to you,” said McCord.

    McCord gave the commission a draft hard-copy of what the website might look like.   

    The commission also set up a public hearing schedule to gather input on the redistricting process. The first public hearing will be held at 7 p.m., Jan. 14, in Frederick. Other public hearings will take place Jan. 31 in Montgomery County and Feb. 6 in western Maryland.

    The commission will reconvene in Annapolis for a workshop at 10 a.m. Feb. 20. The meeting will be video and audio live-streamed at

    In his executive order, Gov. Hogan gave the emergency commission a deadline of March 4 to present a new plan and map for the 6th Congressional District for a public comment period that will run until March 26. The final map and report are due to the governor by April 2. The governor will submit the new district plan to the 2019 Maryland General Assembly as emergency legislation.

    The Emergency Commission on Sixth Congressional District Gerrymandering is made up of three Democrats, three Republicans and three unaffiliated voters. Hogan created the commission to comply with a federal appeals court order requiring Maryland to draw new boundaries for the 6th Congressional District, which currently encompasses all of Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties as well as portions of Montgomery and Frederick counties.

    The deadline for that court order has been delayed until July 1 pending a ruling by the Supreme Court.

    “The governor has made it clear he wants a fair and independent job by all of us here,” said retired U.S. District Court Judge Alexander Williams Jr., co-chair of the commission, along with Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. “We want to draw lines the whole country can look at. It’s a model for other states to adopt,” said Williams.

    For more information about Maryland’s Redistricting Commission, visit:

    Diane M. Rey can be reached at,

  • 13 Jan 2019 2:52 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Attorney general files motion to toss redistricting lawsuit - Local 12 - by Associated Press

    CLEVELAND (AP) - Ohio Gov.-elect Mike DeWine in his current role as the state's attorney general has filed a motion seeking dismissal of a lawsuit attempting to force Ohio to redraw its 16 congressional districts in time for the 2020 election.

    The lawsuit is scheduled for trial in March before a three-judge federal panel. reports the Ohio League of Women Voters and others who are suing for the redrawing of districts argue Ohio's congressional map violates voters' constitutional rights by "entrenching partisan advantage." They say the current map has resulted in 12 predictably Republican districts and four predictably Democratic districts.

    The judges rejected an earlier attempt in August to dismiss the lawsuit.

    DeWine's motion filed this week argues among other things that plaintiffs lack standing and are unable to prove harm.

  • 13 Jan 2019 2:49 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Crofton Redistricting Workshop Planned By School Board - The Patch - by News Desk 

    The Board of Education of Anne Arundel County will hold a workshop to discuss Crofton area redistricting proposals from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, January 22, 2019.

    The workshop will run from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Board Room of the Parham Building, located at 2644 Riva Road in Annapolis. It is open to the public, but no public testimony or questions will be taken.
    At its December 5, 2018, meeting, the Board was presented with Superintendent George Arlotto's recommendation regarding the redistricting of school boundaries to form an attendance area for the Crofton area to accompany the opening of the new Crofton Area High School in 2020. The recommendation generally aligned with that crafted by the Crofton Area Redistricting Committee with exception of the following:

    • All boundary shifts will occur in the 2020-2021 school year.
    • There is no recommended grandfathering. The committee had originally recommended that some boundary shifts take effect in the 2019-2020 school year, with a two-year grandfathering.

    Dr. Arlotto's recommendation would:

    • redistrict all Crofton Elementary School and Crofton Middle School students in the Two Rivers/Forks of the Patuxent and Waugh Chapel communities temporarily to Piney Orchard Elementary School and Arundel Middle School beginning in the 2020-2021 school year, until West County Elementary School opens in the Arundel feeder system. These students will continue to attend Arundel High School.
    • redistrict the Riverwalk at Crofton community to Crofton Woods Elementary School, Crofton Middle School and Crofton Area High School beginning in the 2020-2021 school year (there are no students currently living in this area.)
    • redistrict all Arundel High School students living in the Nantucket, Crofton Meadows, and Crofton elementary schools attendance zones on the east side of Route 3 to Crofton Area High School beginning in the 2020-2021 school year. These students would continue to attend Crofton Middle School.
    • redistrict all South River High School students in the Crofton Meadows and Crofton Woods elementary schools attendance zones to Crofton Area High School beginning in the 2020-2021 school year. These students would continue to attend Crofton Middle School.
    • not include grandfathering provisions at any schools.

    At its January 9, 2019, meeting, the Board chose to delay moving any plans forward to public hearing and hold a workshop first.
    As the process continues, the Board can choose to move Dr. Arlotto's recommendation forward, choose others developed by the committee, or formulate its own plan to take to public hearing for comment.
    Other key dates in the process are:

    • Wednesday, January 23, 2019: The Board will consider proposals to take to public hearing as part of its regularly scheduled meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in the Board Room. Under Anne Arundel County Public Schools' redistricting process, the Board must decide on which proposal(s) to take to public hearing by January 31.
    • Tuesday, March 19, 2019: The Board will conduct a public hearing on the plan(s) it chooses to move forward at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at Arundel High School. On a date yet to be determined but prior to the hearing, AACPS staff will conduct a public briefing on the plan(s) moved forward by the Board. The public may ask clarifying questions at the briefing, but no testimony will be taken.
    • Wednesday, April 17, 2019: As part of its regular meeting, the Board will vote on adoption of a redistricting plan, which will go into effect in August 2020. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.

    Complete information on the redistricting process, including materials provided to the redistricting committee and to the Board, can be found here.

  • 13 Jan 2019 2:47 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Lawmakers push for independent commission to redraw district lines after 2020 - The Post and the Courier - by Andrew Brown

    COLUMBIA — Some state lawmakers want to create a new commission to redraw the state’s legislative and congressional districts after 2020, setting the stage for a debate over gerrymandering and whether the Republican-led Legislature should be in charge of divvying up voters.

    A group of senators and representatives filed several pieces of legislation last week that would give South Carolinians the ability to choose whether state lawmakers or a commission made up of nine other people draw the state’s future political boundaries.

    Anyone who is or was a lobbyist, a candidate for office, a legislative staffer, an employee of a political party or contributed $2,000 or more to a political candidate in any given year could not serve on the proposed commission.

    The goal of the independent body would be to make the seats in the U.S. House and both chambers of the state Legislature more competitive. It would do so by mandating the new districts drawn after the U.S. Census in 2020 are geographically compact and not twisted and contorted into odd shapes to ensure one party has the advantage.

    The newly proposed legislation would pose the question of who should draw the district lines to voters in a referendum on the 2020 ballot. But first, the bill must pass the Statehouse.

    One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Columbia, doesn’t expect that to happen.

    “I don’t think it will get passed,” said Harpootlian, a former state Democratic Party chairman, who gained office this year in a special election. “This legislation points out to voters who care that there is a better way to do this.”

    “Nobody gives up power willingly. So this is a gesture, though not totally useless,” said Harpootlian, who sued the state over the state’s redistricting plan after 2011.

    Many other lawmakers who want to change how district lines are drawn are Democrats, whose party has been the minority in Columbia for decades.

    But there are Republicans throwing their support behind a commission too, including Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort. 

    Davis is fed up with the way the system is working. He thinks gerrymandering is undermining people’s trust in the country’s democratic system of government and doesn’t want voters to believe the system is “rigged.”

    “There is almost a conflict of interest to have state legislators drawing lines that determine how they are going to run for reelection,” Davis said.

    The main goal, Davis said, is to include average citizens in the redistricting process. That’s why he is backing the referendum in 2020 and the rules about who can sit on the proposed redistricting commission.

    Even with an independent commission drawing district lines, Davis believes Republicans can win based on their platform and the issues they espouse to voters.

    “I’ve never been a big fan of this argument that we need to keep control of this as the General Assembly,” Davis said. “That kind of talk really turns me off.”

  • 12 Jan 2019 10:18 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Will we ever see life after gerrymandering? - The Fayetteville Observer - by Tim White

    It’s 138 miles from Fayetteville to Charlotte, according to Google. A little less than that between Fayetteville and Concord. Those are the cities where our members of Congress make their homes (or we assume as much for the 9th Congressional District, once the voting irregularities get sorted out).

    Does it seem a little bizarre to you that those are the places where Fayetteville reaidents must turn to find their elected members of Congress? Shouldn’t the sixth-largest city in North Carolina have a resident member of the U.S. House of Representatives — or at least have one living in our area code?

    What’s wrong with that picture?

    And it really is a picture, a bizarre one. A map, actually, of this state’s legislative districts and a textbook illustration of what a Boston Gazette cartoonist drew in 1812 in honor of a bizarre electoral district created by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry. The original was called a Gerry-mander, a beast that looked like a cross between a salamander and a dragon. The name came to be applied to all legislative districts deliberately contorted to gain political advantage.

    And as you all know, North Carolina is now the spiritual epicenter of the gerrymandering art. We’ve got some doozies.

    But our own 8th and 9th districts are monstrous in their own way, even without contortions. They are the product of the most recent redrawings of the state’s legislative districts — long, narrow districts that stretch across a broad expanse of the state, connecting two major urban areas that have almost nothing in common, with a vast swath of farm country between them.

    Robert Pittenger, the 9th District representative who may or may not have been beaten in last year’s primary by Mark Harris, worked hard to learn this end of the district, but he clearly was a Charlotte creature who never really appeared comfortable here. Harris is a Charlotte man, and the Democrat he may or may not have beaten, Dan McCready, is a thoroughly Charlotte guy as well. Fayetteville issues aren’t ever likely to be top-of-mind for them.

    We fare a little better in the 8th District, because Richard Hudson has a long history with Fayetteville issues. The 8th has included Fayetteville, off and on, for decades and before Hudson won the seat, he ran district operations for Rep. Robin Hayes. He also earned big credibility around here when he brokered an EPA meeting in Fayetteville to discuss GenX problems that were really in Pittenger’s district. But still, it’s hard for a guy who lives in Concord to start every day with Fayetteville issues at the top of his to-do list.

    The closest Fayetteville has come in this century to having a congressman of its own was when part of Cumberland County was in the 7th Congressional District and represented by Mike McIntyre of Robeson County. That was the last time we were part of a sensibly crafted district where residents has some common issues and interests. But that’s no longer the case, because politicians are drawing the districts solely to create dominance for their own party, and certainly not to serve the voters.

    I spent a couple of hours last summer with three members of the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, a body created in 2010 to replace the political hacks who’d been doing the job poorly. The commission has five Republicans, five Democrats and four from neither of the major political parties. The members draw the districts, based on these criteria, in order of priority: population equality, the federal Voting Rights Act, geographic contiguity, geographic integrity (not dividing cities, counties, neighborhoods or bodies of interest, when possible), geographic compactness and nesting (incorporating local voting districts within the congressional districts, when that’s possible). The commission members said they’ve been mostly successful, but not without great difficulty — it’s a complex job. And they had to fend off plenty of political pressure as they got their jobs done. But California’s legislative districts are far better off today because of the commission’s work.

    Other states, like Iowa, have developed their own criteria for legislative districts and created nonpartisan commissions to do the redistricting. It’s a different approach, but one that works too.

    What doesn’t work is the way we and many other states are doing it. That’s why I’m hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will reject partisan gerrymandering when it hears yet another challenge to this state’s legislative districts in March. We should have a decision by the end of the court’s current term, in June. If the politicians get their hands slapped, maybe there’s a chance we can have real reform in North Carolina soon. After all, both Democrats and Republicans have proposed and supported versions of nonpartisan, professional redistricting commissions in the past — when each has been the party out of power, of course.

    But a good smackdown from the Supreme Court might make sensible redistricting possible and gerrymandering a thing of the past.

    A guy can hope, anyway.

  • 10 Jan 2019 2:45 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    The answer to gerrymandering? Have Democrats and Republicans play a game - The Ohio State University News - Laura Arenschield

    A new method of drawing electoral districts that combines game theory and the word game “Ghost” could result in maps that are more demographically representative, according to two mathematicians.

    In the game “Ghost,” players take turns saying letters, with each letter building on the last letter played. Players create word fragments, ultimately trying to get their opponents to complete the word. Whoever completes the word loses. At its core, though, Ghost is a game of collaboration—two players working together to build a word, even as they try to outsmart and outmaneuver each other, said Dustin Mixon, assistant professor of mathematics at The Ohio State University.

    Mixon’s work focuses on geometric clustering, though he dabbles in game theory, and he has created theorems around gerrymandering in the past. He wondered if the same theory—two players with opposing goals working together to build a map—might make for more fair electoral districts.

    Dustin Mixon

    “The effect we want is that we get a vote that reflects the will of the people,” Mixon said. “And just intuitively, if both sides have a role in drawing the map, it will be better than if only one side calls the shots. Any two-party game where two parties have a voice is going to be more equitable than a system where only one party has a voice.”

    Mixon and his study co-author, Soledad Villar of New York University’s Center for Data Science, composed the theorem and posted it on a mathematics preprint server,, where other mathematicians can review it and weigh in on its validity before it is submitted to an academic journal.

    To build a more equitable electoral map, Mixon theorizes, the two political parties simply need to play a game.

    “In each round, a player assigns a precinct or a county to a voting district—and they take turns,” he said. “The theoretical result is that if you have half the votes, you’ll end up with half of the districts, no matter whether you are the first player or the second player.”

    The theorem takes a few things for granted: It assumes, for example, that both parties are playing to win the maximum number of seats. It also assumes that the parties have perfect knowledge of how every voter would vote. It doesn’t take into account a third or fourth political party, or a back-room handshake that could protect one incumbent or another.

    But it is, Mixon believes, a better system than the one in play right now.

    As they ran through the possible outcomes in their proposed game, the mathematicians saw again and again that the number of seats each party won ended up reflecting the population of a given state—something that has come under scrutiny in recent elections, including in Ohio.

    Gerrymandered districts have caused issues for elections for nearly 200 years, since the first gerrymandered district—drawn by Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry—created districts that tipped the balance of power in the state government to his party. The Boston Globe compared the district’s shape to a salamander; the combination of Gerry’s name and that description stuck, and the term “gerrymandering” was born.

    Since then, the Supreme Court has weighed in on gerrymandering, going so far as to rule partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional in 1986. But determining if a district has been politically gerrymandered can be tricky—even districts that take wonky shapes can actually be more representative of the electorate than those drawn with clean, neat lines.

    Ohio’s own electoral districts have come under fire: After the November election, Republicans won 52 percent of the overall votes for U.S. Congress, but will serve in about 69 percent of Ohio’s Congressional seats. But Ohio voters also voted overwhelmingly last year to put stronger controls in place to prevent gerrymandering, and to require buy-in from both Democrats and Republicans before district lines can be drawn.

    That two-party planning is the foundation for Mixon’s theorem: If both parties are operating in their individual best interests, the resulting electoral map will be more fair than one drawn with just one party operating in its best interest.

    “Twenty-one states have some sort of redistricting commission that they appoint to draw these maps, and those appointees are made by the party in power,” he said. “This improves on what we currently have.”

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