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  • 12 Mar 2019 5:54 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Conservatives should oppose gerrymandering - The News & Observer - by John Hood

    In the twilight of his political career, Ronald Reagan made the media rounds to discuss his administration, legacy, and unfinished business. During several of these interviews, Reagan went out of his way to criticize the longtime practice of gerrymandering electoral districts for partisan advantage.

    “I think this is a great conflict of interest,” Reagan told ABC news host (and North Carolina native) David Brinkley in 1988, “to ask men holding office, elected from districts, to change the lines of that district to fit the new population.” Speaking to Firing Line host William F. Buckley a couple of years later, Reagan argued strongly that the redistricting process should be reformed. Describing the convoluted congressional districts in the Los Angeles area as resembling a “nest of snakes,” Reagan complained that legislative majorities in California and most other states had “funneled” as many voters of the opposing party into “a few districts as possible” to subvert the will of the voters.

    Bill Buckley, by the way, was also critical of partisan gerrymandering during his long career as a conservative columnist and commentator — ridiculing it a “Mickey Mouse” approach to governance, among other things.

    As a conservative who came of age politically during the Reagan era, I can’t help chuckling to myself whenever a Republican critic responds to my longtime advocacy of redistricting reform by questioning my conservative credentials.

    Reagan considered gerrymandering to be one of the major impediments to enacting his agenda in Washington. In his day, most legislatures were controlled by Democrats. Most victims of egregious gerrymandering were Republicans. That was certainly the case in North Carolina, where gerrymandering has a long, disreputable, and mostly Democratic history.

    It’s an overstatement to say that past districts drawn by Democrats weren’t as slanted as today’s maps because Democrats lacked modern technology. The most contorted legislative maps I’ve ever seen — districts that would have locked Republicans out of power in Raleigh regardless of the preference of the voters — were drawn by Democratic lawmakers after the 2000 elections and census. Only successful litigation by the GOP kept this attempted Democratic gerrymander from sticking.

    Most active North Carolina Republicans supported this litigation, by the way, and continued to advocate redistricting reform throughout the first decade of the 21st century. The only major exception I can recall was the late Richard Morgan, who helped keep his political partner (and future felon) Jim Black in charge of the North Carolina House even after Republicans won a majority of seats in the 2002 elections. Morgan insisted that legislatures should retain maximum autonomy to draw districts however they wished, even if Republicans were on the receiving end of the resulting gerrymander.

    Needless to say, I don’t think Republican leaders in North Carolina today should take governance advice from Richard Morgan. They should take it from Ronald Reagan.

    Set aside for the moment the prudential case for Republicans to support redistricting reform — that given the uncertainty about who will win the 2020 elections, and how current redistricting litigation will end, reform would keep Republicans from suffering the kind of gerrymanders they faced before 2010. North Carolina conservatives and Republicans should change the system simply because it’s the right thing to do, because letting politicians choose their voters rather than letting voters choose their political representatives is incompatible with basic principles of conservative governance.

    I am part of a cross-ideological coalition, North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform (, that is backing a fresh approach to the issue this year. House Bill 140, otherwise known as the FAIR Act (for Fairness Accountability and Integrity in Redistricting), would use both a constitutional amendment and a statute to place neutral, nonpartisan constraints on redistricting.

    There will never be a perfect way to draw political maps. Perfection is impossible in any human endeavor — which happens to be another core conservative principle. But conservatives should not accept the current process as “the best we can do.” It’s not. Indeed, conservatives should take the lead in reforming redistricting. That’s what Ronald Reagan would do.

  • 4 Mar 2019 7:20 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Ohio GOP's gerrymander goes on trial. Here's how a nonpartisan map could hand Democrats more seats - Daily Kos- Stephen Wolf

    On Monday, a trial began in federal court over Ohio’s congressional map (shown at top left), which Republicans engineered as one of the most extreme gerrymanders in the country. If the plaintiffs prevail, the state would have to redraw the lines and implement fairer districts ahead of the 2020 elections. In this post, we'll explore what a nonpartisan map would look like, and the conclusion we can draw is that Democrats would be certain to win several more seats absent GOP gerrymandering in the Buckeye State.

    Democrats gained a historic 40 seats to flip the House in 2018, but while some pundits still insist that this outcome means gerrymandering didn’t matter that much last year, Ohio stood out as a glaring example of why that argument simply isn’t true. Just as it has this entire decade, Ohio's congressional gerrymander delivered Republicans 12 of the state’s 16 districts, even amid 2018's blue wave. This result held last year even as Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown won re-election by a 7-point margin.

    However, as the hypothetical nonpartisan map on the top right of this post illustrates (see here for a larger version), ending the GOP's gerrymander would likely have transformed Ohio's congressional elections last year. This map would have likely led to Democrats winning three or perhaps four more districts, a much fairer outcome given Ohio’s status as a GOP-tilting but nevertheless up-for-grabs swing state.

    As shown on the map below, our hypothetical districts rely solely on traditional nonpartisan redistricting criteria, which include adhering to federal law and the Voting Rights Act; ignoring partisan statistics and incumbency; preserving communities of interest; keeping cities and counties whole; and compactness. It splits just 13 counties, four townships, and just one city, Columbus, which is too large for a single district and therefore must be divided. That stands in sharp contrast to the GOP's gerrymander, which split 23 counties and dozens of cities.

    Click to enlarge — Presidential election results and demographic data summary

    To assess the partisan impact of these districts, we have calculated the results of all statewide elections from 2012 to 2018 by district. These results are strongly correlated with the outcomes of House races. Under the current map, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama each carried just four districts under the actual gerrymander in 2016 and 2012, respectively; under our nonpartisan alternative, Clinton would have won six and Obama eight. In 2018, Brown would have won 10 of our districts for Senate, and four of the five other Democratic candidates for statewide office would have won seven seats amid narrow losses, up from four under the actual map.

    Looking at individual seats, Democrats would have almost certainly flipped three districts that Republicans won under the actual lines and would have had a strong chance to win a fourth. These include the 1st District, where the GOP’s gerrymander egregiously split liberal Cincinnati and drowned out the voices of voters there with heavily conservative exurbs. Unifying the city and its inner suburbs as our map does would have yielded a district that every statewide Democrat would have won by double digits, and Republican Rep. Steve Chabot would have likely lost to Democrat Aftab Pureval.

    In the Columbus area, Republicans divvied up the suburbs of Franklin County into three districts, including two dark-red seats that sprawl deep into rural territory. In our proposal, we consolidate those more liberal suburbs into just two seats: the 3rd, which takes in the urban core of Columbus, and the 12th, which would become an entirely suburban district. That would flip the latter from backing Trump 53-42 to supporting Clinton by 49-46. Democrat Danny O'Connor would have almost certainly turned his 4-point loss into a win over Republican Rep. Troy Balderson last year (and would have been all but guaranteed to win their earlier special election matchup).

    Additionally, our map unifies the Akron metro area, which is currently split among several districts, into a single seat, the 16th. That would have yielded a district without any obvious Republican incumbent, and given that this seat easily backed every statewide Democrat, it likely would have elected a Democrat to the House, too.

    The final seat Democrats might have flipped would have been the reconstituted 9th in the Cleveland suburbs, which likely would have been an open seat because Republican Rep. Jim Renacci ran for Senate. Sherrod Brown won the 9th by a wide 12 points, and only one statewide Republican candidate carried it (and then by just 3 points). Freshman Republican Rep. Anthony Gonzalez likely would have faced a stronger Democratic opponent and may well have lost. However, this district still narrowly backed Trump, so it could have gone either way last year.

    As a result of this map, some districts would head in the other direction. Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan's Youngstown-area seat goes from a 6-point Clinton win to a 12-point Trump victory, and unfortunately for him, all non-federal Democrats lost it in their statewide races. However, this predominantly white working-class district is ancestrally Democratic and still backed Brown for Senate by 8 points; it also saw Democrat Richard Cordray lose the race for governor by a slim 2 points. Ryan's lengthy incumbency likely would have helped him stave off defeat in the 2018 wave, but this seat would be increasingly vulnerable to a GOP takeover, especially if it became open.

    Finally, while the 14th District in the eastern Cleveland suburbs would become somewhat bluer (it would have supported Brown by 10 points), Republican Rep. David Joyce had little trouble winning a seat that was only a few points redder in 2018. Consequently, he likely would have still won even this redrawn district, though the non-federal statewide races were very close here.

    Ultimately, a nonpartisan map like this one would be much fairer for the people of Ohio, but even a victory at the lower court is likely to be overturned by a Supreme Court whose conservative majority is increasingly hostile to policing partisan gerrymandering. However, our look at a hypothetical nonpartisan alternative should lay to rest the notion that gerrymandering didn’t matter in 2018.

    Unfortunately, even the bipartisan redistricting reform measure that Ohio voters passed in 2018 still has loopholes big enough to slip a similar GOP gerrymander through next decade. Consequently, it's critical that Democrats win both Republican-held seats on the state Supreme Court that are up in 2020, which would give them a majority on the bench. We could then see the high court take action under the state constitution regardless of what happens in this week's federal trial.

  • 4 Mar 2019 7:08 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Dueling redistricting proposals in the mill for 2020, one heavily GOP-flavored - Arkansas Times - by Max Brantley

    Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has approved a second idea for redistricting congressional and legislative districts, a nakedly partisan plan to preserve Republican control, unlike a more nonpartisan idea submitted earlier.

    The latest was submitted by Nate Steel, a former Democratic legislator, but it is no Democratic handiwork. It would create a "citizens commission" to draw districts and it would be Republican controlled as matters now stand. The seven members:

    one appointed by the Speaker of the Arkansas House of Representatives
    one by the President Pro Tempore of the Arkansas Senate
    one by the Speaker Pro Tempore of the Arkansas House of Representatives
    one by the Majority Leader of the Arkansas Senate
    on by the Majority Leader of the Arkansas House of Representatives
    one by the Minority Leader of the Arkansas Senate
    one by the Minority Leader of the Arkansas House of Representatives

    That's most likely means 5-2 GOP (one of four assistant Senate presidents pro tempore is a Democrat) if you're counting based on current political alignment in Arkansas. 

    Under current law, the legislature draws congressional districts and a commission consisting of the governor, attorney general and secretary of state draw legislative districts. So current districts were passed while Democrats held the majority, but they badly miscalculated the coming red tide in the state.

    I asked Nate Steel who he was working for. He responded:
      Lack of charges means lack of a requirement for the ethics filings otherwise necessary for people working for ballot initiatives. He referred me to Darbie Kuykendall. She is a former staffer for Republican U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman and now a lobbyist for the Capitol Law Group. She said:

      In 2018, the country saw a surge of groups fighting to create independent redistricting commissions ahead of the 2020 census under the guise of preventing gerrymandering. These independent commissions, however, are anything but “independent.” They are completely partisan in nature, despite their claims. In October of 2018, an amendment was certified here in Arkansas to create a commission that would create chaos. This initiative is designed to counter that proposal and protect our congressional and state legislative districts from being completely destroyed for the next decade.

      Let me know if you have any further questions. 

      I asked her who was paying her. She responded:

      I am a partner at Capitol Law Group, which is a lobbying firm here in Little Rock. 

      We have no expenditures to date but all expenditures will be filed with the ethics committee.
      That's not an answer to the question of her "potential" client in this matter. Steel and law partner Alex Gray are also lobbyists in the group. They have some marijuana and casino clients currently, among others. 

      The competing measure to which she refers is that by David Couchapproved as to form in October. Where Kuykendall and Steel want to preserve partisan control of gerrymandering, Couch has a proposal that mirrors some other states that aimsto reduce partisan influence. As I wrote earlier.

      Couch's proposal, which is similar to bipartisan approaches adopted in other states, would place a new seven-member commission in charge of both [congressional and legislative districts]. Four members would be appointed by the House and Senate majority and minority leaders. Those four would then name the other three, none of whom could have a party affiliation in voter registration. Recent elected officials and lobbyists couldn't serve.
      Couch will draw on liberal nonprofit money, as he did in the campaign for a minimum wage increase, to power a petition drive. Couch had suspected Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce backing for the partisan redistricting proposal. It is currently working to make it devilishly hard to get on the ballot by popular petition.

      Steel says that isn't true and I tend to believe that. I suspect larger and richer opposition, perhaps associated with the National Republican Redistricting Trust. It is aimed at preserving Republican gerrymandering. Money for such Republican causes is limitless and often if not totally dark money, opaque.

      Competing petition drives? Will petition drives be possible once this legislature is done attempting to limit democracy? Fights lie ahead. And Republicans will be the deciders, as they would be under Nate Steel's latest. His past — he mounted a Democratic effort to win the attorney general's seat — is irrelevant. Makes cents, if you get my drift.

    • 28 Feb 2019 8:48 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

      Elena Kagan Asked for Proof that Gerrymandering Harms Both Political Parties. Here It Is. - Slate - by Nicholas Stephanopoulos

      What injury does partisan gerrymandering cause? Until last year’s Supreme Court decision in Gill v. Whitford, almost everybody would have given the same answer. Gerrymandering harms parties by costing them seats they would have won if the district lines hadn’t been manipulated.

      In her impressive concurrence in Whitford, though, Justice Elena Kagan offered a necessary and expanded accounting of the damage it wreaks. In this view, the problem with gerrymandering isn’t just that it costs parties seats but also that it impedes their associational activities. As Kagan put it, “members of the disfavored party,” having been “deprived of their natural political strength by a partisan gerrymander,” may “face difficulties fundraising, registering voters, attracting volunteers, generating support from independents, and recruiting candidates to run for office.” All of these party functions are protected by the First Amendment because they involve the right of association. And all of them, according to Kagan, may be inhibited by gerrymandering.

      Since Whitford, plaintiffs in several states have mounted associational challenges against district plans. They have introduced testimony that after the plans went into effect, fewer candidates from the victimized party ran for office, donors gave less money to that party’s candidates, voters became less supportive of the party, and so on. This evidence is certainly relevant, but on its own, it can’t prove causation. It can’t show, that is, that the litigants’ associational difficulties were due to gerrymandering—and not, say, to Trump’s election, a shift in public opinion, a strong economy, or any number of other factors.

      To come closer to establishing a causal link, political scientist Chris Warshaw and I first assembled a data set of gerrymandering. We used several common measures of partisan advantage, all calculated for congressional and statehouse elections from 1972 to the present. We then quantified as many as we could of the associational activities that Kagan mentioned in Whitford. In sum, we found data on the seats that parties contest, the quality of parties’ candidates, the contributions these candidates receive, and voters’ partisan preferences. Lastly, we controlled for time- and state-related factors that might also influence the relationship between gerrymandering and party health.

      In a nutshell, we found that Kagan was right. A party disadvantaged by gerrymandering fails to contest more districts. The candidates it does nominate have weaker credentials. Donors give less money to these candidates. And voters are less inclined to support them. Moreover, these effects are statistically significant at both the congressional and statehouse levels and hold no matter how gerrymandering is measured. The effects are substantively quite large too. A 1 standard deviation rise in gerrymandering, for example, is linked to about a 5 percentage point drop in the targeted party’s share of campaign contributions. It’s also tied to roughly a point decline in relative candidate quality, as measured by incumbency or having previously won another office.

      These results should be helpful to the plaintiffs currently pursuing associational claims around the country. To date, these litigants have relied on qualitative testimony from injured voters, candidates, and party officials. This evidence can now be complemented by our data-driven conclusion that, across many states and years, gerrymandering hinders parties in performing several key functions. Our study provides the methodological rigor that has been absent, so far, from the courtroom.

      Our findings should also be of interest to the Supreme Court as it prepares to hear two moregerrymandering cases next month. The plaintiffs in Whitford didn’t allege associational burdens. The court thus left “for another day consideration of other possible theories of harm not presented here.” That day has now arrived. The litigants in the pending Maryland and North Carolina suits have raised associational claims. The lower courts in these cases have also ruled in favor of the claims, holding that the district maps are unconstitutional because they breach the First Amendment right of association.

      This time around, then, the high court won’t be able to dodge Kagan’s associational account of gerrymandering. And when the justices confront this view, they should find that it’s correct. Gerrymandering does systematically undermine party health. And it does so not just in Maryland and North Carolina, and not just during the last decade—but, as our study shows, throughout the nation and over almost half a century.

    • 26 Feb 2019 4:29 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

      Tony Evers to propose nonpartisan redistricting process in budget - Wisconsin State Journal - by Riley Vetterkind

      Gov. Tony Evers Tuesday unveiled a proposal to do away with the state's partisan redistricting process and give the responsibility of drawing the state's political maps to a nonpartisan agency.

      The governor's plan, to be included in his state budget request, mirrors the independent process in Iowa and would take effect before the state's redistricting process gets fully underway.

      The proposal would directly address partisan gerrymandering, the subject of a ongoing federal lawsuit, and follows calls the governor issued on the campaign trail for a redistricting process supposedly free from political influence.

      “The people should get to choose their elected officials, not the other way around," Evers said in a statement. "By creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission in Wisconsin, we’re making sure that when we’re redrawing district maps in 2021, we’re putting people before politics."

      Like dozens of other states, Wisconsin's Legislature, controlled by Republicans, is chiefly responsible for drawing the state's political maps, subject to veto by the governor.

      Evers' plan, however, would align Wisconsin with a handful of other states where independent commissions draw the lines.

      Evers' proposal would give responsibility for drawing political boundaries to an existing state agency, the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau, at the direction of a newly-formed, nonpartisan Redistricting Advisory Commission. The state Legislature would still vote on the redistricting bill, but it would be restricted in the changes it could make.

      The Commission would consist of five members. The leader of each party in either house would get an appointment, and then the four appointees would together a fifth member would serve as the chair.

      Commission members would need to be eligible to vote in Wisconsin, and the plan would prohibit politicians or those who hold office for a political party from serving. It would also ban employees and other members of the Legislature or Congress as well as their relatives. The Commission would be required to hold a public hearing on the bill in each congressional district.

      Under the plan, the Legislative Reference Bureau would not be allowed to use voting patterns, party information, incumbent residence information or demographic information in drawing district maps, except where required by law.

      This story will be updated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      The Two Plans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      That effort came up empty.

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

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

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

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

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

      Need for Change?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      The Coming Deadline 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      Let’s walk down memory lane.

      A 2011 BILL

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

      Five current House members were among the bill sponsors:

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

      Ten more voted for the bill at least once:

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

      That makes 15 Republican legislators who voted on HB 824.

      A 2013 BILL

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

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

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

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

      BILLS IN 2015, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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