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  • 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.”

  • 10 Jan 2019 2:38 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Supreme Court Denies Virginia GOP Bid to Halt Virginia Redistricting - US News - by Claire Hansen

    THE SUPREME COURT ON Tuesday denied a request from Virginia Republicans to block a federal court from approving new electoral boundaries.

    Last summer, a federal judicial panel found that state lawmakers racially gerrymandered 11 House districts, concentrating black voters within certain boundaries. The court hired an outside expert to redraw the district map and wants to impose the new map at the end of March, according to The Richmond Times-Dispatch. 

    In the meantime, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal of the lower court's ruling that the districts were gerrymandered. Republicans were hoping to put the redrawing effort on hold until that appeal is heard this spring. The party argued that redrawing the boundaries and then having the high court potentially reverse the lower court's decision and dismiss the case – along with the new maps – would be confusing for voters.

    Tuesday's order was issued two days before the lower court will hold a hearing on the proposed legislative maps and means the court can go ahead with redrawing the districts.

    "Obviously we hoped for a stay but the Court's decision was not unexpected because the burden for a stay is very high," Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for Virginia's Republican House Majority Leader Kirk Cox, told The Washington Post via email. "However, the Court will hear our argument on the merits this Spring and we are confident the map will be upheld."

    A new map, which may be less favorable for the GOP, could have a significant impact on the elections. Republicans hold a two-seat majority in both the House of Delegates and the state Senate. All 140 seats in Virginia's General Assembly are up for election this year, and primaries are scheduled for June 11.

    "SCOTUS's decision to allow the redistricting to move forward is a relief to all Virginian voters impacted by the racial gerrymandering," House Democratic caucus spokeswoman Kathryn Gilley told the Times-Dispatch. "Despite House Republicans' constant attempts to delay the redistricting and defend their unconstitutional districts, Virginians will be able to vote in constitutional elections in 2019."

  • 7 Jan 2019 2:06 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    The Supreme Court Could Make Gerrymandering Worse - The Atlantic - by Richard L. Hasen

    The Supreme Court’s decision on Friday to take up partisan gerrymandering cases from North Carolina and Maryland brought to mind a saying attributed to Judy Garland: Behind every cloud is another cloud.

    The now firmly conservative Court likely took the cases not to announce that such activities violate the Constitution, but to reverse the lower courts that said they do. Down the road, the Court might do much more damage, including by preventing states from using independent commissions to draw congressional districts.

    For years, the Supreme Court has ducked the question of partisan redistricting, failing to provide clear guidance on its constitutionality. Until he left the Court this summer, Justice Anthony Kennedy was the key swing vote on this issue. In 2004, he disagreed with conservatives that such cases present “political questions,” which courts cannot hear given the lack of “judicially manageable standards.” And he disagreed with liberals that any as-yet-proposed standards adequately separated permissible from impermissible consideration of partisan information in drawing district lines. But he suggested that the First Amendment’s right of association could serve as the foundation of a ruling against gerrymandering.

    Justice Elena Kagan took Kennedy up on that suggestion in a case the Court (sort of) decided last term, Gill v. Whitford. Plaintiffs argued that Wisconsin Republicans had drawn district lines to give them asymmetrical advantage over Democrats in state legislative elections. The Court, in an opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, unanimously dismissed the case on standing grounds, sending it back to the lower court for further proceedings. But Kagan, in a concurrence joined by three other liberals, set forth a First Amendment, associational-injury theory of partisan gerrymandering that was designed to appeal to Kennedy. Kennedy did not bite and soon retired from the Court.

    Although Kennedy’s replacement, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, did not decide any gerrymandering cases as a lower-court judge, his general disposition lines him up with the other conservatives on the Court who believe that the judiciary has no business policing gerrymandering. In the Maryland and North Carolina cases the Court just took, both lower courts were willing to act as the police. Because of a procedural quirk, a decision by the Supreme Court not to hear these cases would have counted as an acknowledgment that the lower courts got the question right. So there’s every reason to expect 5–4 reversals unless a conservative justice or two goes rogue, or gets cold feet.

    That’s not the only cloud on the horizon when it comes to the Court and redistricting. In a 2015 case out of Arizona, as I explained in more detail in a blog post for the Harvard Law Review, Kennedy joined in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s majority opinion holding that voters have the right to use a ballot initiative to establish independent redistricting commissions. But the Arizona legislature convinced Roberts—along with three conservatives—that because the Constitution gives the power to set congressional election rules to state “legislatures,” voters acting through the initiative process had unlawfully usurped legislative power. Roberts wrote an impassioned dissent.

    A case raising this question could come back before the Court soon enough from one of the other states that has established these commissions. And, should Roberts choose to spend his capital in this way, he could well reverse the Court’s very recent precedent.

    This development would be profoundly troubling. It is one thing for federal courts to say that they have no business deciding how much politics is too much politics when state legislatures draw district lines. It is quite another to say that the voters of a state, acting through the powers they have under state constitutions, cannot come in and offer a solution to deal with an area of intense legislative self-interest. The Court would be ruling, in effect, that legislators may choose their voters, not the other way around, and that there’s nothing voters can do about it.

    Yet one more cloud in the districting arena: The Trump administration is enmeshed in a legal struggle, headed to the Supreme Court, over its attempt to put a question about citizenship status on the 2020 census. According to the Department of Justice, the question will help it enforce the Voting Rights Act. But opponents believe that the question will depress census responses in areas with large populations of undocumented residents, and thereby lower representation for these areas. (The Court will hear a case in February over whether plaintiffs can force Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and a Justice Department official to testify as to the government’s true motive in adding the citizenship question.)

    If the Trump administration gets its way on the census, one problem will lead to another: A recent Commerce Department notice stated that it would provide citizenship information to jurisdictions that wanted to use the data to draw new district lines after the next census. It’s not clear if that’s constitutional. In 2016, in Evenwel v. Abbott, the Court left open the question of whether states and localities must draw legislative districts with equal numbers of people—the traditional method—or of people eligible to vote. If the Court ends up favoring the latter standard, that would shift power away from cities and Democratic areas with larger noncitizen populations.

    Ultimately, a citizenship question on the census could depress response rates in Democratic areas, reduce representation in Democratic areas, and lower population-related federal resources coming to these areas.

    These days, no one expects the Supreme Court to lead the way on political reform. But it could do much worse than nothing; it could actually stymie political reform when it works its way through the democratic process.

  • 4 Jan 2019 11:13 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Panels to End Gerrymandering Could Reach SCOTUS (2) - Bloomberg News

    Redistricting commissions formed to draw fairer congressional maps have sprung up in more than one third of states—partly in response to the lack of judicial clarity on partisan gerrymandering. But their legal vitality could be on shaky ground.

    But some legal scholars believe it’s only a matter of time before a challenge to these panels materializes and reaches the U.S. Supreme Court, where a newly fortified conservative majority with the addition of Brett Kavanaugh could reverse a 2015 precedent and find them unconstitutional.

    The often non-partisan panels have formed in response to partisan gerrymandering, where voter maps are drawn by state lawmakers to the advantage of one political party. The court on Friday agreed to hear two cases challenging some of the nation’s most extreme examples.

    Redistricting commissions aim to take redistricting out of the hands of politicians—or at least reduce their influence—in an effort to curb partisan considerations during the map-drawing process.

    Typically, the party in charge of a state house redraws the state’s voting maps after each census.

    Ever-advancing technology allowing mapmakers to analyze more voter qualities on a block-by-block basis, as well as the Supreme Court’s hesitance to do anything to curb partisan gerrymandering have produced some of the most severe partisan gerrymanders in history, Michael Li, of the Brennan Center, New York, told Bloomberg Law.

    Republicans made redistricting a priority after their gains in the 2010 midterms, and Democrats are looking to do the same in 2020 as they regain control of some state houses.

    Democrats are introducing a bill in the House that would require states to adopt independent redistricting commissions, which wouldn’t have the same constitutional problems as the states’ commissions. But chances of passage with a divided government are slim. 

    Supreme Court Punts

    The Supreme Court’s hands-off approach to partisan gerrymandering likely played a role in the adoption of four commissions in 2018, raising the number to 18 states that have such bodies for congressional redistricting.

    While the high court has struck down gerrymandering on racial grounds, it has struggled for 30 years to come up with a way for federal courts to police the redrawing of voter maps based on partisan considerations.

    The court punted on that issue once again last term, but now it’s back up at the high court.

    The justices will now hear two cases. One is out of North Carolina where Republicans drew up congressional districts to hurt Democrats, and the second is from Marylandwhere Democrats did the same to the GOP.

    If the court once again refuses to curtail partisan gerrymandering it may spur additional states adopting redistricting commissions and lawsuits challenging them, Justin Levitt, a redistricting expert at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told Bloomberg Law.

    In 2018, voters in Colorado and Michigan created commissions that are primarily responsible for drawing congressional districts, while those in Utah developed an advisory commission to assist the state legislature and those in Ohio established a back-up commission in case the state legislative effort fails.

    The make-up of the commission—whether it’s a primary, advisory, or back-up commission—impacts its effectiveness at curbing partisan considerations, but many criticize the commissions as themselves political.

    Gerrymandered Constitution?

    But even as the interest in state commissions increases, Li said he’s confident opponents of these commissions will eventually bring a case challenging them, given the high stakes for redistricting. Although there currently aren’t any cases headed to the Supreme Court on this issue, a 2015 decision highlights fissures in the court over the panels.

    The disagreement centers on the Elections Clause, which gives state legislatures the primary power to draw congressional districts.

    In 2015, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, a closely divided Supreme Court rejected the argument that the term “legislature” means only “the body that meets in the capital to pass laws,” Michael Morley, of Florida State University College of Law told Bloomberg Law.

    Instead, the court said in 2015 that “legislature” includes citizen-led referenda and initiatives. Through these methods, citizens may delegate authority over congressional redistricting to some other entity, like a commission, the court said.

    But there’s a strong argument that “a state is not free to simply decide that some entity other than its actual, institutional legislature should be responsible” for congressional redistricting, Morley said.

    Hasen said that if the court takes up this issue again, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s strident dissent in the Arizona case is an indication that the court could overturn it. In it, Roberts, joined by three of his colleagues, accused the majority of gerrymandering the Constitution itself in order to save redistricting commissions.

    Kavanaugh’s vote could tip the scale in favor of killing redistricting commissions if he were to join his more conservative colleagues.

    Court’s Reputation

    Even though the votes may be there to overturn the Arizona case, some think the court may not want that fight.

    If this were the first time the court was considering the question, redistricting commissions might be in more trouble, Joshua Douglas, of the University of Kentucky College of Law told Bloomberg Law.

    But it’s risky for the justices to overturn such a new precedent. It makes it look like the meaning of the Constitution depends solely on the membership of the court, Saikrishna Prakash, a constitutional scholar at the University of Virginia School of Law told Bloomberg Law.

    Given the political consequences, this might be a fight the justices would prefer to avoid all together, Richard Hasen of University of California, Irvine School of Law told Bloomberg Law.

  • 4 Jan 2019 11:09 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    House Democrats Introduce Their Sweeping New Reform Bill - Huffington Post - by Paul Blumenthal

    House Democrats unveiled Friday the For the People Act, a comprehensive package of democratic reforms and the first major bill of the 116th Congress. The bill is a sweeping combination of election, campaign finance and ethics reforms designed to make voting easier, curb the power of big donors and reduce conflicts of interest in all three branches of government.

    The For the People Act was the first major legislative action for Democrats after they voted to end the partial government shutdown initiated by President Donald Trump, a measure he is expected to veto.

    The package of reforms was put together in a collaborative process initiated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in 2011 and overseen by Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) since 2017. The party ran in the 2018 midterm elections on a promise to enact these reforms.

    “We carried a message of reform, of fighting corruption, of cleaning up Washington,” Sarbanes said in introducing the bill on Friday. “We made a promise to the American people. The new members who’ve come made that promise and made it clear they wanted this to be the first order of business. [This bill] is delivering on that promise.”

    The reforms in the For the People Act would restore the right to vote to millions of disenfranchised Americans and make it dramatically easier for people to vote while also creating a first-of-its-kind public financing system for House elections. It would also require presidential candidates to disclose 10 years of their tax returns.

    The bill shortly will go to three committees ― administration, judiciary and oversight ― for hearings. Democrats hope to pass it through the full House in February.

    It will then go to the Senate, where a companion bill will be introduced soon. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a hard-line opponent of campaign finance and election reforms, promised that the bill will not get a vote.

    “The American people will know that this is an option that the House has given the Senate of the United States and the president of the United States,” Pelosi said on Friday.

    Here is what is in the Democrats’ big reform bill: (Read the full text here.)

    Election Reform

    The reform bill aims to reduce voting problems, such as the long lines seen at polling locations on Election Day, like t

    DAVID GOLDMAN/ASSOCIATED PRESSThe reform bill aims to reduce voting problems, such as the long lines seen at polling locations on Election Day, like this one in Fulton County, Georgia, on Nov. 6.

    The bill includes a requirement that all states automatically register voters who submit paperwork to a state government agency (unless the person opts out), provide same-day voter registration, allow 15 days of early voting with sites located near public transportation, use nonpartisan redistricting commissions to draw new congressional maps, enable online voter registration, count provisional ballots from eligible voters filed at the wrong polling place and use paper ballots in addition to electronic voting systems.

    It would also ban post-release felon disenfranchisement. This means that about 5 million Americans ― a disproportionate number of whom are African-American ― would regain their voting rights once their sentence is completed. The bill would, however, still allow states to disenfranchise felons during their imprisonment.

    States would be banned from engaging in voter caging, a process in which election officials purge voter rolls by sending out non-forwardable mail and then removing anyone whose mail is returned to sender. It would not be permissible for states to remove someone from the voter rolls for failing to vote in a previous election. The use of interstate cross-checks to purge voter rolls would also be limited under the legislation.

    Election Day would become a federal holiday for 2 million-plus federal workers, and non-government employers would be encouraged to give the day off to private-sector employees, too. Colleges and universities would be designated as voter registration agencies. Absentee ballots would no longer require postage. And the bill would also increase funding to help states update and secure election infrastructure and to the Election Assistance Commission to oversee these updates, with mandated reports on its progress. The Department of Homeland Security would be ordered to deem election systems as critical infrastructure.

    Additionally, the bill contains declarations and findings on important issues that Democrats aim to advance in separate legislation. These include findings about the importance of fixing the Voting Rights Act to comply with the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby v. Holder decision, which gutted a key section of the historic legislation. Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) will introduce this legislation, which will move on a separate track through the committees. The bill also asserts support for statehood for the District of Columbia, protects Native American voting rights and the right to vote in U.S territories.

    Campaign Finance Reform

    Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) discuss the For the People Act at a news conference on Nov. 18

    J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE/ASSOCIATED PRESSSpeaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.) discuss the For the People Act at a news conference on Nov. 18.

    Sarbanes built his reputation as a democracy reform advocate through his work crafting and advocating for legislation to create a system of public financing for congressional elections. The legislative language from his previously introduced bills is the centerpiece of the For the People Act’s campaign finance reform section.

    The bill creates a public financing system for House elections that provides $6 in public funds for every $1 in funds raised from donations up to $200. Participants in this voluntary public financing system would also be prevented from raising money from large donors. The bill also creates a small-donor matching system for presidential elections. A separate bill covering Senate elections will be introduced by Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.).

    This small-donor-backed public financing system is based on numerous programs adopted around the country, most notably in New York City. The idea is to create an alternative to the funding from big donors and political action committees that currently dominates politics by making it feasible for more candidates to run on small-donor contributions alone.

    The bill also includes the Disclose Act, which mandates that nonprofits and other groups not currently bound by law to reveal donor information must disclose those sources when they contribute to election campaigns. The package’s Honest Ads Act requires the disclosure of digital political ads on tech platforms.

    The Federal Election Commission would be reconfigured from six members to five to prevent deadlocks on important issues. The agency’s civil penalty would be made permanent to prevent future legislative battles over its authority. Coordination between super PACs and candidates would be defined in the legislation and banned. Presidential inauguration committees would be required to disclose expenditures and be banned from spending money on anything not related to the actual inauguration. Previously enacted bans on the Securities and Exchange Commission, the executive branch and the Internal Revenue Service from requiring donor disclosure from corporations, nonprofits and government contractors would be repealed.

    Like the election reform section, the campaign finance reform piece of the bill contains findings on issues Democrats would like to address in separate legislation. This includes a declaration that the Constitution should be amended to overturn not just the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision that empowered corporations, unions and the rich to spend unlimited sums on elections, but also the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo decision that banned Congress from limiting election spending altogether. Additionally, the bill states an intent to ban anonymous shell companies from funding campaigns to prevent the potential for secret foreign money to seep into elections.

    Ethics And Lobbying Reform

    One provision of the bill would ban presidents from contracting with the government. This would prevent President Donald Trum

    BLOOMBERG VIA GETTY IMAGESOne provision of the bill would ban presidents from contracting with the government. This would prevent President Donald Trump from leasing government property for his Washington, D.C., hotel.

    Every presidential candidate would be required to disclose 10 years worth of tax returns under the bill. The president and the vice president would be required to conduct themselves as though the executive branch’s conflict of interest regulations apply to them. Presidential appointees would be required to recuse themselves from any decision in which a party is either the president, the president’s spouse or any entity in which the president or their spouse has an interest. The president and vice president would be banned from contracting with the U.S. government ― a provision that would prevent Trump from leasing the Old Post Office Building that houses his D.C. hotel.

    The Office of Government Ethics would get new enforcement powers. Ethics waivers issued by OGE must be publicly disclosed. OGE must also come up with regulations to govern potential conflicts of interest that arise from the political contributions appointees previously made and received. Presidents-elect would be required to come up with ethics plans to govern their transitions.

    The bill also features new lobbyist and revolving door reforms to reduce government corruption. Lobbyist registration is extended to anyone “counseling in support of lobbying contacts.” This means ex-lawmakers acting as “consultants” for lobbyists would finally have to register as lobbyists. Federal contracting officers would be banned from accepting any compensation from a contractor that they awarded a contract to for two years after leaving office. Senior federal officials would be banned from contacting their former agency to influence employees for two years after their service ends. Foreign agents would be required to disclose anything of value given to an officeholder. And corporations would be prohibited from making incentive payments to anyone entering government service.

    Supreme Court justices would be required to develop a code of ethics to govern conflicts of interest and recusals. Members of Congress would be banned from using taxpayer funds to settle employment discrimination cases. Lawmakers would be banned from serving on corporate boards and from using their position to help the financial interests of themselves or their immediate families.

    Democrats see passage of the For the People Act as necessary to keep the promise that they made in the 2018 election to voters to fix democracy and root out corruption in Washington.

    The new House Democratic class that pushed the party into power in the 2018 election ran on a message of reform. More than 100 Democratic candidates, many of whom now sit in Congress, sent a letter to the House in October demanding the first order of business be the passage of campaign finance and electoral reforms.

    “This package is really a great place for us to start in keeping all of the promises we made on the campaign trail,” freshman Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said.

    “The overall message is one that I hope will show voters that Democrats and many Republican allies who join us in this effort are trying to restore faith in the democratic process and in our government,” freshman Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.) added.

  • 3 Jan 2019 5:55 PM | Jason Fierman (Administrator)

    Redrawing the Map: How Jowei Chen is Measuring Partisan Gerrymandering - Center for Political Studies - by Solmaz Spence

    “Gerrymandering”— when legislative maps are drawn to the advantage of one party over the other during redistricting—received its name in 1812, when Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry signed off on a misshapen district that was said to resemble a salamander, which a newspaper dubbed a “gerrymander.”

    But although the idea of gerrymandering has been around for a while, proving that a state’s legislature has deliberately skewed district lines to benefit one political party remains challenging.

    The problem is that the mere presence of partisan bias in a district map tells us very little about the intentions of those drawing the districts. Factors such as racial segregation, housing and labor markets, and transportation infrastructure can lead to areas where one party’s supporters are more geographically clustered than those of the other party. When this happens, the party with a more concentrated support base achieves a smaller seat share because it racks up large numbers of “surplus” votes in the districts it wins, while falling just short of the winning threshold in many of the districts it loses.

    Further, there are many benign reasons that legislatures may seek to redistrict voters—for example, to keep communities of interest together and facilitate the representation of minorities—that may have the unintended consequence of adding a partisan spin to the map.

    The research of political scientists Jowei Chen and Jonathan Rodden is helping to differentiate cases of deliberate partisan gerrymandering from other redistricting efforts. Chen, Faculty Associate at the University of Michigan’s Center for Political Studies, and Rodden, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, have devised a computer algorithm that ignores all partisan and racial considerations when drawing districts, and instead creates thousands of alternative district maps based on traditional districting goals, such as equalizing population, maximizing geographic compactness, and preserving county and municipal boundaries. These simulated maps are then compared against the district map that has been called into question to assess whether partisan goals motivated the legislature to deviate from traditional districting criteria.

    We first wrote about Chen and Rodden’s work back in December 2016, detailing a 2015 paper in the Election Law Journal, which used the controversial 2012 Florida Congressional map to show how their approach can demonstrate and unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Now, this work is back in the spotlight: Chen’s latest research has been cited in several cases of alleged gerrymandering that are currently working through the courts in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Maryland.

    In January, Chen’s testimony as an expert witness was cited when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court threw out the state’s U.S. House of Representatives district map. In its opinion, the court said the Pennsylvania map unconstitutionally put partisan interests above other line-drawing criteria, such as eliminating municipal and county divisions.

    The Pennsylvania districts in question were drawn by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2011. Immediately, the shape of the districts was an indicator that at least one traditional criterion of districting—compactness—had been overlooked.

    Though few states define exactly what compactness means, it is generally taken to mean that all the voters within a district should live near one another, and that the boundaries of the district should be create a regular shape, rather than the sprawling polygon with donut holes or tentacles that characterized the Pennsylvania district map.

    In particular, District 7—said to resemble Goofy kicking Donald Duck—had been called into question. “It is difficult to imagine how a district as roschachian and sprawling, which is contiguous in two locations only by virtue of a medical facility and a seafood/steakhouse, respectively, might plausibly be referred to as compact,” the court wrote.

    Although there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania, Democrats hold only five of the state’s 18 congressional districts. In the 2016 election, Democrats won each of their five House seats with an average of 75 percent of the vote while Republicans’ margin of victory was an average of 62 percent across their 13 districts. This is an indicator of “packing,” a gerrymandering practice that concentrates like-minded voters into as few districts as possible to deny them representation across districts.

    Chen’s expert report assessed the district map and carried out simulations to generate alternative districting plans that strictly followed non-partisan, traditional districting criteria, and then measured the extent to which the current district map deviates from these simulated plans.

    To measure the partisanship of the computer-simulated plans, Chen overlaid actual Pennsylvania election results from the past ten years onto the simulated districts, and calculated the number of districts that would have been won by Democrats and Republicans under each plan (see Figure 1).

    The districting simulation process used precisely the same Census geographies and population data that the General Assembly used in creating congressional districts. In this way, the simulations were able to account for any geographical clustering of voters; if the population patterns of Pennsylvania voters naturally favor one party over the other, the simulated plans would capture that inherent bias.

    Generally, the simulations created seven to ten Republican districts; not one of the 500 simulated districting plans created 13 Republican districts, as exists under the Republican-drawn district map. Thus, the map represented an extreme statistical outlier, a strong indication that the enacted plan was drawn with an overriding partisan intent to favor that political party. This led Chen to conclude “with overwhelmingly high statistical certainty that the enacted plan created a pro-Republican partisan outcome that would never have been possible under a districting process adhering to non-partisan traditional criteria.”

    A map showing redistricting simulation in Pennsylvania

    This table compares the simulated plans to the 2011 Pennsylvania district map with respect to these various districting criteria.

    Following its ruling, on February 20 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released a new congressional district map that has been described in a Washington Post analysis as “much more compact”. In response, the state’s Republican leadership announced plans to challenge the new map in court.

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