The Supreme Court is casting a skeptical eye on voter-approved commissions that draw a state’s congressional district boundaries. The justices heard arguments Monday in an appeal from Arizona Republicans who object to the state’s independent redistricting commission that voters created to reduce political influence in the process. A decision against the commission also would threaten a similar system in neighboring California and could affect commissions in an additional 11 states. The big issue before the court is whether voters can take away the power given by the U.S. Constitution to elected state legislatures to decide how members of the U.S. House are elected.
The Voting News
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday appeared skeptical of a voter-approved plan that stripped Arizona state lawmakers of their role in drawing congressional districts in an bid to remove partisan politics from the process. The nine-justice court’s conservative majority, including regular swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, asked questions during a one-hour oral argument that indicated there could be a majority willing to find that the ballot initiative violated the U.S. Constitution’s requirement that state legislatures set congressional district boundaries. The state’s Republican-controlled legislature objected to a 2000 ballot initiative endorsed by Arizona voters that set up an independent commission to determine the U.S. House of Representatives districts.
Editorials: Our election system’s anti-minority bias is even worse than you think | Sean McElwee/Salon.com
In the wake of the recent gutting of the Voting Rights Act, partisans were quick to jump on the opportunity to restrict unfavorable voters. Across the country, conservatives in particular have debated fiercely whether to pursue voter suppression to remain competitive in an increasingly diverse electorate. There was, however, another way out, as I’ve argued before: Socially and economically conservative values are not unpopular, and if conservatives were to cease supporting people who made speeches at KKK rallies, they could garner enough votes to remain competitive. I worried, though, that the temptation of voter suppression would be too great. And, indeed, a new paper by Ian Vandewalker and Keith Bentele indicates that partisans have chosen the path of voter suppression to an even greater extent than previous thought.
Voting Blogs: Supreme Court Looks to Endanger Citizen Redistricting Commissions and MORE | Richard Hasen/Election Law Blog
I have now had a chance to review the transcript in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission and the news is not good. It appears that the conservative Justices may be ready to hold that citizen redistricting commissions which have no role for state legislatures in drawing congressional districts are unconstitutional. What’s worse, such a ruling would endanger other election laws passed by voter initiative trying to regulate congressional elections, such as open primaries. For those who don’t like campaign finance laws because they could protect incumbents, this is a ruling that could make incumbency protection all the worse, removing the crucial legislative bypass which is the initiative process (for congressional elections). The question in the case arises from the Constitution’s Elections Clause, giving each state “legislature” the power to set the rules for Congressional elections if Congress does not act. The key question is whether the people, acting through a state’s initiative process as lawmakers, are acting as the legislature for purpose of this clause. If not, redistricting done without the involvement of the legislature would be unconstitutional. (Before the Court agreed to take the case, it seemed settled that Legislature could include the initiative process of a state.)
The possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court will return congressional redistricting power to the Arizona Legislature has Democrats on edge and some Republicans giddy at the prospect of a new, GOP-drawn map. Under the current map, drawn by the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, Republicans hold five U.S. House seats and Democrats hold four. Three of the state’s nine congressional districts — held by Democratic Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick and Kyrsten Sinema and Republican Martha McSally — are among the most competitive in the country, while the other six are lopsided in favor of either Republicans or Democrats.
Given Arizona’s history of turnover in the governor’s office, the state would benefit from having a lieutenant governor who runs on the same ticket, a state lawmaker says. Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, has introduced two pieces of legislation to create the office, to require a party’s candidates for lieutenant governor and governor to run as a team and to put the lieutenant governor first in the line of succession. Some of the proposed changes would require approval by Arizona voters. Mesnard said having the governor and lieutenant governor run on the same ticket would be helpful for voters because it would mirror the way the president and vice president are elected. He said many voters don’t realize that the secretary of state is the next in line for the governor’s office.
The Pope County Election Commission discussed budget problems with Treasurer Donna Wall during a called meeting Friday. Wall presented commissioners and Election Coordinator Sherry Polsgrove with a detailed budget report thatshowed a commission balance of around $27 — less than 1 percent of its 2015 budget — as of Friday morning. New Commissioner Freddie Harris asked for clarification. “Are you saying that we’ve already used up the whole budget and we’re not even through February?” she asked. Wall referred to the printout.
Just last November, California voters experienced a bracing novelty — a handful of competitive state assembly elections — after decades of blatant gerrymandering in which the legislature drew lines that lopsidedly favored the party in power or willfully protected incumbents on both sides of the aisle. One big reason for the change: a bipartisan citizens redistricting commission created by a statewide ballot initiative to govern state electoral boundaries and later expanded to cover congressional seats. No longer are districts here tailored to protect friends and family — as they infamously were 35 years ago when the late Rep. Philip Burton, a Democratic power broker, engineered a congressional district for his brother, John, that included parts of four counties and was connected in some places only by waterways and rail yards.
California: Opponents of L.A. election date measures worry only special interests will benefit | MyNewsLA
Opponents of two Los Angeles ballot measures calling for city and school district elections to be held in the same years as gubernatorial and presidential races were joined by several City Council candidates at City Hall Monday to make a final push against the measures. While billed as a way to improve voter turnout, Charter Amendment 1 and Charter Amendment 2 would only benefit deep-pocketed special interests like billboard companies and developers, who are major supporters of the measures, according to Hans Johnson of the group Save Our City Elections. The measures would “tip the playing field dramatically in favor of” special interests that “want a stronger hand in picking winners and losers in our nonpartisan races,” Johnson said, with voter engagement actually decreasing because candidates and local issues for city elections would be buried at the bottom of lengthy ballots and mostly ignored.
Following issues at polling places in Hartford this past Election Day, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill is proposing to scrap Connecticut’s partisan registrar system. But, the ideas are being met with opposition. Secretary Merrill is calling for Connecticut to do away with the current election oversight system where two people, typically one Republican and one Democrat, are elected as registrars in each town. The Democrat says problems exist across Connecticut although issues in Hartford and Bridgeport – where dysfunctional working relationships and an inadequate supply of ballots have gotten the most attention in recent years. “Right now we have towns where they sort of don’t fulfill the reporting requirements,” Merrill said. “They will fail to report their election results in a timely way. We have more like workplace situations where one will be able to do the job very well and the other just never comes in the office. At this point, because they’re both elected, there’s no one that can resolve those issues because they’re not directly responsible to the town management and they’re not directly responsible to my office.”