Thailand will soon hold its first election since the military seized power in a 2014 coup and many hope the vote will return Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy to democracy. The government lifted a ban on political activity when it announced the Feb. 24 election last week, but critics say the junta has taken several steps to remain in power after the vote, casting doubt on how credible the poll will be. “We have seen a systematic manipulation and distortion of the electoral process, of the will of the people, starting from the constitution,” said Thitinan Pongsudhirak, a political analyst at Chulalongkorn University, referring to the military-drafted constitution that was publicly ratified in 2016, two years after the coup.
A Kansas City attorney who helped draw the boundaries of Missouri’s current legislative districts is trying to knock a question off the November ballot designed to end partisan gerrymandering. In a lawsuit filed on behalf of Paul Ritter, a Miller County resident, attorney Eddie Greim said the proposed referendum violates a provision in the Missouri Constitution that prevents multiple subjects from being combined into one ballot proposal. “One purpose of the prohibition on multiple subjects in a single ballot proposal is to prevent `logrolling,’ a practice familiar to legislative bodies whereby unrelated subjects that individually might not muster enough support to pass are combined to generate the necessary support,” the lawsuit says.
Newly disclosed emails show Michigan Republicans angling to give their party a dominant position through gerrymandered maps and celebrating the plight of their Democratic rivals. Republicans in the state have denied that they sought partisan gain when they drew new legislative boundaries in 2011. But a federal lawsuit, which argues the maps are unconstitutional, has unearthed records showing Republicans intent on drawing boundaries that would help their party. The emails, disclosed in a filing on Monday, boast of concentrating “Dem garbage” into four of the five southeast Michigan districts that Democrats now control, and of packing African-Americans into a metropolitan Detroit House district. One email likened a fingerlike extension they created in one Democratic district map to an obscene gesture toward its congressman, Representative Sander M. Levin. “Perfect. It’s giving the finger to Sandy Levin,” the author of the message wrote. “I love it.”
Editorials: Kennedy’s Retirement Could Threaten Efforts to End Partisan Gerrymandering | Michael Wines/The New York Times
For 14 years, as partisan gerrymanders across the country grew more extreme, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy came to symbolize hopes that the Supreme Court would eventually rein them in. His retirement this week did not merely dampen those hopes. Experts said it also presented a potentially crippling threat to growing efforts by voting rights advocates and Democrats to halt gerrymanders by legal and political means. Justice Kennedy was widely seen as the swing vote on gerrymandering in a court divided between liberals, who see the practice as unconstitutional, and conservatives, who regard it as a political problem, not a legal one. Indeed, he single-handedly preserved it as a judicial question, in a 2004 case involving Pennsylvania’s Legislature, when he declined to join four other justices who declared that it is impossible to determine when a political map becomes unacceptably partisan. “That no such standard has emerged in this case,” he wrote then, “should not be taken to prove that none will emerge in the future.”
Editorials: The Best Way to Fix Gerrymandering Is to Make It Useless | Lee Drutman/The New York Times
In the months leading up to Monday’s Supreme Court punt on the gerrymandering cases out of Wisconsin and Maryland, those hoping the court would rein in partisan gerrymanders had been cautiously optimistic. Justice Anthony Kennedy made it known that if a “workable standard” could be found to distinguish legitimate districting from partisan gerrymandering, he might sign onto it. Reformers thought they had found that standard in something called the “efficiency gap.” But for now, with the court’s decision to not rule on the central questions the cases raise, we still lack a standard. The light is still green for state legislatures to draw maps as they please, and tempt their luck in the lower courts.
Wisconsin: Democrats seek to bring case back to Supreme Court before 2020 elections | Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wisconsin Republicans are claiming victory with Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to send a lawsuit over the state’s legislative boundaries back to a lower court without addressing whether the map is constitutionally drawn. But Democrats say the ruling doesn’t put the legal fight to bed as Republicans suggest, and vow to clear any hurdle to get the nation’s highest court to answer the question of whether Wisconsin’s districts are so partisan that they violate the Constitution before the next round of map drawing.
The Supreme Court declined on Monday to address the central questions in two closely watched challenges to partisan gerrymandering, putting off for another time a ruling on the constitutionality of voting districts designed by legislatures to amplify one party’s political power. In a challenge to a redistricting plan devised by the Republican Legislature in Wisconsin, the court unanimously said that the plaintiffs had not proved that they had suffered the sort of direct injury that would give them standing to sue. The justices sent the case back to a trial court to allow the plaintiffs to try again to prove that their voting power had been directly affected by the way state lawmakers drew voting districts for the State Assembly. In the second case, the court unanimously ruled against the Republican challengers to a Democratic plan to redraw a Maryland congressional district. In a brief unsigned opinion, the court said the challengers had waited too long to seek an injunction blocking the district, which was drawn in 2011.
Among major democracies, only in the United States are self-interested politicians given the exclusive power to design election districts for themselves and their allies. Other countries lodge this power with independent commissions. In the absence of such institutions, the pressure for courts to impose constitutional constraints on partisan gerrymandering becomes powerful, particularly as the manipulation of electoral districts for partisan advantage has become more brazen, more extreme, more effective and more consequential. Decisions on two cases Monday by the Supreme Court — an alleged Republican gerrymander in Wisconsin and a Democratic one in Maryland — shut down one novel approach to attacking partisan gerrymanders on constitutional grounds.
The U.S. Supreme Court declined to decide Monday whether it’s constitutional for states to create electoral maps that give an advantage to one political party over another, preserving district boundaries in Georgia and across the nation. The court’s decision leaves in place partisan gerrymandering — the practice of state legislators drawing districts to help ensure the election of Republicans or Democrats. The Supreme Court unanimously ruled against Wisconsin Democrats, saying they failed to prove they had a right to sue statewide rather than challenging individual legislative districts. The court also decided against Maryland Republicans who had sought a preliminary injunction in a case involving a congressional district. Separate lawsuits contesting Georgia’s districts are still pending.
North Carolina: Is North Carolina partisan gerrymander case up next after Supreme Court ‘punts’ on Wisconsin and Maryland? | McClatchy
The U.S. Supreme Court sidestepped making a landmark ruling on Monday about when gerrymandering for partisan gain goes too far, leaving some legal analysts to speculate that North Carolina could have the next case to test that question. The justices issued long-awaited rulings in Wisconsin and Maryland cases that could have had a profound stamp on legislative redistricting in the states and reshape American politics. Instead, the justices sent both cases back to lower courts for further proceedings, a move largely described on social media as “a punt.” That means the next case in the queue for the Supreme Court is the North Carolina lawsuit questioning whether the Republican-controlled General Assembly went too far in 2016 when it redrew the state’s 13 congressional districts in response to a court order. A panel of federal judges ruled in January that North Carolina’s congressional districts were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders, and an appeal awaits action by the Supreme Court.
The Wisconsin legislative map at the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court’s closely watched redistricting case is a stark example of how district lines can be drawn to keep one party in power in a very purple state no matter how it is faring at the ballot box. In good times and bad, Wisconsin Republicans have enjoyed a virtual lock on the 99-seat state Assembly, thanks to the map they drew in 2011. Their control of the Legislature is essentially baked in before voters go to the polls to pick their representatives. How tilted is the map? Here is one way to measure it: Take the top-of-the-ticket statewide election results (for governor or president) as a measure of how many people are supporting each party in a given year. Then see how those voters are distributed across the state’s 99 Assembly districts to find out how many seats favor each party.
This redistricting process is as old as the republic, enshrined in the Constitution. It has been controversial from the start and vulnerable to distortion. Politicians with the power to draw the lines have done so to gain advantage — whether that meant ensuring that incumbents were reelected or that the political party in power produced districts that gave them a disproportionate share of the seats.This term, the Supreme Court is considering the role of partisanship. But is there a fair and equitable way to draw these district lines? Some states, California being the biggest, have decided the only way to produce fairer lines is to try to take politicians out of the process. Every redistricting cycle has produced oddly shaped districts, with lines snaking here and there across counties and neighborhoods. To the naked eye, there is no logic to the lines. To those who have drawn them, they are designed to give somebody, some group or some party an advantage, or to assure that racial minorities receive adequate representation.
Pennsylvania: Anti-gerrymandering bill amended by Senate GOP; Democrats call it ‘poison pill’ | Philadelphia Inquirer
With time running out to alter how Pennsylvania’s political maps will be drawn in 2021, Republicans in the state Senate made a dramatic change to a redistricting bill Tuesday that prompted key activists to pull their support and begin lobbying against it. One day before the bill came up for a final vote in the chamber, State Sen. Ryan Aument (R., Lancaster) introduced an amendment that would allow voters to decide whether appellate judges — including state Supreme Court justices — should be elected from regional districts rather than statewide. Democrats described it as a “poison pill” and an attempt to retaliate against Democratic state Supreme Court justices who just five months earlier voted to overturn the state’s congressional lines on the ground that they had been gerrymandered to favor Republicans.
The Virginia Supreme Court’s decision upholding 11 challenged legislative districts shows just how high a bar opponents of gerrymandering need to clear. The anti-gerrymandering group OneVirginia2021 brought the case, arguing that the 11 districts violated the state’s constitutional requirement that districts must be compact. It brought in experts who testified that the districts failed to meet various statistical tests for compactness. For instance, Michael McDonald argued that reducing the compactness of an ideally compact district by more than 50 percent in order to meet other considerations not required by the Virginia Constitution meant that those latter considerations predominated over compactness — and any such predomination was unconstitutional.
National: Goofy, Elephant, Squid: How Political Gamesmanship Distorts Voters’ Power | The New York Times
They sound like possible program titles for the Cartoon Network: Goofy Kicking Donald Duck, The Earmuffs, The Broken-Winged Pterodactyl, The Upside-Down Elephant, The Fat Squid, A Steamed Crab Hit by a Mallet. Actually, they were the shapes some people saw when looking at federal and state legislative districts that had been gerrymandered to within an inch of their lives. For the record, Goofy was in Pennsylvania, the earmuffs in Illinois, the pterodactyl in Maryland, the elephant in Texas, and the squid and steamed crab in North Carolina. About all they had in common with cartoons was that critics dismissed these squiggly and lumpy legislative lines as loony tunes, and courts rejected some of them as unconstitutional. Gerrymandering — the manipulation of political boundaries by the party in office in hopes of ensuring its enduring primacy — is almost as old as the republic.
Maryland: Political Insiders Plotted the Most Gerrymandered District in America—and Left a Paper Trail | The Washingtonian
If you drive west to Garrett County, Maryland, and ask people what Potomac is like, they usually say they don’t spend much time “downstate.” They watch the Pittsburgh nightly news and, on Sundays, root for the Steelers. When I asked people in the tony Washington suburb of Potomac about Oakland, the Garrett County seat, they unfailingly replied, “Where’s that?” Maryland is a ragtag jumble of mansions and mountain towns—it’s normal not to know much about what goes on 170 miles away. But the people who live along the Youghiogheny River and the ones who take the Red Line into DC each morning have something in common: They are all residents of Maryland’s 6th Congressional District. Which means these strangers-turned-bedfellows share something else: They are the most gerrymandered people in America. At least they are for now. In March, the Supreme Court heard a groundbreaking challenge to the district’s wild contours, brought by seven Republican voters. These Marylanders argue that the Grand Canyon–size district—in a state whose seven others would barely cover the map of Massachusetts—was redrawn to punish the region’s GOP voters.
Michigan: Group hoping to end gerrymandering in Michigan faces challenges while waiting for approval | WXYZ
Voters Not Politicians, the group hoping to end gerrymandering in Michigan, is facing more challenges while they also wait on approval from the Michigan Board of State Canvassers. Last week, the group called for the state board to certify their proposal to be on the ballot. The group also said last week they hoped the petition would appear on Tuesday’s agenda. When the agenda for Tuesday’s board meeting came down, the only consideration on the agenda was for the petition filed by Protecting Michigan Taxpayers. Led by a group of volunteers collecting signatures, Voters Not Politicians collected over 425,000 signatures and submitted them to the Michigan Bureau of Elections in December. They needed about 316,000, equal to about 10 percent of the state’s population.
Ohio voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure that will reform the state’s redistricting process, creating a mandate for bipartisanship in the decennial remapping process. With about half the votes counted a few hours after polls closed, about three quarters of Ohio voters backed the initiative, State Issue One. The ballot measure asked voters whether they wanted to amend the state constitution to require bipartisan support when drawing new congressional district lines. Any new maps would require three-fifths support in the state House and Senate, including support from at least half the members of the minority party. If Republicans and Democrats in the legislature cannot agree on a map, a seven-member bipartisan commission would be assigned to draw new maps. Those maps would have to be approved with at least two votes from the minority party. If the bipartisan commission fails, the legislature would be allowed to try to draw 10-year maps that earn support from one-third of the minority party or a four-year map with only majority support.
With anti-gerrymandering efforts gaining steam, Republicans in some states are mobilizing to protect their ability to continue rigging election maps. In late April, a Republican group backed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce sued to keep a popular redistricting reform measure off the state’s November ballot. Arizona’s GOP-controlled legislature last week narrowly failed to pass a bill that would have given the party much more control over the map-drawing process. And Pennsylvania Republicans, who recently mulled impeaching a group of state judges who struck down their gerrymander, this week gutted reform legislation.
Democrats have trumpeted that they are the brave defenders of democratic norms in the Trump era, fighting for political maps that give voters a true voice. They celebrated in January when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down the state’s congressional district map as gerrymandered, casting themselves as political victims finally receiving justice from the courts. For six years, they had struggled under districts carefully constructed to ensure Republicans a majority of the state’s congressional delegation in a competitive state. With the brand-new lines raising fresh hopes for November, they now have a chance to flip numerous seats in Pennsylvania, and maybe even take back control of the U.S. House. “Loving this map. Exactly what I was fighting [for]. Fair. And. Reflective,” tweeted Margo Davidson, a Delaware County state lawmaker running for Congress. “Major win for democracy,” retweeted Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, a former member of the General Assembly.
National: The Justice Department Deleted Language About Press Freedom And Racial Gerrymandering From Its Internal Manual | Buzzfeed
Since the fall, the US Department of Justice has been overhauling its manual for federal prosecutors. In: Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ tough-on-crime policies. Out: A section titled “Need for Free Press and Public Trial.” References to the department’s work on racial gerrymandering are gone. Language about limits on prosecutorial power has been edited down. The changes include new sections that underscore Sessions’ focus on religious liberty and the Trump administration’s efforts to crack down on government leaks — there is new language admonishing prosecutors not to share classified information and directing them to report contacts with the media. Not all changes are substantive: Long paragraphs have been split up, outdated contacts lists have been updated, and citations to repealed laws have been removed.
As the Supreme Court increasingly confronts cases challenging partisan gerrymandering, one underlying question appears to be: Is this getting worse? The answer is yes. There are some structural reasons for that. For years, party control of the House was stable. Now it’s regularly up for grabs. For at least 50 years, from 1950 to 2000, partisan control of the House was never perceived to be at stake during any redistricting cycle. The Democratic Party dominated the House; the Republican Party consigned itself to being the permanent minority; and no one in either party thought partisan control of the House could switch hands in any upcoming election.
Texas: To prevent gerrymandering, voting rights groups want Texas citizens to draw the maps | Dallas Morning News
To prevent gerrymandered districts, a coalition of civil and voting rights groups wants Texas citizens to draw the state’s electoral maps. For seven years, the state of Texas has defended its statehouse and congressional maps against allegations that they were drawn in 2011 with the purpose of minimizing the voting power of African-Americans and Latinos. This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case for the second time, and if the justices side with the map’s challengers, they could hear the case again before it’s resolved.
Gerrymandering, the process of drawing district lines to fortify one political party at the expense of another, is as old as the U.S. republic. In the late 1780s, Virginia Governor Patrick Henry, who opposed ratifying the new Constitution, got allies in his state’s legislature to draw a congressional district map unfavorable to James Madison, the father of the founding document. (Madison won anyway.) Good-government groups grouse that gerrymandering lets politicians choose their constituents, rather than the other way around. But as the courts get more involved, others fret about judges interfering in politics.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with a case with the potential to reorder the country’s political landscape: How much gerrymandering is too much gerrymandering? Republicans who sued to overturn the congressional district lines that Maryland implemented after the 2010 census map found allies in the court’s four liberal justices, who expressed sympathy for their claims during oral arguments. What’s less clear is whether those four can recruit another justice to their side — the most likely targets would be Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Anthony Kennedy, typically the high court’s swing vote on election law cases. Both asked tough questions, but neither tipped his hand. At issue was Maryland’s 6th Congressional District, represented for 20 years by a Republican. After the 2010 census, Democrats in the state legislature and the then-Democratic governor redrew the district lines to move large numbers of Democratic voters into the district. Democratic Rep. John Delaney won the seat in 2012 and was reelected twice after.
Maryland: Supreme Court wrestles with how political is too political in Maryland redistricting case | Baltimore Sun
Supreme Court justices pummeled Maryland’s meandering congressional districts on Wednesday as they heard arguments in a high-profile case that some hope will reduce political influence in the decennial redistricting process. As they have in past cases, the justices criticized Maryland’s congressional map — with some saying the litigation offered clear evidence of the political motivations behind its design. But the court also appeared to wrestle with setting a standard for just how far mapmakers may go in pursuit of political advantage. “Part of the issue here is you have people from … Potomac joined with people from the far west panhandle,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., pointing to the state’s sprawling 6th Congressional District. “I mean, they both have farms but the former, hobby farms.”
The Supreme Court justices seemed to grasp the problem of gerrymandering in oral arguments on Wednesday and that it will only get worse, as computer-assisted redistricting gets even more refined. But they appeared frustrated over what to do about it — without becoming the constant police officer on the beat. This case, involving a Democratic-drawn congressional district in Maryland, is essentially Act II of the gerrymandering play at the Supreme Court.
The Ohio Republican Party voted on Tuesday night to join its Democratic counterpart in endorsing a major overhaul of how Ohio’s congressional districts are drawn. Issue 1, which was written by a bipartisan committee and approved by citizen groups, would create multiple rounds of map-making to prevent partisan gerrymandering. The proposal also sets limits for how many times a county can be split, keeping communities together. Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof acknowledged to the Ohio GOP central committee that the way the state divides its Congressional districts has been good to Republicans for decades. That’s because Republicans have controlled the state Legislature when it’s redrawn the map every 10 years. But Obhof cautioned things are bound to change.
Now that legal challenges to Pennsylvania’s new court-drawn congressional map have been rejected, state lawmakers have turned their attention to the typical process by which the state reapportions congressional districts every decade. But some stakeholders are skeptical about whether any current proposals will ever make it to a vote. There are four bills circulating in the Statehouse right now. All call for an independent redistricting commission, but differ on details such as the role the legislature would play in the process, the number of commissioners, their qualifications, how they’d be selected and how to gauge potential partisan influences.
The Supreme Court has already heard a major case about political line-drawing that has the potential to reshape American politics. Now, before even deciding that one, the court is taking up another similar case. The arguments justices will hear Wednesday in the second case, a Republican challenge to a Democratic-leaning congressional district in Maryland, could offer fresh clues to what they are thinking about partisan gerrymandering, an increasingly hot topic before courts. Decisions in the Maryland case and the earlier one from Wisconsin are expected by late June.