A new study committee will change the way districts are drawn in Indiana by 2021, aiming to make the lines more fair by the next redistricting. Patsy Hoyer with the League of Women Voters says current districts in Indiana are drawn in an imbalanced way. “If you look at the map of how the districts are laid out it makes you wonder, a few of them, well how did that get defined?” said Hoyer. With redistricting necessary based on the 2010 Census results, Hoyer hopes lawmakers take action to stop gerrymandering.
Two former governors want to ask voters to overhaul the way Colorado draws congressional and state legislative districts to end the gerrymandering that has created safe-districts for the majority of the state’s politicians. Former Govs. Bill Owens and Dick Lamm, a Republican and a Democrat respectively, hope to gather almost 100,000 signatures to ask voters next November to create a bipartisan independent commission and staff to handle both redistricting and reapportionment. “Putting responsibility for drawing districts in the hands of nonpartisan professionals committed to fairness and competition will produce the most accountable and effective representation in the entire country,” Owens said in a statement released Tuesday evening.
Florida: Anti-Gerrymandering Measures Didn’t Work. Here’s How Both Parties Hope to Change Them. | National Journal
Florida is the only state to outlaw partisan gerrymandering while leaving the redistricting process in the hands of partisan legislators rather than creating an independent commission. And after three years of litigation and four months of attempts to draw new legislative and congressional maps, local Republicans and Democrats have reached the conclusion that the state’s unique system of redistricting cannot go on. Democratic legislators, inspired by a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling reaffirming the legality of independent redistricting commissions, hope to win Republican support for an independent commission to redraw district boundaries in Florida. And after months of redistricting chaos, some Republicans have hinted that they could get on board.
Some groups are hopeful Indiana will follow the lead of its neighbor and take steps to prevent gerrymandering. Ohio voters this month approved changes to the way its legislative districts are drawn, and a study committee in Indiana is examining what can be done here. Debbie Asberry, a board member of the League of Women Voters, said districts in Indiana currently are established in a way that can favor one political party over another. “The party in power usually draws the line to support their incumbent, to minimize competition or to eliminate competition,” she said. “The basic underlying issue is that it is a structural impediment to our democratic process.”
Editorials: Rise up, Pennsylvanians! Gerrymandering made a mess of our state | Dennis Jett/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Pennsylvania is in its fifth month without a state budget. Schools and local governments are borrowing money to keep operating and social-service providers are cutting back programs. If Pennsylvanians want to reduce this kind of gridlock in Harrisburg, they should do what Ohio has just done. The budget impasse results from the inability of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the Republican majority in the Legislature to agree on how to finance government. Mr. Wolf wants to increase taxes on the natural-gas industry and the Legislature refuses, even though Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax and among those with the lowest tax burden placed on the industry. This difference of opinion stems from the ideology of the two parties but is greatly exacerbated by the way those who go to Harrisburg are elected. Because of this process, partisan politics trumps the common good and intransigence has become ingrained.
A key Florida Supreme Court justice sounded skeptical Tuesday about the Legislature’s proposal for a contested South Florida district in a battle over the map for the state’s congressional delegation. Meanwhile, two congresswomen vowed to take the fight to the federal courts after their districts were largely ignored during oral arguments before the state Supreme Court, raising the prospect of more uncertainty in the nearly four-year saga about how to redraw the state’s political boundaries under a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering. “There is no justice in this courthouse,” said Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown in a fiery speech after the hearing. “I will be going to the federal courthouse, because there is no justice and there will be no peace. We’ll go all the way to the United States Supreme Court.”
Florida: Legislature and challengers blame each other for redistricting ‘manipulation’ | Tampa Bay Times
Who is to blame for the latest legislative impasse over redistricting? The finger-pointing began quickly last week as Florida lawmakers adjourned their second special session on redistricting and faced the prospect of another court-ordered map. Lawmakers blamed the Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution as impossible to follow, and House and Senate leaders lashed out at the challengers — a coalition of Democrat-leaning individuals and voter groups led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida — for manipulating the process. This week, the challengers lashed back.
After a second consecutive redistricting session fell apart Thursday and the Legislature went home yet again without passing a map, lawmakers’ message was more or less: We told you so. Five years ago, with voters set to decide whether to add the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” amendments to the Florida Constitution, legislative leaders argued against it. The standards were unworkable, they argued. Despite language calling for cities and counties to be kept whole, communities that had similar interests could be divided or disregarded. The amendments would lead to endless litigation and could become a quagmire. And with the collapse this week of a special session called to redraw the 40 state Senate districts, two of the three maps once controlled by the Legislature will instead be selected by the courts. Later this week, the Florida Supreme Court will consider whether to accept a Leon County judge’s recommendation that a map submitted by voting-rights groups be used for Florida’s congressional elections.
A last-ditch effort to keep the courts from drawing state Senate districts collapsed Thursday, as senators voted down a plan proposed by the House and a special session called to draw the lines crashed to an end. On a 23-16 vote, the Senate killed the House version of the map (SJR 2-C) and any hope that the Legislature would decide the lines. Nine Republicans bucked their party’s leadership and joined all 14 Democrats in opposing the plan. The redistricting issue will go to Leon County Circuit Judge George Reynolds, who likely will consider maps from the Legislature and voting-rights organizations that sued to overturn the current districts, with Reynolds ultimately recommending a plan to the Florida Supreme Court.
National: Supreme Court appears conflicted on dismissal of gerrymandering case | The Washington Post
The Supreme Court seemed conflicted Wednesday about whether a Maryland man may proceed with his complaint that the redistricting process in the state is unconstitutionally partisan. Some justices were concerned that a single federal district judge had decided on his own to curtail Steve Shapiro’s lawsuit over Maryland’s much-criticized gerrymandered congressional map rather than send it to a special three-judge panel to see whether the complaint had merit. Justice Stephen G. Breyer said Shapiro and his co-plaintiffs “want to raise about as important a question as you can imagine. . . . And if they are right, that would affect congressional districts and legislative districts throughout the nation.”
National: Just How Much Gerrymandering Is Unconstitutional? Wisconsin Plaintiffs Want the Supreme Court to Rule. | National Journal
Every decade, when state legislatures across the country draw districts for themselves and their congressional delegations, some lawmakers violate voters’ constitutional rights by packing members of the minority party into as few districts as possible. At least, that’s what the Supreme Court has hinted at in past rulings, when it wrote that extreme partisan gerrymandering can violate voters’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to freedom of speech and due process. The problem, the Court wrote in its 2006 League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry decision, is that it can’t strike down gerrymandered maps without some sort of tool to determine exactly when district boundaries are skewed so drastically that they discriminate based on voters’ party affiliations. The winding, snake-like districts often used to illustrate gerrymandering aren’t necessarily signs of ill intent, and it’s often necessary to have some variation in how polarized or competitive districts are. But the Wisconsin-based plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed this summer think that they have found the formula that the Court has been waiting for. And if they manage to push their case to the high court and win, the lawsuit’s consequences could extend from Wisconsin across the entire nation.
A Maryland task force proposed Tuesday that the state allow an independent panel to draw the state’s voting districts, widely cited as some of the most gerrymandered in the nation. The proposals, approved 9 to 1 by a commission appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R), will go to Maryland lawmakers as they prepare for the next legislative session to begin in January. “These reforms would put Maryland in the front ranks of redistricting reform and establish an independent, balanced approach to creating congressional and state legislative districts,” the task force said in a report released Tuesday.
Virginia: 122 legislators sought re-election Tuesday; they all won | Richmond Times-Dispatch: Virginia Politics
A total of 122 Virginia legislators sought re-election Tuesday. Not a one was defeated. The Virginia Public Access Project said it is the first such clean sweep for incumbents since it started tracking Virginia’s legislative elections in 1995. “In modern times, it is apparently unprecedented,” added Larry Sabato, a veteran political analyst at the University of Virginia. Analysts cited several factors in the incumbents’ overwhelming dominance, but one topped the list — carefully drawn district boundaries. The result boils down to three words — “gerrymandering, gerrymandering, gerrymandering,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth of the University of Mary Washington.
At a Supreme Court argument on Wednesday about procedures in redistricting cases, the justices appeared to be trying to reconcile two conflicting impulses. They did not want to close the door entirely on challenges to gerrymandering, but they also did not want to be required to rule on them. Though the court has never rejected a voting district on the ground that it gave a political party an unconstitutional advantage, it has never ruled out that such a district might exist. On Wednesday, the court seemed inclined to endorse procedures that would at least treat such claims seriously by sending them to special three-judge courts created by a federal law for redistricting cases. But as the argument drew to a close, several justices voiced a competing concern — the law also allows direct appeals to the Supreme Court from rulings of the three-judge courts, meaning more work and less discretion for the justices.
Under a pressing deadline to avoid more redistricting gridlock, Florida lawmakers formally began talks late Wednesday to resolve the differences in their plans to redraw 40 state Senate districts. The House and Senate have passed competing redistricting plans, with the main differences centering on districts in Miami-Dade County. The special session to redraw the districts is scheduled to end at 3 p.m. Friday. “I don’t think there’s any way that politicians can even-handedly draw their own maps,” Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said after senators voted to reject a version approved Tuesday by the House. “If we really want to fulfill the intent of the fair districts amendment, we need an independent redistricting commission.” Now, staffers from the House and Senate will likely draw another map in an attempt to reconcile the chambers.
Voters’ overwhelming support for state Issue 1 did not persuade the Ohio House speaker to pursue reform of congressional redistricting. Issue 1, which will reform Ohio’s hyper-partisan process for drawing legislative districts starting in 2021, passed with 71 percent of the vote. The bipartisan measure drew no organized opposition. Majority Republicans deliberately did not include congressional redistricting as part of the reform; some pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court case out of Arizona that has since been resolved. Groups including the League of Women Voters of Ohio, which strongly backed Issue 1, said the vast public support should prompt similar changes to a process for congressional districts that, many argue, allows for even more partisan gerrymandering.
A panel of three federal judges are considering whether to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the state’s legislative redistricting plan. The plaintiffs, a group of 12 Wisconsin voters, claim that the plan approved by Republicans in 2011 is an example of extreme partisan gerrymandering that creates voting districts unfairly benefiting one party. At a hearing in Madison Wednesday, Chicago attorney Michele Odorizzi said the plan drew partisan lines that violate a voter’s constitutional right to equal protection under the law. “You have a right to be treated equally by the election system and not have your vote diluted or be treated differently because of your political beliefs,” he said.
Voters overwhelmingly backed a plan to reform Ohio’s hyper-partisan process for drawing legislative districts, and supporters are already looking ahead to passing the same reforms for congressional districts next year. “Today’s win was an important first step, but it only got us halfway there,” said Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “We need to take these new anti-gerrymandering rules that Issue 1 applied to the General Assembly and extend them to congressional districts, which are even more gerrymandered.” With 54 percent of precincts reporting, Issue 1, which will change the legislative redistricting process starting in 2021, when the lines are scheduled to be drawn again, was winning with 71 percent of the vote.
Florida: House panel tweaks Senate districts, sets up another redistricting clash | Orlando Sentinel
The House and Senate are again poised to clash over redrawing political boundaries after a House redistricting committee Monday changed a plan passed by the Senate last week to redraw 40 Senate districts. The most significant changes shift district lines in Miami-Dade County. Sen. Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, amended a “base map” drawn by legislative staffers that drew more compact districts there but that also kept him out of a district that included fellow incumbent Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. House redistricting chairman, Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, said he redrew the Senate map to include some changes sought by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, the voters rights groups who brought the redistricting lawsuit. Because his map includes much of the Senate version and parts of the voters groups’ preferred map, he doesn’t see another “collision course” with the Senate.
The House redistricting committee voted along party lines Monday to approve its version of new districts for the state Senate, potentially setting up a battle with the upper chamber as a special session on the map entered its final week. On a 9-4 vote, the Select Committee on Redistricting’s Republican majority pushed through a proposal by Chairman Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, that sets aside a compromise on South Florida seats struck in the Senate last week. That compromise, which supporters say protected Hispanic voting strength but opponents said was a crass political move, helped boost a plan that passed the Senate on a narrow 22-18 margin.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s redistricting commission may have been doomed from the start — its intent to reduce or eliminate gerrymandering of congressional and legislative districts running at odds with the intent of the Democratic majority within the General Assembly to keep that particular weapon in their political arsenal. But at least opponents should have the decency to offer intellectually honest critiques. Sen. Joan Carter Conway’s complaint voiced during Tuesday’s meeting of the Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission, as reported by the Capital News Service, failed to meet that standard. To put it in a nutshell, Senator Conway, a commission member, said a proposed nine-member panel that would be created to draw legislative boundaries — a group chosen at random from applicants vetted by randomly-selected state judges and with balance given to party affiliation so that no one party would dominate — would be “as far from independent” as legislators are. Really? To paraphrase a popular NFL pregame show, “Come on, ma’am.”
Ohio voters are expected to overhaul how election maps are drawn as states look for ways to make congressional and legislative districts more competitive and less confusing after decades of partisan gerrymandering. The Midwestern state will vote Tuesday on a constitutional amendment to change how Ohio is carved up into state House and Senate districts. Congressional districts won’t be affected by the changes, but advocates say they could be next. Attempts to change the map-drawing process have failed before in Ohio. But the amendment on the ballot Tuesday passed the Legislature with bipartisan support and has no organized opposition. The redistricting process, which takes place once a decade to account for population shifts, is criticized in many states for being used by elected officials to boost the chances of incumbents and expand the reach of the political party in power. “When you have more competitive districts, you have more collaboration, more compromise—and we feel better government,” said Vernon Sykes, a former Democratic state representative who pushed for the Ohio constitutional amendment with a Republican colleague.
The chairman of the House redistricting committee Friday filed a new Senate map that would recast districts in South Florida, opening up a potential conflict with the Senate a week before a special legislative session on the lines is set to end. Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said in a memo to House members that his proposal for the 40 state Senate districts was inspired in part by a plan floated by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida. Those voting-rights organizations have helped lead a legal fight against congressional and Senate maps drawn by the Legislature in 2012, saying that the plans violated the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” amendments approved by voters two years earlier.
Maryland: D.C. law student takes case against Maryland gerrymandering to Supreme Court | The Washington Post
Steve Shapiro recently pulled his first all-nighter in years. He worked until about 1 a.m. last month on an assignment for a class at American University’s Washington College of Law, where he is a first-semester 1L. From then until dawn, he pored over his brief due at the U.S. Supreme Court, where his battle against Maryland’s often-criticized gerrymandered congressional districts will be heard this week in a case that bears his name. At age 55, Shapiro is not the typical law school newbie; he’s more often mistaken for a professor. It was his decades-long fight with Maryland’s political leadership over redistricting that, in part, fueled his decision to leave his job as a career federal employee and enroll full time in law school.
The personal and political conflicts that have divided Florida Senate Republicans for months reached the boiling point on Wednesday as the Senate narrowly approved a redrawn redistricting map 22-18 and two powerful senators used the opportunity to point to each other for the chamber’s mistakes. Democrats united against the map, predicting it would be struck down by the court as a violation of the anti-gerrymandering rules of the Florida Constitution. They were joined by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and three other Republicans. The vote came halfway through the three-week special session the Legislature called to redraw the Senate map after agreeing in July that it had violated the constitutional Fair Districts standards when approving the redistricting map in 2012.
Maryland: Redistricting reform commission reaches consensus on new independent process | Maryland Reporter
The Maryland Redistricting Reform Commission met Tuesday to craft recommendations for ways to fix gerrymandering in Maryland, focusing on establishing an independent group to redistrict both congressional and legislative districts. The commission hashed out intricate rules to limit partisan influence and ensure the independence of the new panel. The commission will recommend that any new independent commission apply current state standards for legislative districts to congressional redistricting. When drawing congressional boundaries in the current system, Maryland’s governor leads the process, which follows a more general federal standard.
The League of Women Voters has been holding a series of forums on redistricting reform. Everyone who has studied the issue and has any sense of fairness knows that our present system of gerrymandering has badly crippled democracy in this state. Peoples are frustrated, angry, disillusioned, and less and less likely to vote, because they think their votes don’t matter and nothing they can do will have any effect. What’s even worse, they are mostly right. In Michigan their votes mostly don’t matter, not for state government, anyway. Though more voters chose Democratic candidates for Congress and the state house of representatives last year, Republicans once again won huge majorities. Twenty-five years ago, that would have meant a government that might have been unrepresentative, but which would at least been able to get things done. We don’t even have that. The combination of term limits and one-party districts has resulted in a legislature full of craven extremists who have no interest in bipartisan cooperation or solving long-term problems.
To some politicians and pundits, the governor’s Redistricting Reform Commission is a waste of time. Certainly covering its hearings and deliberations as much as MarylandReporter.com has done is seen as a huge waste of time and space. These stories are not widely read, although Todd Eberly’s testimony to the commission on how “Redistricting should restore representative democracy” was read by almost 5,000 people, one of our top stories of the past two months. Probably anything the redistricting reform commission proposes will not pass the legislature next year or the year after that. It will probably not pass until the first year of a Hogan second term — a reelection Democrats will do their damnedest to prevent from occurring.
Faced with a close vote on a leadership-backed map to redraw state Senate districts, the Florida Senate agreed to modify three minority-based districts in Miami-Dade County on Tuesday, hoping to win the crucial votes needed to send the proposal to the House and win support for the revision in court. The sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, argued that change was needed to make the districts more compact, in compliance with the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution, and to preserve the voting strength of Hispanic voters. He argued that the original map, which was drawn by House and Senate staff and approved on a party-line vote last week by the Senate Reapportionment Committee, diminished the ability of Hispanics to elect a candidate of their choice.
Senators on Tuesday will debate a plan to redraw 40 Senate districts that could shift the partisan make-up of the chamber, the leadership of the body and the political futures of the members. Republican legislative leaders are hoping to avoid another rebuke from the courts as well as another stalemate between the House and the Senate, as happened in August when the two chambers didn’t agree to a plan redrawing congressional districts. But the new redistricting plan has sparked plenty of disagreement within the Senate itself. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who is currently battling with Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, to become Senate President after the 2016 elections, issued a strong critique of the new plan for not drawing enough incumbents into districts with each other. He suggested the courts could again strike the maps down because they could be seen as being drawn to protect incumbents. “Unfortunately, I see in this plan today . . . I see history repeating itself,” Latvala said during a hearing Friday.