Buoyed by a Supreme Court ruling, opponents of gerrymandering want to get more state legislatures out of the business of drawing congressional districts. So it’s worth examining the performance of the independent redistricting commissions validated by the court on Monday. Arizona, via a ballot initiative in 2000, was one of the first states to entrust congressional boundaries to an independent commission, and California followed suit in 2010. Four other states have their congressional districts drawn by independent panels in an effort to make the process less partisan and yield more competitive districts. But those commissions were formed by their respective state legislatures and were not affected by Monday’s ruling.
Michigan: Supreme Court opens the door for independent redistricting, but it’s an unlikely idea for Michigan | MLive.com
The United States Supreme Court may have breathed new life into a quest for Michigan Democrats to change how districts are drawn. In a 5-4 decision Monday, the Supreme Court Justices ruled the independent redistricting commission created by Arizona voters in 2000 is legal. That commission takes power to draw district lines — creating the areas lawmakers represent — from the Arizona Legislature. Supporters say this limits partisan gerrymandering — the process of drawing electoral boundaries to the gain of one political party — while critics say it takes power away from state lawmakers who were assigned the task by the U.S. Constitution.
Last Tuesday’s Dispatch editorial, “ Clinton off-base on Ohio voting rules,” and the Friday letter “ Clinton did not mention Ohio, Kasich” from Randall Morrison brought attention to the important issue of voter suppression. However, voter suppression is broader and more insidious than the length of early-voting rules. The real “elephant in the room” of representative democracy is gerrymandering, and Ohio represents one of the worst cases in the country. Rigged Ohio House and Senate and U.S. House district lines have resulted in Republicans controlling 12 out of 16 U.S. House seats and huge majorities in the Ohio House and Senate.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month on an Arizona tool designed to strip politics from the drawing of congressional voting districts, in a decision that could end or expand attempts in several states to address partisan gerrymandering. Arizona voters chose in 2000 to set up a bipartisan independent commission that would draw voting districts. California voters in 2008 approved a similar commission, and several other states have given nonelected bodies some level of control over district boundaries. The goal is to curb the ability of a state’s majority political party to carve out voting districts that make their seats safer. Arizona’s commission draws both state legislative and U.S. congressional boundaries and is made up of five members—two Republicans, two Democrats and an independent chairman.
A federal court ruled Friday that Virginia legislators will have to redraw the state’s congressional lines after misinterpreting Voting Rights Act requirements, but an attorney for the defendants said it’s likely that they’ll appeal to the Supreme Court. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ruled for the second time that legislators unnecessarily “packed” African-American voters into certain congressional districts, ostensibly to follow a requirement that minority voters maintain their control of certain districts—but also limiting their ability to affect other districts’ elections. The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 that the Republican-controlled legislature had packed an excessive number of minorities into a single district, represented by Democratic Rep. Bobby Scott, when it drew the congressional map in 2012.
A group of Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to overhaul and streamline the way the nation’s 435 U.S. House districts are redrawn every decade to reflect population shifts determined by the U.S. Census. “What we see now is too often a troubling reality in which politicians choose their voters instead of voters picking their elected officials,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a lead sponsor of legislation she says would create “a more transparent electoral process.”
Georgia: Think Congress has a gerrymandering problem? It has nothing on Georgia | The Washington Post
Want to know how badly gerrymandered American politics is? Take a look at the Georgia general assembly. There are 236 seats in both the state House and the state Senate. Precisely three of those 236 seats are held by people who aren’t in the same party as the presidential candidate who won the district in 2012. The lone exceptions are the in state House, where three non-Democrats represent districts that President Obama won. Republican state Reps. Gerald E. Greene and Joyce Chandler and independent state Rep. Rusty Kidd are the exceptions. Kidd’s district went for Obama by a hair, while Chandler’s went for him by two percentage points, according to data shared with The Fix by the election reform group FairVote.
Texas has a sordid history of gerrymandering, and the state has been called out for it over the years by the Justice Department and federal courts because of discrimination against minority voters. Constitutional amendments are being considered in the Legislature — proposed by Democratic Rep. Rafael Anchia of Dallas — that would bring more equity to the redistricting process. The need is clear. Political realities work against these measures’ approval, but the Legislature should go there as a matter of fairness and democratic principle. Redistricting maps drawn in 2011 based on the 2010 census were no exception to the Texas gerrymandering rule. After legal challenges, these were improved a bit by a San Antonio federal court in 2013. The problem: Those maps were still based on the clearly discriminatory maps drawn two years previous. They do not adequately reflect the more diverse representation that should have occurred; minorities were nearly 90 percent of the increased population that gained Texas four new congressional seats in the last census.
More than 60 people, including sitting lawmakers, have received subpoenas as part of a long stalled lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s state Senate maps. The lawsuit was originally filed in 2012, but has sat dormant as a separate lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional lines worked its way through the courts. That lawsuit resulted in lawmakers having to redraw the state’s 27 congressional districts and an appeal is still pending before the Florida Supreme Court. The lawsuit challenging state Senate lines is being spearheaded by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause, which were both involved in the Congressional lawsuit. The group will also be represented by David King, the same attorney involved in the congressional lawsuit.
The Supreme Court sided with black challengers Wednesday and told a lower court to reconsider whether a redistricting plan drawn by Alabama’s Republican-led legislature packed minority voters into districts in order to dilute their influence. The court voted 5 to 4 to send the plan back for further judicial review. Justice Stephen G. Breyer wrote the opinion, and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy sided with the court’s liberals to make up the majority. The challenge was brought by black officeholders and Democrats who argued that the state’s Republican leadership packed minority voters into districts that allowed the election of African American officials but reduced their influence elsewhere.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Monday against the Jefferson County Commission, the county’s school board and supervisor of elections challenging the inclusion of state prison inmates in the drawing of election district maps. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee by the ACLU on behalf of concerned county residents, says the redistricting plan adopted by the commission and school board in 2013 violates the constitution’s “one person, one vote” requirement and amounts to “prison-based gerrymandering.”
California: Potential redistricting reset could tighten California Democrats’ grip | Los Angeles Times
U.S. Supreme Court case that could force California to redraw its congressional districts has stirred up fears of a return to partisan gerrymandering, a divisive process that has been criticized for both cementing and crushing political careers. While the potential impact remains uncertain, both Democratic and Republican leaders agree that the ruling could solidify the Democrats’ tight grip on California’s 53-member House delegation, the largest of any state. The issue stems from a lawsuit filed by Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature arguing that the Constitution gives state legislatures the exclusive responsibility for drawing congressional district boundaries. Arizona and California voters have passed measures removing that authority from lawmakers and handing it over to independent citizen commissions.
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.
Florida’s congressional redistricting maps should be rejected because they are the product of a shadowy process infiltrated by Republican political operatives in violation of the law against partisan gerrymandering, lawyers argued before the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday. The plaintiffs in the case, a coalition of voters and the League of Women Voters, want the court to adopt an alternative map because, they said, Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis erred when he ruled that the entire map had been infiltrated by operatives but then asked lawmaker to redraw only two of the districts. The court concluded that the political operatives “tainted the map with improper partisan intent,” said David King, lawyer for the League of Women Voters, who initially commended Lewis for his ruling. King said that constituted an “intentional violation by the Legislature” and invalidated the map.
Florida: State Supreme Court asked to redraw congressional districts | Jacksonville Business Journal
The Florida Supreme Court should order a third draft of the state’s congressional districts to fully eliminate illegal gerrymandering, attorneys for groups that have challenged the map argued Wednesday. But lawyers for the Legislature said Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis acted appropriately last year when he upheld lawmakers’ second version of the map, drawn after Lewis found that political consultants managed to “taint the redistricting process and the resulting map with improper partisan intent” the first time around. The arguments Wednesday were the latest chapter of a long-running battle between voting-rights organizations like the League of Women Voters and lawmakers about whether congressional and state Senate maps violate the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments, approved by voters in 2010.
Editorials: Power to the Partisans – The Supreme Court’s conservatives think democracy is overrated. | Mark Joseph Stern/Slate
In the plangent peroration of his dissent in United States v. Windsor, Justice Antonin Scalia bemoaned the Supreme Court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality. The justices had shortchanged democracy, he lamented: “We might have let the People decide.” But as it turns out, Scalia isn’t so fond of letting “the People decide” when those people decide to do something that actually strengthens democracy—like, for instance, drawing fair boundaries for congressional districts. Scalia may not see a constitutional right to marriage, but he definitely sees a constitutional right for partisan state legislatures to entrench their ruling parties’ power to the detriment of democracy. And after arguments on Monday, it seems likely that Scalia’s view will soon become the law of the land. Here are the basic facts behind Monday’s case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. In 2000, Arizona voters approved a ballot initiative, Proposition 106, that took congressional redistricting out of the state legislature’s hands. For decades the controlling party in the statehouse had used redistricting to put members of its own party in the House of Representatives through partisan gerrymandering. Under Proposition 106, the task of redistricting was put entirely in the hands of an independent commission. The system has worked remarkably well: Thanks to the commission’s redistricting efforts, Arizona’s House seats are consistently competitive.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a closely watched case testing Arizona’s nonpartisan redistricting commission. At issue here is how far the people may go to prevent partisans from carving up their states to maximum advantage. We hope the court recognizes the right of the people to adopt smarter, less partisan means to redraw district boundaries every 10 years. More than a dozen states now use independent commissions to draw congressional district lines — and all of them are at risk in this case. Wisconsin still relies on legislators to do the job, though it has flirted with a different model that stands a better chance of withstanding constitutional scrutiny. Senate Bill 58, which was introduced last Friday, would adopt a model pioneered by Iowa. The bill would take the task of redrawing political maps away from the partisans in the Legislature and give the job to the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau. But unlike the independent commission model, legislative approval would be required. We urge legislators to get behind this idea. The 2011 redistricting process, which was run by Republicans, cost Wisconsin taxpayers more than $2 million and left voters with no competitive House districts and very few in either the state Assembly or state Senate.
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.
From time to time, at least since 1898, the people in America’s states have decided to take government into their own hands, withdrawing it from elected politicians when the voters think they have done the job badly, or not at all. “Direct democracy” has cycles of popularity, and may be in a new one now, as political polarization spreads worry that elected lawmakers think party first and public good second. The Supreme Court looks into such a reclaiming of people power next week. No act of government is more partisan these days, it seems, than the redistricting process — that is, the drawing of new election district boundaries, usually to take account of population growth or shifts as measured in each national census. When Republicans are in power, they craft districts in their favor, and the Democrats do exactly the same when they hold power. As a result, fewer districts are actually competitive at election time. The Supreme Court has been asked several times to put some limits on “partisan gerrymandering,” but has refused each time. Now, the Court confronts an alternative approach in Arizona — a state that has been making regular use of “direct democracy” since even before it was admitted to the Union in 1912. From statehood until 2000, the state legislature had the authority under the state constitution to draw congressional district boundaries, subject to the governor’s veto.
Editorials: This is the best explanation of gerrymandering you will ever see | Christopher Ingraham/The Washington Post
Gerrymandering — drawing political boundaries to give your party a numeric advantage over an opposing party — is a difficult process to explain. If you find the notion confusing, check out the chart above — adapted from one posted to Reddit this weekend — and wonder no more. Suppose we have a very tiny state of fifty people. Thirty of them belong to the Blue Party, and 20 belong to the Red Party. And just our luck, they all live in a nice even grid with the Blues on one side of the state and the Reds on the other. Now, let’s say we need to divide this state into five districts. Each district will send one representative to the House to represent the people. Ideally, we want the representation to be proportional: if 60 percent of our residents are Blue and 40 percent are Red, those five seats should be divvied up the same way.
Supreme Court justices often grouse about the political polarization and gridlock across the street in Congress. Now they have a chance to make it worse. The high court will hear a case Monday that could give partisan state legislatures sole authority to draw congressional districts, a task voters in several states have transferred to independent commissions. The case comes from Arizona, where Republican lawmakers want to take back the power to draw the district lines. If the court sides with them after agreeing to hear their appeal, the ruling would affect similar commissions in California and a handful of other states. Such a ruling “would consign states to the dysfunctionality of a system where politicians choose their voters rather than voters choosing their politicians,” says a brief filed by three national experts on redistricting.
Ohio: Redistricting reform for Ohio congressional maps proposed by House Democrats | Cleveland Plain Dealer
A pair of House Democrats announced Thursday a plan to change how Ohio draws its congressional districts, but a similar plan lacked support last year in the Republican-led legislature. The proposal, introduced by Reps. Kathleen Clyde of Kent and Mike Curtin of Marble Cliff, resembles one that the Republican-led General Assembly approved last year for drawing Statehouse districts. That plan goes before voters in November. … Clyde and Curtin’s plan has no Republican co-sponsors. Currently, congressional lines are drawn every 10 years by a committee of lawmakers and approved by the General Assembly. The setup allows the party in power — Republicans in 2011 — to draw lines and approve maps without minority-party input. Republicans hold 12 of Ohio’s 16 congressional seats yet only won 55 percent of the votes in recent congressional elections statewide.
Support for reforming the way the state’s political maps are drawn is getting bi-partisan support in the State House. A bill to make those changes has 63 co-sponsors, but that far from guarantees it will be passed. The bill is the third attempt by the House since 2011 to put the responsibility for drawing congressional maps in the hands of a non-partisan panel. That power now lies with the lawmakers themselves, which many observers see as a conflict of interest. Jane Pinsky is director of the non-partisan group End Gerrymandering Now. She says she’s encouraged that so many have signed on to the House Bill, but says it still faces an uphill battle in the Senate.
“Left Party whip Keith Ellison spoke in Washington today in an attempt to rally centrist support for tighter financial regulation—his liberal coalition has support on the issue from Tea Party leader Steve King, but without more Democrats and Republicans the bill is doomed to fail. Leaders of the Green Party have yet to take a stance on the bill but …”
This might sound absurd in the United States, but it’s not as crazy elsewhere in the world. The American system of government is stable, popular, and backed by the Constitution—and dominated by two political parties. A political system comprised of multiple, smaller parties and shifting coalitions may be unimaginable in America, but it’s the norm in most other democracies. While the United States is one of the world’s oldest democracies, and spreading democracy is a central tenet of the country’s foreign policy, our winner-take-all system itself is among our least-popular exports. In Western Europe, 21 of 28 countries use a form of proportional representation in at least one type of election. What is proportional representation, or PR? It’s a system that aims to gives parties the same percentage of seats as the percentage of votes they receive—and it might be able to end our gerrymandering wars.
Editorials: How To Run For Congress in a District That Doesn’t Exist | Jack Fitzpatrick/National Journal
Andy Tobin has an odd problem. The Arizona Republican thinks he can win a House seat in 2016 after his 2014 bid to unseat a Democratic incumbent fell just short. But as he prepares his next bid, he can’t say for sure what district he’ll run in, or even if, by 2016, the districts he’s currently eyeing will still exist. That’s because the fate of Arizona’s electoral map is currently sitting before the Supreme Court. The court will hear arguments next month in a case that pits Arizona’s Republican-led legislature against a state commission that was assigned to draw its Congressional districts. The commission was created in 2000 in order to stop gerrymandering and create competitive districts, but lawmakers say that process was unconstitutional because the authority to draw districts should belong solely to the state’s elected officials. After the March arguments, the court will likely issue a ruling by the end of its term in late June. And when the ruling comes down, it has the potential to shake up the Congressional map not just in Arizona, but in a host of states (including California) that have looked outside their legislatures for help drawing the boundaries of their Congressional districts.
Maryland almost certainly will not enact reforms to the way it redraws legislative and congressional districts this year because the most powerful proponent of the idea, Gov. Larry Hogan, isn’t pushing it. He wants a commission to study the issue and provide advice on the best way to remove partisan politics from the process, and given the variety of reforms other states have tried in that vein, his approach makes sense. But he’d better not wait for long, otherwise the unique conditions that make this reform possible will soon evaporate. Many of the Democrats who control Maryland’s General Assembly would probably agree philosophically that district lines should be drawn without party politics in mind, and few would be willing to mount a defense of the state’s Congressional districts, which are generally considered among the nation’s most gerrymandered. But the reason reform efforts have gone nowhere in the past is that the Democratic powers that be viewed them as unilateral disarmament in the face of aggressive gerrymandering in Republican-dominated states. Indeed, a number of Democratic lawmakers have explicitly suggested that Maryland should not enact such reforms unless it could recruit a buddy state dominated by Republicans to make an offsetting switch at the same time. That’s another way of saying it’s never going to happen.
Some state lawmakers are hopeful the stars are aligned for Maryland to change the way it draws its political districts — a process that has resulted in some of the most convoluted maps in America. Their hopes were bolstered recently when Republican Gov. Larry Hogan devoted part of his first State of the State address to a call for redistricting reform. “We have some of the most gerrymandered districts in the country. This is not a distinction that we should be proud of,” Hogan said. “Gerrymandering is a form of political gamesmanship that stifles real political debate and deprives citizens of meaningful choices.” Hogan said he would create a commission to study the state’s redistricting system, but some lawmakers are not waiting for its findings. They are proposing bills aimed at taking politics out of a process that has helped Democrats achieve lopsided majorities in the General Assembly and turn the congressional delegation from a 4-4 split in the 1990s to a 7-1 advantage over Republicans.
State lawmakers draw the boundaries that define the communities they represent in the House of Delegates and Senate, and those of their counterparts in the U.S. Congress. It’s an arrangement enshrined in Virginia’s constitution, a document adopted in 1971 and reflective of the technical limitations of that era. But as each decade has passed, lawmakers have managed to precisely draw boundaries in a way that tilts elections before they are held. A combination of voting records, population data and sophisticated software has permitted lawmakers and their partisan surrogates to identify and assign voters to districts in proportions that protect incumbents and political power. That explains how eight of Virginia’s 11 congressional races last fall were won by a margin of at least 20 percentage points. Or how, in 2013, barely half of the House of Delegates seats were contested. Or how, in 2011, just six of 40 seats in the state Senate were decided by 10 points or fewer. The winner of most races is determined long before Election Day. The electorally corrupt current system serves solely to preserve political power. It is designed to dilute voters’ voices.
When is a legislature not a legislature? That odd question could have big implications for election law. The U.S. Supreme Court is about to hear arguments in a case brought by Arizona legislators challenging the authority of the state’s independent redistricting commission, which was set up by voters through a ballot initiative back in 2000. The federal Constitution states that election law shall be crafted “in each state by the legislature thereof.” The idea that this clause refers to anything other than the legislature itself is “wholly specious,” argues Arizona Senate President Andy Biggs. The commission’s lawyer, however, notes that the high court has previously held that the word “legislature” in the Constitution doesn’t necessarily mean the literal legislature, but rather the state’s lawmaking process on the whole. But the fact that the Supreme Court agreed to hear this case in the first place might mean some of the justices are ready to rethink this interpretation.
Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday he will form a bipartisan commission to explore reforming Maryland’s legislative redistricting process. Hogan said his goal is to give the authority of redrawing the state’s legislative districts to an independent, bipartisan commission. Currently, the shaping of legislative districts every 10 years in Maryland is largely in the hands of the governor, who submits a proposed map to the Legislature, which votes on it. Critics say Maryland has some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the country. Gerrymandering is the process in which state officials draw congressional districts to benefit their party. “This is not a distinction that we should be proud of,” Hogan said near the end of his first State of the State speech. Hogan said he would form a commission by executive order to explore reforms.