Nearly half of all voters this fall will have little choice in who represents them in the Wisconsin Legislature. That’s because 55 of 116 legislative seats up for election will be uncontested or lack a major-party challenger, according to a tally by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. This is true even though an unusually large number of incumbents, 29, are leaving the Legislature. Open seats typically invite more competition. Yet the total number of candidates for state Senate and Assembly — 246 — is among the lowest over the last eight elections, the Taxpayers Alliance found. A lot of factors may dissuade potential candidates from running, including the nasty and expensive nature of campaigns.
As Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis begins his final deliberations on congressional districts drawn by lawmakers in 2012, the gaps in conversations among lawmakers and political consultants might be as important as what’s in the record. Groups challenging the map have painted the words not committed to paper, and documents destroyed by the Legislature, as evidence of improper activity. The state has countered that there’s no proof that those gaps contain any damning information. A coalition of voting-rights groups filed a lawsuit after the once-a-decade redistricting process in 2012, saying the new map ran afoul of the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments that voters approved two years earlier.
Florida: Voting-rights groups blast Legislature for secrecy, favoritism in drawing congressional districts | Florida Times-Union
A state judge has the power to decide that Florida’s congressional districts were illegally drawn to favor Republicans — and he should do just that, a coalition of voting-rights organizations argues in written closing arguments. In arguing that the districts violate a voter-approved Constitutional amendment specifically prohibiting such political favoritism, the plaintiffs fired a volley of salvos following 12 days of testimony in a landmark trial. “The 2012 congressional plan is exactly what one would expect from a legislature that fought the Fair Districts amendments at every hedgerow, involved partisan operatives in its decision-making, and made key decisions outside of the public eye,” the plaintiffs wrote to Circuit Judge Terry Lewis.
A Leon County judge should throw out the state’s current congressional districts as illegal because they were drawn as part of a secret process that favored Republicans, according to new filings from a coalition of voting-rights organizations opposed to the map. In a brief and a proposed ruling for Circuit Judge Terry Lewis to consider, the plaintiffs in a trial that ended last week tried to tie together the threads of 12 days of testimony about congressional districts approved by the Legislature in 2012 as part of the once-a-decade redistricting process. The brief, in particular, is meant to substitute for closing statements that were canceled because of a scheduling issue.
A Florida circuit judge will decide by the end of this month whether Republican legislators violated a state constitutional amendment in 2012 when they drew district maps for seats in the Legislature and Congress. But the recently concluded trial already has demonstrated that lawmakers at minimum violated the public’s trust with their secretive methods. In 2010 voters approved the “Fair Districts” amendments, which stipulated that when state lawmakers meet every 10 years to redraw legislative and congressional boundaries, they could no longer favor incumbents or members of a political party (a process known as “gerrymandering,” which both parties have engaged in when they held the majority).
The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider challenges from Democratic lawmakers who say the Alabama Legislature packed minority voters into a few districts, diluting their voting power. In another case from Alabama last year, the Supreme Court effectively struck down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which has required permission from the federal authorities before states may change their voting procedures. In a supporting brief, Alabama had urged the court to rule that way. In the new case, the state argues that Section 5 partly justified the legislative maps, which were drawn using data from the 2010 census at a time when Section 5 still stood.
The coalition of groups trying to prove Florida’s congressional map was intentionally gerrymandered to help Republicans turned to experts Tuesday who testified it was “virtually impossible” to have drawn the maps without political bias. The trial over Florida’s congressional maps drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature and challenged by the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs began its second week Tuesday with GOP operative Frank Terraferma testifying again about maps he had drawn and passed along to another GOP consultant, Rich Heffley. Similar versions of the maps were later publicly submitted to the Legislature by an engineering student at Florida State University. Terraferma has said repeatedly last Friday and Tuesday he didn’t know how the maps he drew ended up being submitted by the student.
A high-stakes trial that could decide the future of the state’s congressional districts began Monday in Tallahassee , as a Republican political consultant testified that he didn’t influence the drawing of U.S. House lines in 2012. The testimony of Marc Reichelderfer marked the beginning of the first-ever court battle over the state’s once-a-decade redistricting process under the anti-gerrymandering Fair Districts amendments. Those constitutional standards, passed by voters in 2010, bar lawmakers from drawing lines intended to harm or favor parties or candidates when overhauling legislative and congressional districts after each U.S. Census. Over three weeks, members of the Tallahassee establishment ranging from behind-the-scenes aides and consultants like Reichelderfer to high-profile politicians like House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz are expected to answer questions about their role in redistricting as it unfolded two years ago. Weatherford and Gaetz could testify as soon as this week; former House Speaker Dean Cannon is also expected to be called to the stand during the trial.
Lawyers sparred Wednesday in federal court over whether race or politics were the main drivers in drawing the state’s 3rd Congressional District, as trial began in a lawsuit accusing the Virginia General Assembly of “racial gerrymandering.” The Richmond Times-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/1m6JU28) reports plaintiffs’ attorneys allege that the Legislature packed African-American voters into Virginia’s only black majority congressional district. They say that made neighboring districts safer for Republicans. “Race, not politics, was the motive, (and) the defendants cannot show any evidence that the Voting Rights Act required them to increase the black voting bloc. There is no evidence for a political quota,” Kevin Hamilton, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told a panel headed by Judge Robert E. Payne of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.
A court fight over Florida’s political landscape kicked off Friday, as attorneys for the Republican-controlled Legislature and groups suing them clashed over the question of whether legislators intended to thwart the will of voters when they drew new districts for congressional seats in 2012.
Lawsuits were first filed two years ago. The trial is scheduled to start this month in a dispute that could ultimately change the current makeup of the state’s congressional delegation, where Republicans hold a sizable majority. In an effort to speed up the 11-day, non-jury proceedings, both sides were allowed to give their opening statements Friday. David King, an attorney representing the League of Women Voters and other groups suing the state, told Judge Terry Lewis that legislators used a “shadow process,” which allowed them to circumvent a constitutional mandate prohibiting legislators from drawing districts intended to protect incumbents or members of a certain political party.
Virginia is one of several states where Democrats have gone to court to challenge redistricting plans drawn by Republicans seeking to keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives. Marc Elias, an attorney for the National Democratic Redistricting Trust, represents two Virginia voters in a lawsuit that accuses the General Assembly of “racial gerrymandering” by improperly packing African-Americans into the state’s only black-majority congressional district to make adjacent districts safer for GOP incumbents. A trial is set for this month. “We’re trying to remedy what we believe is an unconstitutional map drawn by the legislature,” Elias said. Democrats have also challenged GOP-drawn redistricting plans in other states — including Texas, Florida, Nevada and Missouri — but they are not alone in employing the tactic. Republicans also have asked courts to invalidate Democrat-produced remapping in a few states.
Arizona Republican voters lost a challenge to an electoral districts map for the state assembly that they said favors Democrats by putting too many voters in districts with Republican majorities. A panel of federal judges voted 2-1 to reject the argument that the redrawn map by the state’s Independent Redistricting Commission violated the constitutional rights of Republican voters to equal protection and can’t be used in elections. “We conclude that the population deviations were primarily a result of good-faith efforts to comply with the Voting Rights Act, and that even though partisanship played some role in the design of the map, the Fourteenth Amendment challenge fails,” according to the panel’s majority opinion.
Take a look at Virginia’s congressional delegation and you might think it’s the same old reliably Republican state that backed 10 GOP presidential candidates in a row, starting with Richard Nixon in 1968. But that 8-3 Republican advantage in the delegation is misleading. Democrats have won every recent statewide election. President Barack Obama broke the GOP winning streak and carried Virginia in 2008 and 2012. Both of the state’s U.S. senators are Democrats. And last fall, Democrats swept the top three statewide offices – governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general – for the first time in 24 years. “Virginia really stands alone when we talk about how rapidly this state has moved from a reliably red state to a purple state,” said Stephen J. Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. “The Democrats are clearly in the ascendancy and have rapidly moved from underdog status to really the dominant party in statewide elections. That’s not reflected in the state House of Delegates and Congress because of gerrymandering.”
Island geography, a politically balanced commission and dominance in all politics by Democrats means redistricting and reapportionment issues are different in Hawaii than in other U.S. states. The islands haven’t seen significant impacts from gerrymandering in a state that voted 70 percent for President Barack Obama in 2012 and has had only three Republicans among 21 federal lawmakers since statehood. Hawaii has two U.S. House districts to go along with its two senators. The reapportionment and redistricting process is done every 10 years, governed by a commission created by the state constitution.
Ohio: Election history will repeat itself in Ohio districts drawn to favor one party or the other | Cleveland Plain Dealer
Any way you define “suspense,” the word doesn’t apply to Ohio’s November election, at least as to General Assembly and congressional contests. Districts drawn by Republicans favor Republicans, and so the legislature will continue to be Republican-run, and even though Ohio twice voted for Barack Obama, most of Ohio’s U.S. House members will be Republican. Yes, history proves that Ohio Democrats, when they could, drew tilted districts, though that was a while ago. Yes also, when Democrats last ran the Ohio House, they cold-shouldered a reasonable plan to at least try to make Ohio General Assembly and congressional districts less one-sided. Drawing tilted maps is called “gerrymandering,” named for a Massachusetts governor, Gerry (rhymes with “Gary”), who signed a slanted remap in the Bay State in 1812. So, if Democrats somehow run the Ohio General Assembly in 2021, after 2020’s census, they’ll draw Ohio’s congressional districts to suit Democrats. If Republicans run things, they’ll do the same for the GOP.
Nebraska legislators are weighing a bill that would reinstate a “winner-take-all” system of awarding presidential electoral votes. The state’s unicameral legislature is in its second day of debating a bill that would scrap Nebraska’s two-decade-old system of awarding one electoral vote per congressional district and two electoral votes to the statewide winner. Nebraska, which has three districts and five electoral votes, and Maine are the only two states that eschew the winner-take-all system and use this district-based system instead.
Nebraska: Filibuster likely to sink Nebraska’s electoral votes winner-take-all bill | Omaha World Herald
There have been at least 10 unsuccessful attempts at overturning Nebraska’s unique system of awarding its Electoral College votes for president by congressional district. And, as a legislative filibuster against the latest attempt to return Nebraska to a winner-take-all system droned on Wednesday morning, it appeared more and more likely that 2014 would be the latest failed effort. “It’s ‘good night Irene’ for this bill. There will not be a vote on it,” said State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha. Chambers, a registered independent, has pledged an all-out filibuster against Legislative Bill 382, which has sparked a partisan political debate about how best to gain presidential campaign attention for a small state like Nebraska. The bill would have the state join the 48 states that award all electoral votes to the presidential candidate who gains the most votes statewide. Right now, Nebraska and Maine are the only states that award their electoral votes to the top vote-getter in each congressional district.
Do the Republicans owe their current congressional majority to gerrymandering? At first glance, it seems self-evident that they do. In the 2012 election, the Democrats won the popular votes for the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives. But somehow in the House — for whose seats Republicans controlled the redistricting process in many crucial states — the Republicans managed to end up with a 16-seat majority despite losing the popular vote. The presumption among many reformers is that the Democrats would control Congress today if the 2012 election had been contested in districts drawn by nonpartisan commissioners rather than politicians. But is this true? Another possibility is that Democrats receive more votes than seats because so many of their voters reside in dense cities that Democratic candidates win with overwhelming majorities, while Republican voters are more evenly distributed across exurbs and the rural periphery. Perhaps even a nonpartisan redistricting process would still have delivered the House to the Republicans.
Civil rights advocates and some progressives are voicing concerns about a bipartisan Voting Rights Act overhaul introduced in both houses of Congress Thursday. The proposal would reinstate federal oversight of states with a recent history of voter discrimination, though it leaves voter ID laws off the list of grievances that qualify as discrimination. The original Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965 and amended most recently in 2006, subjected states and counties that had historically used a “test or device” like literacy tests or racial gerrymandering to restrict voting to special oversight—any new election laws in those places had to be approved as nondiscriminatory by the federal government.
A coalition of groups is trying to take the politics out of the most political activity in state government: drawing legislative and congressional districts. The latest effort to end gerrymandering comes from groups representing organizations as diverse as the John Locke Foundation and the NC Policy Watch. The NC Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is holding community meetings across the state – the next will be Wednesday night in Apex – to drum up support for a big change that would likely lead to more legislative and congressional races. Efforts to cut ties between legislators and political mapmaking have been going on for years. But this is the first community campaign on the issue, said Jane Pinsky, the coalition’s director. Organizers hope to build enough support for nonpartisan redistricting to get a bill passed calling for a constitutional amendment on the 2016 ballot, she said.
It’s the latest fad among state officials looking to make voting harder: We’re not racist, we’re just partisan. Some background: In June, the Supreme Court struck down a core provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, under which nine states and portions of others had to get federal approval before changing their election laws. One of those states, Texas, is again in court, facing a Justice Department suit seeking to get the state under federal oversight again. To do so, the Justice Department must prove intentional racial discrimination. Texas’ defense? It’s discrimination, all right — but it’s on the basis of party, not race, and therefore it’s O.K. Says Texas: “It is perfectly constitutional for a Republican-controlled legislature to make partisan districting decisions, even if there are incidental effects on minority voters who support Democratic candidates.” Leaving aside that whopper — laws that dilute black and Hispanic voting power have more than an “incidental” impact — the statement, part of a court filing in August, was pretty brazen. Minority voters, in Texas and elsewhere, tend to support Democrats. So Republican officials, especially but not only in the South, want to reduce early voting; impose voter-identification requirements; restrict voter registration; and, critically, draw districts either to crowd as many minority voters into as few districts as possible, or dilute concentrations of minority voters by dispersing them into as many white-controlled districts as possible.
Ol’ Elbridge Gerry is back in the dock, his namesake “gerrymander” blamed for all that ails our “gridlocked” Congress. Some claim that the House districts drawn by state legislatures in 2011 have reached new heights (or lows) of partisanship. Critics deride the shape of the districts and object to their effect on control of the House. These claims are important, but they ignore the fact that state legislatures have since 1788 sought to influence the selection of members of Congress. The current, computer-aided gerrymandering is only the most recent battle in that perennial fight. When viewed as the “selection” of sympathetic House members by state legislatures, gerrymandering reflects deeper constitutional roots than its critics admit. The Framers of our Constitution granted state legislatures key roles in the election of the members of the Senate and House. Article I of the 1787 Constitution provided for the election of senators by vote of the state legislatures. Members of the House were to be chosen by the vote of the people of each state, but state legislatures would choose the “time, place, and manner” of such direct elections,” though Congress retained power to “alter” such state regulations.
So far the commentary on Judge Richard Posner’s expression of regret over his opinion in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board has featured the reaction of those who object to voter photo ID requirements and now feel vindicated. This is understandable, but if Posner just got it wrong, there is only so much left to say, and he might expect credit for his candor. But Judge Posner’s explanation of Crawford is unsatisfying, and it does not really get at the problem with the approach he took in that case. One difficulty with the explanation is that it is at odds with the larger point Posner wishes to make about the requirements of sound judging. This is his point: that judges don’t possess the information or knowledge to decide cases of a technical nature. About politics, he states, they can be positively “naïve,” as the Court was in Citizens United: they “enmesh themselves deeply in the electoral process without understanding it sufficiently well to be ale to gauge the consequences of their decisions.” Richard A. Posner, Reflections on Judging 84 (2013). It is in this context that he decides to “plead guilty” to having overlooked the partisan abuses of photo ID. Id. But he adds his doubts on the same grounds about recent campaign finance decisions and about political gerrymandering which, he states, is “a practice that in conjunction with the Court’s endorsement of promiscuous campaign donations seems to have poisoned our national politics.” Id.
A scan of recent days’ writing reveals two lines of argument about the Supreme Court’s failings in campaign finance. One holds that the Court’s understanding of politics is weak and leaves it helpless to grasp, in practical terms, the issues presented. It is suggested that Congress knows best; its members, also political candidates, are experts in the electoral process. Others argue that there is hope for the Court but it would require an improvement in the arguments it hears, and Professor Lessig and his allies continue to urge that the Justices be pressed on his “originalist” argument for an expansive view of the corruption—“dependence corruption”—that Congress should be empowered to control. There is more to add in each instance to round out what the proponents of these points of view have chosen to offer. The modern reform program does not generally invest much in the stalwart support of politicians. For the most part it is highly suspicious of pols. In gerrymandering, reform advocates contend that politicians invariably design districts to their narrow political advantage. In campaign finance, the Federal Election Commission is regularly reviled for being a hand-puppet of the two political parties who appoint Commissioners compliant with their wishes. Then there is ongoing accusation that elected officials fail or refuse to police their own ethics, through the legislative disciplinary bodies. In the House, this distrust led to the creation of the Office of Congressional Ethics as an “independent” enforcement mechanism structured to compensate for official fecklessness.
People feel passionately about redistricting. They don’t like how it’s done, or how it’s disadvantaged their party, or both. So when political scientists come along to say “redistricting might matter less than you think”—for the outcomes of the 2012 House elections, for party polarization, for declining electoral competitiveness—people get cranky. For example:
Suck on it Monkey Cage and prove me wrong with maps.
So there’s clearly room for more thinking and discussion about the effects of redistricting. Here are 4 things I think are important to discuss or at least mention.
Having the first modern democracy comes with bugs. Normally we would expect more seats in Congress to go to the political party that receives more votes, but the last election confounded expectations. Democrats received 1.4 million more votes for the House of Representatives, yet Republicans won control of the House by a 234 to 201 margin. This is only the second such reversal since World War II. Using statistical tools that are common in fields like my own, neuroscience, I have found strong evidence that this historic aberration arises from partisan disenfranchisement. Although gerrymandering is usually thought of as a bipartisan offense, the rather asymmetrical results may surprise you. Through artful drawing of district boundaries, it is possible to put large groups of voters on the losing side of every election. The Republican State Leadership Committee, a Washington-based political group dedicated to electing state officeholders, recently issued aprogress report on Redmap, its multiyear plan to influence redistricting. The $30 million strategy consists of two steps for tilting the playing field: take over state legislatures before the decennial Census, then redraw state and Congressional districts to lock in partisan advantages. The plan was highly successful.
You don’t have to look far to find people diagnosing gerrymandering as the source of all of our nation’s woes, including (but surely not limited to) the shutdown. From this perspective, Republicans are gerrymandered into districts so conservative that the GOP is held hostage by ultraconservative primary electorates. Even President Obama has blamed the GOP “fever” on gerrymandering. These concerns are not totally misplaced. Gerrymandering is undemocratic, and it did help consolidate the GOP’s House majority in 2012. But, as I’ve written before, the significance of gerrymandering is exaggerated. Republicans are in safe districts for an incredibly simple reason: Most of the country just isn’t competitive. Take Texas, a famously gerrymandered state. If you want to create competitive districts, you don’t have many great options. Of the state’s 254 counties, 244 were won by either Obama or Romney by at least 10 points. That’s not how it used to be: Back in 1996, 92 counties were within 10 points. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these non-competitive counties tend to be extremely Republican. A whopping 176 of Texas’ 254 counties voted for Romney by more than a 40 point margin (at least 70-30). 81 of those counties voted for Romney by at least 60 points (ie 80-20). So, even a fair map would create plenty of incredibly red, safe, ultraconservative districts.
The Census Bureau has steadfastly resisted calls to end the practice of counting inmates as “residents” of their prisons instead of the cities and towns where they lived and to which they typically return. The bureau’s new director, John Thompson, seems at least open to ending this wrongful practice. Counting inmates at their correctional institutions encourages prison-based gerrymandering, by which state lawmakers draw legislative districts that consist partly or even mainly of prison populations, even though inmates are denied the right to vote in all but two states. This enhances the political power of the mainly rural districts where prisons are built and undercuts the influence of the urban districts where many inmates came from.
A coalition of voting-rights groups trying to get lawmakers to testify about the 2012 redistricting process asked a skeptical Supreme Court on Monday to rule that legislators should not be shielded from speaking in court. Those challenging new district maps under the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” state constitutional amendments are appealing a 1st District Court of Appeal ruling that prevents the legislators who drew the districts from having to testify about “objective” facts about the redistricting process. The Supreme Court has no definitive timeline for ruling on the question. A lower court had initially ruled that the lawmakers should have to testify, though the trial court didn’t order lawmakers to testify about “subjective” issues, like why they made certain decisions.
Texas: Legislative Redistricting Proceeds Under a Cloud: 2014 primaries will use 2013 maps | Austin Chronicle
In what looks increasingly like a split legal decision, a federal court in San Antonio has ruled that the 2014 party primaries will use the maps adopted by the Texas legislature during the 2013 session. However, the court’s ruling also ensures that the lawsuits against those same maps will continue. In a Sept. 6 ruling, U.S. District Circuit Judges Jerry Smith, Orlando Garcia, and Xavier Rodriguez cited prior case precedent that they must defer to the Legislature on maps until there has been a ruling of racially motivated gerrymandering. Simultaneously, however, the judges allowed the plaintiffs – who originally filed suit against the 2011 redistricting – to modify their suits to include the 2013 maps. They also denied a request from the state to dismiss any claims relating to the 2011 maps as moot, noting that “the 2013 plans are heavily derived from the 2011 plans.”