| Detroit Free Presss turned in more than 425,000 petition signatures to the Secretary of State Monday in an effort to recast how political district lines are drawn in the state. Volunteers for the group have been ubiquitous across the state, collecting the necessary 315,654 petition signatures from registered Michigan voters that are needed to get the constitutional amendment on the ballot. With a cushion of more than 100,000 signatures, the group is confident that a review of the petitions will survive and the issue will get on the November 2018 ballot. “The people of Michigan have come together to make it clear they want voters to choose their politicians, not the other way around,” said Katie Fahey, president of the group. “Michigan voters in November will have the opportunity to fix that system to bring transparency and accountability back into our democracy.”
I first got interested in gerrymandering on that long-ago night in 2012 when President Obama was re-elected. By 10 PM, it was clear that Obama had won. The next morning, I took a closer look at the returns. I grew up, and currently live, in Harris County, Texas, which includes much of the Houston metropolitan area. After Los Angeles County, California, and Cook County, Illinois, ours is the third-most populous county in the nation. Its population, close to 4.6 million, is greater than the populations of twenty-seven states. So I was stunned to see that Obama was ahead of Romney by two. Not 2 percent. Not 0.2 percent. Not 2,000. Two votes: 579,070 to 579,068. I looked for the fine print. But with nearly 99.2 percent of precincts reporting, these were the numbers. (That last 0.8 percent turned out more heavily for Obama. He won by 971 votes, out of 1,188,585 cast.) That made Harris County, by far, the most closely divided large population center in the country. Under a truly representative system, a county this large and this evenly divided would hold the key to the House of Representatives, and thus open one of the doors to national power. You would expect every race to be hotly contested, wildly expensive, and closely watched. They almost never are.
The Supreme Court said Friday that it will hear a challenge to Maryland’s congressional districts brought by seven Republican voters who say the state’s 2011 redistricting violated their First Amendment rights. In a case that has been watched closely by state political leaders and that has already been to the Supreme Court once before, the seven voters will now have an opportunity to bring their novel argument before the justices: that the redistricting amounted to a retaliation against them because of how they voted. The court heard a separate redistricting case in October filed by Wisconsin Democrats over that state’s legislative districts that some believed could have bearing on the Maryland litigation. Taking the second case suggests that redistricting will feature even more prominently during the court’s current term.
North Carolina: Judge denies legislators’ early hearing request in racial gerrymandering case | Winston-Salem Journal
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles has refused a request to hold a crucial hearing in North Carolina’s racial gerrymandering case two weeks sooner than scheduled. Ruling on behalf of the 3-judge panel overseeing the lawsuit, Eagles said the Republican legislators were seeking to “impose their own expedited schedule on the court, the special master and other parties at virtually the last moment.” “The court anticipates that the January 5 hearing will begin with a short presentation by the special master as to his recommendations,” Eagle said in the order. “Thereafter, each side will have one hour to present oral argument in support of their position.”
A political scientist serving as an expert for voters challenging Pennsylvania’s congressional districts testified Monday that “extreme partisan intent” by Republicans appears to have been the predominant factor in producing a map that has disproportionately favored GOP candidates. University of Michigan professor Jowei Chen said during the first day of a Commonwealth Court hearing over the 2011 maps that none of the hundreds of computer simulations he has run has produced a map so favorable to Republicans. In recent elections, Republicans have had a durable 13-5 advantage among the congressional delegation, and the lawsuit claims the maps are so partisan they violate the state constitution. “Whichever way you slice and dice the data, the enacted plan is a 13-5 Republican plan,” Chen said.
Editorials: Is the Supreme Court finally ready to tackle partisan gerrymandering? Signs suggest yes | Richard Hasen/Los Angeles Times
Is the Supreme Court about to cause great political upheaval by getting into the business of policing the worst partisan gerrymanders? Signs from last week suggest that it well might. At the very beginning of its term back in October, the court heard oral arguments in Gill vs. Whitford, a case challenging Wisconsin’s plan for drawing districts for its state Assembly. Republican legislators drew the lines to give them a great advantage in these elections. Even when Democrats won more than majority of votes cast in the Assembly elections, Republicans controlled about 60% of the seats. The court has for many years refused to police such gerrymandering. Conservative justices suggested that the question was “nonjusticiable” (meaning the cases could not be heard by the courts) because there were no permissible standards for determining when partisanship in drawing district lines went too far. Liberals came forward with a variety of tests. And Justice Anthony M. Kennedy stood in the middle, as he often does. He argued that all the tests liberals proposed didn’t work, while trying to keep the courthouse door open for new tests.
The Supreme Court announced Friday it will add a second case this term to determine whether partisan gerrymandering is unconstitutional, accepting a challenge from Maryland Republicans who say the state’s dominant Democrats drew a congressional district that violated their rights. The court already has heard a challenge from Wisconsin Democrats, who challenged a legislative redistricting drawn by the state’s Republican leaders. The cases could reshape the way American elections are conducted. The Supreme Court has never thrown out a state’s redistricting efforts due to partisan gerrymandering, and political parties consider drawing the map one of the perks of being in charge of state government.
Testimony in a fast-tracked lawsuit alleging gerrymandering got underway in Pa. Commonwealth Court Monday. The case could force a new state congressional map before the 2018 midterm election. Eighteen registered Democrats — one from each congressional district — claim Pennsylvania’s map was drawn unfairly by state GOP leaders to advantage Republicans. Congressional maps have to follow certain rules, such as distributing equal numbers of voters between districts. Advocates for fairer congressional maps say it’s also a best practice to avoid dividing counties and municipalities when drawing district boundary lines.
By some measures, Pennsylvania’s Congressional districts are among the most gerrymandered in the nation.
But the resulting district maps are being challenged, and one case is slated to begin today in Commonwealth Court. The League of Women Voters is bringing the lawsuit on behalf of registered voters from all over the state.
They’re accusing Republicans of intentionally designing districts so that Democrats’ votes are diluted, which they argue is a violation of the state constitution’s equal protection clause. They are calling for a new map.
The federal trial over Pennsylvania’s congressional district map wrapped up in a Philadelphia courtroom on Thursday with a string of stirring closing arguments before a three-judge panel. During four days of deliberations, a group of more than 20 Pennsylvania voters challenged the way Republican lawmakers drew the state’s congressional districts in 2011, asserting a gerrymandering scheme that violates the U.S. Constitution. If the voters are successful, they could trigger a new congressional map impacting the 2018 midterm elections when all 18 of Pennsylvania’s seats in the U.S. House of Representative could be contested.
Editorials: In Pennsylvania gerrymander case, experts can’t defend the indefensible | Nicholas Stephanopoulos/Philadelphia Inquirer
Pennsylvania is no stranger to partisan gerrymandering disputes. In a blockbuster 2004 case, the Supreme Court declined to strike down the congressional map then in effect. The court didn’t quite hold that the map was lawful; rather, it couldn’t think of a workable standard for evaluating the map’s validity. Another gerrymandering suit is now making its way through the Pennsylvania courts, with a decision expected by the end of the year. But unlike its predecessor, this suit is based on a manageable test as well as a mountain of damning evidence. Perhaps for this reason, it has thoroughly flummoxed the state’s lawyers and experts.
On the second day of trial in a federal case over partisan gerrymandering and the constitutionality of Pennsylvania’s congressional district map, seven voters named as plaintiffs in the case testified that they believe their vote doesn’t count. They’re calling for a new map in time for the 2018 midterm election, when all 18 of Pennsylvania’s congressional seats are up for grabs. Louis Agre, 63, a leader in Philadelphia’s Democratic party, complained that elections aren’t competitive enough in the 2nd congressional district.
A lawyer for a group of Democratic voters in Pennsylvania told a federal court Monday that it should throw out the state’s congressional district map favoring Republican candidates because it was created to be “voter-proof.” Thomas Geoghehan noted that Pennsylvania is a swing state that supported both Barack Obama and Donald Trump for president. Control of power in the state has been topsy-turvy, alternating the party of governors, for instance, and electing U.S. senators from opposing parties. Under the previous map, congressional representation changed from election to election. But since 2012, Republicans have won 13 of the state’s 18 districts in each election — even in 2012, when more votes were cast for Democrats than Republicans in House races statewide.
Advocates of radically overhauling partisan gerrymandering are increasingly looking to ballot initiatives to reform the redistricting process, in hopes of circumventing recalcitrant legislatures. Supporters of a proposal to create a nonpartisan redistricting commission in Michigan say they will turn in more than 400,000 signatures by the end of the year. They need 315,000 of those signatures to be valid in order to qualify for next year’s ballot. In Ohio, a coalition of organizations is in the process of collecting the 305,591 valid signatures they need to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot. And in Colorado, another coalition plans two ballot initiatives — one that would reform congressional redistricting, and another to reform legislative redistricting.
With gerrymandering being one of the highest-profile cases to go before the U.S. Supreme Court this session , the issue has taken center stage as lawmakers prepare for another round of redistricting based off the 2020 census. Lawmakers across the country re-draw political district boundaries every decade, but gerrymandering happens when those lines are drawn to give themselves an unfair advantage. Redistricting is a normal and important element of U.S. government, but the line between redistricting and gerrymandering can be fuzzy. With technology drastically improving mapping software and the data behind it, there are more tools to effectively gerrymander districts than ever before. “Redistricting has always been a controversial issue because it’s political,” said Dr. Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida. “You really have to go back, some of the odd-shaped districts are the result of, actually, an order of the U.S. Supreme Court years ago.”
North Carolina: ‘Race-based redistricting’ imposed on NC ‘against its will,’ lawmakers say | News & Observer
Lawmakers and the challengers of maps proposed for electing North Carolina’s General Assembly members waited until the 11th hour to respond to districts suggested by an unaffiliated mapmaker. Lawmakers were critical of the process, saying the federal judges who tapped a Stanford University law professor to draw maps for them had done so prematurely and allowed him to consider race as he looked at election districts in Cumberland, Guilford, Hoke, Mecklenburg, Wake, Bladen, Sampson and Wayne counties. The three federal judges presiding over the case that will determine what districts North Carolina’s state Senate and House members come from in the 2018 elections have yet to rule on maps the lawmakers adopted in August. The judges — James Wynn of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Catherine Eagles and Thomas Schroeder, both of the U.S. Middle District of North Carolina — ordered new lines after the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed their ruling last year that found 28 of the state legislative districts were longstanding unconstitutional racial gerrymanders.
A map-making expert brought in by federal judges to rework North Carolina’s House and Senate districts released his proposal Monday. Attorneys on both sides of the underlying lawsuit requiring new maps have until Friday to recommend changes for a plan that’s due Dec. 1 to the federal judges overseeing the redraw. That panel of three judges could accept that map, drawn by Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily, or stick with something closer to what the General Assembly’s Republican majority submitted earlier this year. The attorneys who initially sued to change the state’s maps argue that the GOP’s redraw didn’t fully address the racial gerrymander found by the judges and affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Utah: Judge is poised to ‘adjust gerrymandering with gerrymandering,’ giving Navajos an edge in southern Utah county | The Salt Lake Tribune
History may be in the making in San Juan County this week when a judge holds hearings that could place the Navajo community in the political driver’s seat — a stark departure from the past century dominated by Anglos. On Thursday, federal Judge Robert Shelby will hold public hearings in Monticello at 10:30 a.m. and Bluff at 3:30 p.m. regarding several map proposals — all of which most likely would lead to Navajos holding majorities on the two most powerful government bodies in the county.
On November 7th, in Washington, D.C., after delivering a speech to the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, Eric Holder grabbed his Blackberry in search of results from the Virginia elections. As the former Attorney General scrolled backward through a long e-mail thread, he quickly learned just how stunning a night it had been for the Democrats. He also understood that, after this triumph, it might be a little harder to keep his party focussed on gerrymandering. “The system didn’t become more fair as a result of what happened last night,” Holder told me the next day. “The system appears to be more fair in spite of the reality that those Democratic candidates faced. The job that I have is to make sure people don’t become complacent.”
North Carolina: Court-appointed specialist draws new maps for gerrymandered House, Senate districts | Greensboro News & Record
An outside expert appointed by a federal court to help redraw some North Carolina legislative districts that judges worry remained unconstitutional — including at least two in Guilford County — has suggested changes. On Monday, Stanford University law professor Nathaniel Persily filed his preliminary House and Senate plans. He also requested formal responses from Republican legislative leaders who originally drew the boundaries and from voters who successfully sued over them. Judges want Persily’s final proposal by Dec. 1. Judges have said four districts redrawn last summer by GOP legislators still appeared to preserve illegal racial bias, so Persily said he redrew compact replacements for them. He also retooled several districts in and around Charlotte and Raleigh because of potential state constitutional problems.
In most states, the legislature is in charge of designing Congressional and state voting districts.
Pennsylvania isn’t unique in that respect. But some say the commonwealth is home to some of the nation’s starkest examples of gerrymandering — where the shape of a voting district is manipulated to produce the outcome desired by the party in charge. The term is over 200 years old. It was coined by a Boston newspaper’s coverage of maps produced in Massachusetts in 1812 during the term of Gov. Elbridge Gerry, which featured a salamander-shaped district loosely coiled around Boston.
Although the Virginia governorship was Tuesday’s marquee race, the Virginia House of Delegates produced the day’s most surprising result. Democrats picked up at least 15 seats and reduced a 66 to 34 Republican advantage to, at most, 51 to 49. A gerrymandered chamber thought to be safely Republican suddenly became a toss-up — and may yet flip to Democratic control after all the recounts are completed. This unexpected outcome raises the question: Can gerrymandering really be such a problem if a party’s legislative edge can virtually disappear overnight? This question is especially important at present, as the Supreme Court mulls over Gill vs. Whitford, a potentially historic case about redistricting in Wisconsin. The question also has a clear answer: Of course gerrymandering is deeply troublesome even if it can be overcome, at least temporarily, by a wave election.The question also has a clear answer: Of course gerrymandering is deeply troublesome even if it can be overcome, at least temporarily, by a wave election.
Pennsylvania: In case that could affect 2018 elections, high court rules gerrymandering suit can proceed | Philadelphia Inquirer
In a case that could force the redrawing of congressional maps before the 2018 elections, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Thursday ordered the Commonwealth Court to decide a gerrymandering lawsuit by the end of the year. “We will have our day in court, and we will get a decision and a resolution of this matter in time for the 2018 election,” said Mimi McKenzie, the legal director of Philadelphia-based Public Interest Law Center, which represents the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania in the case. If the districts are, in fact, redrawn before next year’s midterm elections, the result could have national implications. New districts could give Democrats a boost in competitive, Republican-held districts just outside Philadelphia as they push to take control of the U.S. House. “It’s something that has broad national implications,” said Michael Li, senior redistrict counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University.
As the Supreme Court considers Gill v. Whitford, a challenge to the practice of partisan gerrymandering that may rewrite the rules used to draw congressional districts, a team of computer scientists has come up with a new algorithmic approach to redistricting that’s less political and more mathematical. In a paper posted on arXiv.org, the researchers describe a computerized method for dividing state populations evenly into compact polygonal districts that average six or fewer sides. The neatly arrayed districts are a stark contrast to gerrymandered districts, which are stretched and contorted to provide an overall congressional advantage for one political party or another. “What we’re trying to do is come up with a system that makes it hard to engineer districts for political gain,” said Philip Klein, a computer scientist at Brown University and a coauthor of the paper. “It doesn’t give the user much freedom in deciding how the lines are drawn, which we view as a good thing because that freedom can be abused.”
Maryland: AG’s office argues against Supreme Court review of 6th District gerrymandering claim | Frederick News-Post
Maryland’s attorney general is asking the Supreme Court to reject the appeal of 6th District Republicans challenging the state’s congressional district map. In a filing last week, Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) asked the Supreme Court to affirm a U.S. District Court decision not to impose a preliminary injunction that would have required a new statewide map before the 2018 election. A three-judge panel at the U.S. District Court in Baltimore ruled in August that the need for the “extraordinary remedy” of a preliminary injunction had not yet been proved by the plaintiffs. The judges also issued a “stay” in the case, postponing further filings until the Supreme Court’s decision on a different gerrymandering case from Wisconsin.
Seizing on a national spotlight about the drawing of political maps, Louisiana residents trying to rework the state’s system for divvying up electoral districts on Wednesday (Nov. 1) announced a January summit they hope will bring about changes. “We have a problem with the current structure,” said Stephen Kearny, chairman of the event and co-founder of a grassroots, bipartisan group called Fair Districts Louisiana. “No matter how virtuous our politicians are, the conflict of interest in being able to choose your own voters in itself provokes bad behavior.” Fair Districts Louisiana is working with LSU’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs on the daylong summit on Jan. 19. The event aims to start talks about revamping Louisiana’s current map-drawing method ahead of the next redistricting cycle tied to the 2020 Census.
Republican leaders in Pennsylvania’s General Assembly on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to put on ice a federal lawsuit challenging the state’s congressional districts approved after the 2010 census. House Speaker Mike Turzai and Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati asked Justice Samuel Alito in a filing for a stay of the lawsuit by five Pennsylvania voters against the governor and elections officials. The request said a trial in the case could occur in about a month, as the justices are considering a Wisconsin gerrymandering case with what they call “substantively identical claims.” A lawyer for the plaintiffs said Wednesday they oppose the request to Alito and said they were prepared to respond.
Wisconsin: Report: Robin Vos confronted John Kasich over Wisconsin redistricting position | Wisconsin State Journal
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos confronted 2016 presidential candidate and Ohio Gov. John Kasich in September over his stance on partisan redistricting in Wisconsin, according to a report published Sunday in New York magazine. During a meeting of national statehouse leaders in Columbus, Ohio, Kasich “got into a tussle” with Vos after the Republican from Rochester brought up the U.S. Supreme Court case involving redistricting in Wisconsin, the report said. According to the report, Vos “amicably” approached Kasich, who is also a Republican, during the meeting and then swore at him for supporting the challenge to Wisconsin’s legislative districts, which opponents say unfairly benefit GOP candidates.
Ohio: Emails, documents are stark reminder of Ohio’s secret gerrymandering process | Cleveland Plain Dealer
For weeks in 2011, state-paid contractors, on leave from their public jobs for Republican lawmakers, worked secretly in a hotel room described as the “bunker” to create political maps aimed at creating safe Republican districts for most of Ohio’s congressional delegation.
The maps, drawn in part with guidance from national Republican Party leaders and the staff of U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner, often disregarded community concerns and instead focused on political gains by creating districts that in some cases weave more than 100 miles across the state. It worked. In three election cycles since, no seat has changed party hands – a 12-4 GOP majority despite a much closer overall vote.
American politicians are often compared to children. They finger-point, they’re stubborn and, at times, they can be downright manipulative. According to Justin Levitt, a law professor and associate dean for research at Loyola Law School, this immature behavior comes out in full force when it comes to drawing boundaries for voting districts. Levitt has written extensively about crafting electoral lines on his website All About Redistricting. He says that even though unfair redistricting can make the difference between voices being heard and voices being drowned out, politicians will often create these boundaries to best suit their own needs. But sometimes, when drawing questionable lines, lawmakers can get their hands caught in the cookie jar.