Democrats would need to flip 24 seats to retake the U.S. House in 2018. But at least two-thirds of that tally may be permanently out of reach, thanks to a dirty geographical trick played by Republican lawmakers in 2010. That’s according to a new Brennan Center analysis of gerrymandering — the process lawmakers use to draw legislative districts for their own partisan advantage. A bit of background before we delve into the nitty-gritty. Every 10 years, congressional districts are redrawn following the Census. On paper, this is done to ensure the people’s House is representative of the country’s people — states gain or lose districts based on population changes, and district boundaries shift to reflect our ever-changing demographics.
Both sides in a new Supreme Court test case on partisan gerrymandering – drawing new election districts to favor one party – on Tuesday answered the Justices’ questions about whether the case should stay alive, disagreeing sharply on that. But they also may have raised a broad new question about what voters challenging such partisan-driven maps must do to make a case. If the Justices feel they have to rule on that issue, it could make a major difference to the future of such disputes. Besides that added issue, the two sides’ new briefs may have stirred up a new controversy over who speaks for North Carolina in election cases. That is a complication that led the Justices to refuse last month to decide a major voting rights case from the same state.
Seven individuals challenging Maryland’s 6th Congressional District as unconstitutional are asking a federal court to overturn the state’s voting map or block officials from using it in the 2018 election. John Benisek, a resident of Williamsport, and other residents allege that gerrymandering by Maryland Democrats during the 2010-2011 redistricting process violated their First Amendment rights, diminishing the ability of Republicans to elect candidates of their choice for the congressional seat now held by Rep. John Delaney (D). Plaintiffs’ attorneys deposed some of the state’s leading Democrats, including former governor Martin O’Malley, who said he felt a responsibility to make the seat more winnable for Democrats. The seat was held at the time by Roscoe Bartlett (R), and O’Malley led the redistricting effort.
Pennsylvania: How Jay Costa wants to fix Pennsylvania’s gerrymandered congressional districts | The Incline
Advocates for redistricting reform won the first battle: They got people talking about it. Now comes the hard part. The 2020 census is right around the corner, and with it, the redrawing of the boundaries of Pennsylvania’s legislative and congressional districts. There are a number of bills already under consideration that take these processes out of the hands of politicians and put them into the hands of average citizens. State Sen. Lisa Boscola has introduced legislation that would create an 11-person panel to draw both sets of boundaries, a proposal that has bipartisan support. The bill also has the backing of Fair Districts PA, a nonpartisan project of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania that supports giving redistricting power to an independent commission.
During a lull between elections, the Supreme Court is taking on a hot-button political issue that could change the way legislative lines are drawn across the country. It’s called gerrymandering — a term that arises from a district shaped like a salamander that was drawn during the 1810 term of Massachusetts Gov. Elbridge Gerry. Two hundred years later, legal experts are still divided on the racial and partisan considerations at issue. Earlier this month, Justice Elena Kagan, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, tore up two congressional district maps in North Carolina, holding that they amounted to an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. “A state may not use race as the predominant factor in drawing district lines,” she wrote, referencing a 1993 court standard, “unless it has a compelling reason.”
Editorials: When Does Political Gerrymandering Cross a Constitutional Line? | Adam Liptak/The New York Times
The Supreme Court has never struck down an election map on the ground that it was drawn to make sure one political party would win an outsize number of seats. But it has left open the possibility that some kinds of political gamesmanship in redistricting may be too extreme. The problem, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in a 2004 concurrence, is that no one has come up with “a workable standard” to decide when the political gerrymandering has crossed a constitutional line. Finding such a standard has long been, as one judge put it, “the holy grail of election law jurisprudence.” In the coming weeks, the Supreme Court will consider an appeal from a decision in Wisconsin that may have found that holy grail. The case, Gill v. Whitford, No. 16-1161, arrives at the court in the wake of a wave of Republican victories in state legislatures that allowed lawmakers to draw election maps favoring their party.
With its preposterously gerrymandered congressional voting districts, Maryland is an outstanding example of why states need nonpartisan redistricting reform. But the redistricting bill that emerged this year in Annapolis — in equal parts cynical and ludicrous — makes clear that the Democrats who dominate both houses of the General Assembly there remain loath to part with the incumbent-protection racket that enables them to choose their voters and perpetuate their grip on power with scant regard for good governance. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Craig J. Zucker (D-Montgomery), is an Alphonse-and-Gaston arrangement, except that in this case there is not one Gaston but five. It would establish a nonpartisan commission to draft the state’s congressional districts — so far so good — but only if five other Eastern Seaboard states agreed in lockstep to do the same. (They are New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and North Carolina.)
Of all the problems in our democracy, near the top of the list is partisan gerrymandering. Because legislators reserve for themselves the power to draw district boundaries, dozens of seats across America are uncompetitive and tens of millions of citizens are left with little influence over who represents them. This fall, the Supreme Court has an opportunity to remedy the offense — with the help of a little math. Polarization is what makes partisan gerrymandering possible. As citizens sort themselves into neighborhoods of like-minded people, self-serving legislators can draw boundaries to artfully lasso them. Such jiggery-pokery creates districts where both parties have near-guaranteed wins. But there’s an asymmetry: the party in control — which in most states is the GOP — distributes its supporters to win as many districts as possible by small but safe margins, while packing the rival party’s voters tightly into far fewer districts.
Although President Trump won the state by a narrow margin, GOP candidates in down-ballot races in Michigan won across the board, adding further to their large majority in the State Legislature. According to a new test conducted by Bridge Magazine, GOP candidates succeed in Michigan despite relatively equal support for both parties because of gerrymandered districts. The test, titled the “efficiency gap,” calculates how many votes are “wasted” when a certain party draws district lines in their favor. Wasted votes are those cast for the candidate that didn’t win and those cast for the winning candidate beyond the number they needed to win.
Partisan Gerrymandering – the practice of drawing voting districts to give one political party an unfair edge—is one of the few political issues that voters of all stripes find common cause in condemning. Voters should choose their elected officials, the thinking goes, rather than elected officials choosing their voters. The Supreme Court agrees, at least in theory: In 1986 it ruled that partisan gerrymandering, if extreme enough, is unconstitutional. Yet in that same ruling, the court declined to strike down two Indiana maps under consideration, even though both “used every trick in the book,” according to a paper in theUniversity of Chicago Law Review. And in the decades since then, the court has failed to throw out a single map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. “If you’re never going to declare a partisan gerrymander, what is it that’s unconstitutional?” said Wendy K. Tam Cho, a political scientist and statistician at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
In just a few years, voting districts will be redrawn across the country, and there’s a bipartisan push trickling down to the Lehigh Valley to do away with “gerrymandering.” Every 10 years, voting lines are redrawn with the census. Gerrymandering refers to manipulating voting district lines to benefit a party. It’s named after Eldridge Gerry, a former vice president and Massachusetts governor in the early 1800’s. In Pennsylvania, the political party in charge draws the lines. With the lines set to be drawn again in 2020, there is a growing movement to change how the districts are divided.
National: How will Big Data change gerrymandering? Both parties are eager to know what you do online | Salon
When you exit the Pennsylvania Turnpike just north of Pennsylvania, on Main Street in working-class Norristown, you’re in the overwhelmingly Democratic 13th congressional district — at least for a couple of miles. The help-wanted signs are in Spanish; people walk past the Premier Barber Institute, bail bondsmen, and the 99-cent stores wearing branded short-sleeve shirts from their chain-store jobs. But come around a corner and up and hill and suddenly the neighborhoods turn leafy and green. Suburban-looking dads walk large dogs with flowing tresses. The houses are lovely and set back from the road. This three-quarter-mile stretch is in one of the nation’s most infamously gerrymandered districts, Pennsylvania’s reliably Republican seventh, a one-time swing district so wildly drawn that it resembles Donald Duck kicking Goofy. Signs warn drivers not to tailgate.
After every new US census, states have to redraw their congressional districts to divide up their populations fairly. But in practice, these districts don’t always end up equal: Federal judges recently ordered Wisconsin lawmakers to redraw maps of the state’s legislative districts, after finding the districts had been shaped to favor Republican candidates. Allegations of gerrymandering are also playing out in states like Texas and North Carolina. So what does a gerrymandered district even look like on a map? More like a carved-out jigsaw piece than a rounded blot, as it turns out. But as Tufts University mathematician Moon Duchin explains, gerrymandering can be difficult to prove, even when something about a district’s shape seems fishy. “We’ve had justices saying that, ‘We know a bizarre, irrational shape when we see it, but we don’t know what precisely should the threshold be which makes a shape too tortured, or irregular, or unreasonable,’” she says. (Take a closer look at district shapes across the US.)
Partisan gerrymandering — the practice of drawing voting districts to give one political party an unfair edge — is one of the few political issues that voters of all stripes find common cause in condemning. Voters should choose their elected officials, the thinking goes, rather than elected officials choosing their voters. The Supreme Court agrees, at least in theory: In 1986 it ruled that partisan gerrymandering, if extreme enough, is unconstitutional. Yet in that same ruling, the court declined to strike down two Indiana maps under consideration, even though both “used every trick in the book,” according to a paper in the University of Chicago Law Review. And in the decades since then, the court has failed to throw out a single map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. “If you’re never going to declare a partisan gerrymander, what is it that’s unconstitutional?” said Wendy K. Tam Cho, a political scientist and statistician at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
Virginia: U.S. Supreme Court orders reexamination of Virginia General Assembly racial gerrymandering case | Richmond Times-Dispatch
The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday instructed a lower court to re-examine whether the Virginia General Assembly unconstitutionally stuffed African-American voters into certain districts, opening the door to a new political map that could reshape the Republican-controlled state legislature. Anti-gerrymandering advocates hailed the court’s opinion as a victory in the pursuit of more competitive elections, though the final outcome of the case remains unclear. With two justices partially dissenting, the Supreme Court told the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to reconsider the matter using a different legal standard that could make it easier to prove lawmakers improperly prioritized race above other redistricting criteria when redrawing House of Delegates districts in 2011.
Editorials: How Much Racial Gerrymandering Is Too Much? Court Doesn’t Know, But Wants Virginia To Think About It | Elie Mystal/Above the Law
I hate racial gerrymandering cases because they don’t fit neatly into a defensible, logically consistent, electoral philosophy. Racial gerrymandering is an unprincipled, highly practical, necessary grotesquerie of representative democracy. Absent mountains or rivers or some other kinds of geological formations, drawing district lines is fundamentally arbitrary. I get that some people like geometric shapes, but just because your district looks like a square and mine looks like a half-eaten snow crab doesn’t make your district more “fair.” Once you draw the line, you are making a decision to exclude some people and include others, and we shouldn’t pretend to be able to do that at the political level without some knowledge of the racial breakdown of the voters. Yet our rules say that race cannot be the “predominant” factor in drawing districts: which is kind of like saying “Don’t stare at the miniature disco ball in my eye socket!” Simply saying that race can’t be a predominant factor makes race a predominant factor in showing that race wasn’t a predominant factor.
Virginia: Supreme Court says Virginia redistricting must be reexamined for racial bias | The Washington Post
The Supreme Court on Wednesday told a lower court to reexamine the redistricting efforts of Virginia’s Republican-led legislature for signs of racial bias and gerrymandered legislative districts that dilute the impact of African American voters. The justices declined to take a position on that issue. But they said a lower court had not applied the right standards when it concluded that the legislature’s work was constitutional. The decision was a win for black voters and Democrats who have challenged the General Assembly’s actions in drawing legislative as well as congressional lines. A win at the Supreme Court last term resulted in redrawing the congressional map in a way that favored the election of a second African American congressman last fall.
National: Meet the Math Professor Who’s Fighting Gerrymandering With Geometry | The Chronicle of Higher Education
Tufts University professor has a proposal to combat gerrymandering: give more geometry experts a day in court. Moon Duchin is an associate professor of math and director of the Science, Technology and Society program at Tufts. She realized last year that some of her research about metric geometry could be applied to gerrymandering — the practice of manipulating the shape of electoral districts to benefit a specific party, which is widely seen as a major contributor to government dysfunction. At first, she says, her plans were straightforward and research-oriented — “to put together a team to do some modeling and then maybe consult with state redistricting commissions.” But then she got more creative. “I became convinced that it’s probably more effective to try to help train a big new generation of expert witnesses who know the math side pretty well,” she says. “It’s clear that this is the right moment to do this kind of work. We want to harness all that energy.” In part, she says, that’s because court cases over voting districts have risen since a 2013 Supreme Court decision, Shelby County v. Holder, struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Editorials: Death to the Gerrymander: Paul Smith might defeat unconstitutional redistricting. | Mark Joseph Stern/Salon
It has become painfully clear in recent years that partisan gerrymandering is one of American democracy’s worst illnesses. Although the Supreme Court held decades ago that the purpose of redistricting was to ensure “fair and effective representation for all citizens,” legislators often use the process to lock the minority party out of power. Both Democrats and Republicans deploy partisan gerrymandering to dilute votes for their opponents, creating one-party rule and, arguably, greater polarization. That’s bad for the body politic and a clear contravention of the Constitution. But as long as the courts refuse to step in, gerrymandering will continue to plague the country. Now Paul Smith, one of the greatest legal minds in the country, is asking the Supreme Court to finally put a stop to it. And here’s the exciting part: He might actually succeed.
National: The Supreme Court will examine partisan gerrymandering in 2017. That could change the voting map. | The Washington Post
In 2017, the Supreme Court will take up the issue of partisan gerrymandering. Depending on how the court rules, its decisions could have far-reaching implications for the partisan balance in the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures — and for the future of redistricting across the country. Gerrymandering has helped give the Republican Party a significant advantage in Congress. Because Republicans had unified control of twice as many states as Democrats when the last congressional district maps were drawn, estimates suggest that gerrymandering before the 2012 elections cost Democrats between 20 and 41 seats in the House. Partisan gerrymandering has become the norm in U.S. politics because the Supreme Court has declined to declare it unconstitutional. For three decades, a majority of justices have failed to identify manageable standards to determine when a plan rises to the level of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.
As he prepared last week to deliver his farewell address, President Obama convened three Democratic leaders in the White House for a strategy session on the future of their party. The quiet huddle included Senator Chuck Schumer of New York and Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the top Democrats in Congress, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia. One topic of urgent concern, according to people briefed on the meeting: how to break the Republican Party’s iron grip on the congressional map. Thwarted for much of his term by a confrontational Republican Congress, and criticized by his fellow Democrats for not devoting sufficient attention to their down-ballot candidates, Mr. Obama has decided to make the byzantine process of legislative redistricting a central political priority in his first years after the presidency.
North Carolina: GOP legislative leaders ask US Supreme Court to halt 2017 elections | News & Observer
Attorneys for state leaders on Friday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block elections ordered for 2017 after a federal court found 28 state Senate and House districts were illegal racial gerrymanders. The 39-page filing asks Chief Justice John Roberts for emergency intervention to put a halt to the three-judge panel’s order for redrawn districts by March and a special election in 2017. The petition asks for the chief justice to enter an order by Jan. 11, when the General Assembly is set to convene its next session. “On Election Day, millions of North Carolina voters went to the polls and selected the state legislators who would represent them in the General Assembly for two-year terms in accordance with the North Carolina Constitution. Or so they thought,” Paul Clement, a Washington-based attorney representing the state, stated in the petition signed by Thomas Farr, a Raleigh-based attorney who has represented the legislators on redistricting, Phil Strach, another Raleigh-based attorney, and Alexander McC. Peters of the state attorney general’s office.
Editorials: North Carolina’s HB2 impasse has its roots in gerrymandering | Bob Phillips/News & Observer
When state lawmakers couldn’t come together to repeal House Bill 2, it was just another sorry reminder of the toxic partisan divide that often renders the N.C. General Assembly dysfunctional. Compromise, trust and honest brokering seem to be out of reach for this body of elected officials that arguably has more impact on our lives than any other level of government. So what happened and why? The inability to repeal HB2 is a symptom of what is a grave threat to our democracy: partisan gerrymandering. When the majority party, whether it’s Democrats or Republicans, gets to draw its own districts for its own advantage, our whole elective system becomes unfair. The proof is in the legislative maps – illogically shaped districts creating a jigsaw puzzle covering our state, making lawmakers virtually unaccountable to voters. Consider our incoming legislature that will be sworn in this January. More than 90 percent of them ran uncontested in November or won their election by a comfortable double-digit margin. Largely because of gerrymandering, citizens have no choice and no voice in our elections.
A Supreme Court majority on Monday appeared to lean in favor of Democrats in Virginia and North Carolina seeking to rein in what they call racial gerrymandering by Republican-controlled legislatures in those states. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who is likely to hold the deciding vote, said he was troubled that Republican leaders drew new election maps by moving more black voters into districts that already had a majority of African-American residents and usually favored black candidates. “I have problems with that,” Kennedy said, suggesting he would question such districts if the “tipping point, the principal motivating factor was race.” If the court’s majority agrees, the ruling would put states, counties and cities on notice that they may not concentrate more black and Latino voters into districts that already routinely elect minority representatives.
National: The Supreme Court Tackles The Political Riddle Of Race-Based Gerrymandering | FiveThirtyEight
Every 10 years, after the census is complete, legislators in statehouses across the country embark on a time-honored tradition: remapping the boundaries of their states’ voting districts, usually to the benefit of the people doing the remapping. Gerrymandering, the practice of painstakingly engineering districts to bestow an advantage on the politicians in control of the process, has been baked into the American political process since the 18th century — and legal challenges to the weird-looking maps that result have their own long history, too. But not all gerrymanders are created equal, at least from a legal perspective. On Monday, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two gerrymandering cases, in which the plaintiffs claim that after the 2010 census, Republican legislators in North Carolina and both parties in Virginia deliberately packed black voters into a small number of congressional and state legislative districts. The plaintiffs in the two cases, McCrory v. Harris (North Carolina) and Bethune-Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections (Virginia), claim that by concentrating black voters in a few districts in an effort to protect their majorities, legislators unfairly diluted black voters’ influence. The legislators, on the other hand, say they are merely complying with the Voting Rights Act, which requires states to create districts where minority voters can select their preferred candidate. The question at the heart of these cases is a political riddle: How much mandated racial gerrymandering is too much racial gerrymandering?
The Supreme Court is returning to the familiar intersection of race and politics, in a pair of cases examining redistricting in North Carolina and Virginia. The eight-justice court is hearing arguments Monday in two cases that deal with the same basic issue of whether race played too large a role in the drawing of electoral districts, to the detriment of African-Americans. The claim made by black voters in both states is that Republicans packed districts with more reliably Democratic black voters than necessary to elect their preferred candidates, making neighboring districts whiter and more Republican. A lower court agreed with the challengers in North Carolina that two majority-black congressional districts were unconstitutional because their maps relied too heavily on race. The state appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing in part that it made districting decisions based on partisan politics, not race.
California: California just proved how cracking down on gerrymandering isn’t all it’s cracked up to be | The Washington Post
On Monday, California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa was declared the winner of a drawn-out reelection battle. And with his victory, California regained a distinction with which it is quite familiar. For the fourth time in 12 years, not a single one of the state’s 50-plus congressional districts switched parties. Just as in 2010, 2008 and 2004, every single seat returned to the party that previously controlled it. And if you exclude the post-redistricting election of 2012, only two California districts have flipped parties since 2004. That’s two out of 314 individual races — 0.6 percent. (And one of the two was a fluke in which the GOP briefly held a blue-leaning seat thanks to two Republicans advancing to the general election in 2012.) So why do we bring this up now? Well, partly because it wasn’t necessarily supposed to be this way again. Before the last round of redistricting, Californians voted for a redistricting commission to take the process out of lawmakers’ hands.
District judges have struck a blow against the practice of gerrymandering – the deliberate manipulation of voting boundaries to favour one party over another – in a ruling that could reverberate across the US. A court in Wisconsin said on Monday that state assembly voting districts drawn up by Republicans five years ago are unconstitutional and violate the rights of Democrats. The ruling has no bearing on the 2016 presidential election, in which Donald Trump scored a surprise victory over Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin, taking its 10 electoral college votes, but could lead to a precedent that will affect future US House races. “I feel enormous excitement about what this potentially might mean for American democracy,” said Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a professor at the University of Chicago law school, who argued the case in court. “One of the worst aspects of our democracy has been the presence of partisan gerrymandering.” This is the first time in 30 years that a court has taken a stand against it, Stephanopoulos added. “If the supreme court upholds this decision, there could be very positive and dramatic consequences in states all over the country where gerrymandering has happened.”
On the outskirts of Charlotte, it’s the last day of early voting for the congressional race in North Carolina’s 12th district at the Mountain Island library, and there are no lines for the polling stations. Instead, volunteers outnumbered the voters. It was early voting time, but not for a race nearly as high-profile as the presidential election. Only 266 people turned out in June to the polls to pick the district’s next member of Congress. After the election, once all the votes were tallied, only 7% of more than 500,000 registered voters cast ballots. “Turnout was very, very low,” said Carol Johnson, a poll worker and an employee for the city of Charlotte. “Maybe people didn’t know. Maybe they weren’t interested.” Or maybe people have grown disenfranchised after living in what has long been considered the most gerrymandered district in the United States. Twenty-five years ago, North Carolina lawmakers drew the 12th district, creating the second majority-minority district in a state with a dark history of denying black residents their voting rights. That line-drawing is what is known as gerrymandering, or manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts to favor a particular result.
The United States is an outlier in the democratic world in the extent to which politicians shape the rules that affect their own electoral fortunes. Federal campaign finance policy is administered by a feckless Federal Election Commission, whose three Democratic and three Republican commissioners routinely produce gridlock instead of effective implementation of the law. The conditions under which election ballots are cast and counted—from registration to voting equipment, ballot design, polling locations, voter ID requirements, absentee ballots and early voting—are set in a very decentralized fashion and prey to political manipulation to advantage one party over the other. And while most countries with single-member districts (such as Canada, Britain and Australia) use nonpartisan boundary commissions to redraw lines so they reflect population shifts, in America, most state legislatures create the maps for both congressional and state legislative districts through the regular legislative process. They make their own luck.