With just over four years left before another redistricting cycle begins, the Florida Supreme Court gave final approval to Florida’s congressional map Wednesday, rejecting the Legislature’s arguments for the fourth time and selecting boundaries drawn by the challengers in time for the 2016 election. “Our opinion today — the eighth concerning legislative or congressional apportionment during this decade since the adoption of the landmark Fair Districts Amendment — should bring much needed finality to litigation concerning this state’s congressional redistricting that has now spanned nearly four years in state courts,” the court wrote in a 5-2 decision. The ruling validated the map drawn by a coalition led by the League of Women Voters, Common Cause of Florida and several Democrat-leaning individuals, and approved by Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis after the Florida Legislature tried and failed to agree to a map in a special redistricting session. Although the boundaries are now officially set for the 2016 elections, the map is expected to be challenged by at least two members of Congress in federal court. U.S. Reps. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami Gardens, and Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, have threatened a lawsuit for restricting the ability of their constituents to elect minorities to office.
With a primary election less than four months away, North Carolina officials are scrambling to get ready for a controversial state law requiring photo IDs at the polls, even as a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality remains unresolved. Voting rights advocates fear the changes in how the state’s elections are conducted will create confusion among voters and suppress turnout. The ID requirement, which state lawmakers watered down this past summer, is just one of a number of revisions voters will have to contend with. “If you haven’t voted since the last presidential election, you’re going to be in for a shock when you go in, because you’re not going to know what to expect,” says Sarah Zambon, an attorney who serves on the board of the League of Women Voters of Asheville-Buncombe County. “There’s a lot of misinformation about voter ID, which has an intimidation effect on voters, especially going into a presidential election without enough education around this topic. There’s a lot of confusion about what counts and what doesn’t count.”
A Leon County judge and lawyers for the Legislature and voting-rights organizations on Tuesday began muddling through the legal process for deciding on a new set of districts for the 40-member state Senate. While the hearing before Circuit Judge George Reynolds was largely procedural, attorneys for the two sides clashed over whether the coalition of voting-rights organizations, which includes the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida, faces the same burden of proof as lawmakers do when a full-blown trial about the maps begins Dec. 14. Reynolds has the task of recommending one of five maps — one drawn by Senate aides and four drawn by the voting-rights groups — to the Florida Supreme Court after the existing map was set aside as part of a legal settlement. Lawmakers conceded in that settlement that the current map, drawn in 2012, would likely be found by the courts to violate a voter-approved ban on political gerrymandering adopted two years earlier.
A handful of groups are getting together to push for changes to the state’s voting laws. The organizations – like Common Cause Pennsylvania, the League of Women Voters, and the Pennsylvania Public Interest Research Group – say they’re asking for modest changes. They want to create a pre-registration system for teenagers to get on the voting rolls before they turn 18, and allow same-day registration for everyone. Another suggestion is for Pennsylvania to start in-person voting before Election Day — something that 33 states already allow.
The knock-down fight over the political future of the Florida Senate entered its third round this week as lawyers for the coalition of voting groups accused Republican lawmakers of conspiring again to protect incumbents, while the Legislature’s lawyers accused opponents of “operating in the shadows” to help Democrats. The Senate’s map “smacks of partisan intent” because it failed to maximize population and respect political boundaries, “while offering unmistakable benefits for the Republican Party and incumbents,” wrote the lawyers for the coalition plaintiffs, led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida. But the lawyers for the Republican-led Senate and House blasted the plaintiffs for relying on map drawing experts who had ties to Democrats and therefore drew maps that “systematically” benefited Democrats.
Few political processes are more important or consequential than that of defining or drawing districts for legislative bodies. Whoever controls where district lines are drawn wields immense power to determine voters’ choices at the polls, election outcomes and whose interests are more or less effectively represented in our legislative bodies. Little wonder then that legislative districting is an issue of great concern to the League of Women Voters and all citizens interested in open, fair and effective representative government. The U.S. Constitution gives the power to regulate the time, place and manner of Congressional elections to the individual state legislatures. The Indiana Constitution, as is true of most states, gives the power and responsibility to define the state’s legislative and congressional districts to the General Assembly. Thus, not only does the state legislature define districts for congressional elections, but it also determines the make up of its own members’ districts. For more than two centuries, members of state legislatures, the legislative political parties and other special interests have used the districting process to advance their own political objectives. Incumbent legislators want districts they can win. The majority party in a legislative chamber wants to maintain its dominance by drawing districts to its advantage. Special interests, if they are powerful in the state, try to protect themselves by influencing the districting process.
The plaintiffs in the state Senate redistricting case have reshuffled their proposed maps to redraw the state’s 40 senatorial districts, saying they want to “narrow the issues for trial.” Part of their reason was the much-maligned “jumping the Bay,” or districts that cross the water from Hillsborough County into Pinellas County to capture a Democratic voting base in southeast Pinellas. On Tuesday, the League of Women Voters of Florida, Common Cause and others withdrew two maps and submitted a new “corrected” map, after filing six versions of a redrawn district map last week. In a notice filed by attorney David King, they took away one map that “includes a fourth Hispanic district in South Florida (District 38) and an African-American district in Hillsborough County that does not cross Tampa Bay into Pinellas County (District 19).”
A new study committee will change the way districts are drawn in Indiana by 2021, aiming to make the lines more fair by the next redistricting. Patsy Hoyer with the League of Women Voters says current districts in Indiana are drawn in an imbalanced way. “If you look at the map of how the districts are laid out it makes you wonder, a few of them, well how did that get defined?” said Hoyer. With redistricting necessary based on the 2010 Census results, Hoyer hopes lawmakers take action to stop gerrymandering.
New Jersey Democrats spent several years developing a bill to overhaul voter registration, a measure that, when finished being written, was the length of a novella. But when it came time to act on it, Democrats who control the Legislature passed the bill within a week, without committee hearings. The final vote came on the day they broke for a summer recess that stretched into the second week of November. It was also the day before Governor Christie declared he was running for president. And those Democrats were so sure Christie would veto the bill that they scheduled a meeting to discuss possible ways around that rejection even before he put pen to paper
After months of feuding, the Florida House and Senate reached a redistricting truce on Thursday and asked the court to hire an expert to draw a new map revising the state Senate boundaries instead of conducting a five-day trial next month. “The appointment of a consultant would streamline this litigation and reduce the burden to the parties and Florida’s taxpayers by eliminating the need for costly discovery and a five-day evidentiary hearing,” wrote the Senate lawyers to Leon County Circuit Court Judge George Reynolds. “It would also eliminate any suspicion that the adopted map was laden with improper intent.” Reynolds had asked the parties to submit a scheduling plan for the Senate redistricting trial by Thursday. But after receiving the call for an expert, Reynolds issued an order saying the trial would move ahead as scheduled, with maps submitted by next Wednesday. There was no mention of what he will do with the Senate’s request.
Florida: Legislature and challengers blame each other for redistricting ‘manipulation’ | Tampa Bay Times
Who is to blame for the latest legislative impasse over redistricting? The finger-pointing began quickly last week as Florida lawmakers adjourned their second special session on redistricting and faced the prospect of another court-ordered map. Lawmakers blamed the Fair Districts amendments to the state constitution as impossible to follow, and House and Senate leaders lashed out at the challengers — a coalition of Democrat-leaning individuals and voter groups led by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause of Florida — for manipulating the process. This week, the challengers lashed back.
The three-year battle over Florida’s congressional boundaries moved to the state’s highest court Tuesday where lawyers for the Legislature tried to get a trial court map declared unconstitutional but instead found themselves defending the way lawmakers handled two Hispanic districts in Miami-Dade County. Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente, who authored the landmark ruling in July that invalidated Florida’s 27 congressional districts, grilled the attorney for the Florida House for “jumping over” portions of the ruling “as if it didn’t exist.” “The reason that it was to be redrawn was it was drawn to favor the Republican Party,” Pariente told George Meros, the lawyer for the House. When the House redrew Districts 26 and 27 in Miami, “it was redrawn to favor Republicans even more than the original,” she said. “I’m having trouble with the House’s position here.” Meros countered: “There is no evidence in the record that these map drawers drew that configuration in order to improve Republican performance,” he said. “They had no idea.”
The North Dakota League of Women Voters may push to have North Dakota reinstate its voter registration laws in order to lessen restrictions on residents voting. A group of about 20 League of Women Voters members gathered at the Sons of Norway Lodge here Friday to go over the history of voter registration laws in the state, and to discuss the possibility and rationale behind bringing them back. Voter registration was abolished in the state in 1951, and North Dakota remains the only state in the country without it.
Voters’ overwhelming support for state Issue 1 did not persuade the Ohio House speaker to pursue reform of congressional redistricting. Issue 1, which will reform Ohio’s hyper-partisan process for drawing legislative districts starting in 2021, passed with 71 percent of the vote. The bipartisan measure drew no organized opposition. Majority Republicans deliberately did not include congressional redistricting as part of the reform; some pointed to a U.S. Supreme Court case out of Arizona that has since been resolved. Groups including the League of Women Voters of Ohio, which strongly backed Issue 1, said the vast public support should prompt similar changes to a process for congressional districts that, many argue, allows for even more partisan gerrymandering.
Voters overwhelmingly backed a plan to reform Ohio’s hyper-partisan process for drawing legislative districts, and supporters are already looking ahead to passing the same reforms for congressional districts next year. “Today’s win was an important first step, but it only got us halfway there,” said Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “We need to take these new anti-gerrymandering rules that Issue 1 applied to the General Assembly and extend them to congressional districts, which are even more gerrymandered.” With 54 percent of precincts reporting, Issue 1, which will change the legislative redistricting process starting in 2021, when the lines are scheduled to be drawn again, was winning with 71 percent of the vote.
Florida: House panel tweaks Senate districts, sets up another redistricting clash | Orlando Sentinel
The House and Senate are again poised to clash over redrawing political boundaries after a House redistricting committee Monday changed a plan passed by the Senate last week to redraw 40 Senate districts. The most significant changes shift district lines in Miami-Dade County. Sen. Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, amended a “base map” drawn by legislative staffers that drew more compact districts there but that also kept him out of a district that included fellow incumbent Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami. House redistricting chairman, Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, said he redrew the Senate map to include some changes sought by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause, the voters rights groups who brought the redistricting lawsuit. Because his map includes much of the Senate version and parts of the voters groups’ preferred map, he doesn’t see another “collision course” with the Senate.
The chairman of the House redistricting committee Friday filed a new Senate map that would recast districts in South Florida, opening up a potential conflict with the Senate a week before a special legislative session on the lines is set to end. Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said in a memo to House members that his proposal for the 40 state Senate districts was inspired in part by a plan floated by the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause Florida. Those voting-rights organizations have helped lead a legal fight against congressional and Senate maps drawn by the Legislature in 2012, saying that the plans violated the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” amendments approved by voters two years earlier.
Tired of talking about how Democrats in Illinois rigged the legislative maps to elect more Democrats? Let’s talk about how Republicans in Ohio rigged the legislative maps to elect more Republicans. And about how Ohio voters are trying to fix it. In the 2012 election — the first using new maps based on the 2010 U.S. Census numbers — Republican candidates for the Ohio House of Representatives got 49 percent of the vote and won 60 percent of the seats. Republicans running for Senate got 68 percent of the vote and won 83 percent of the seats. Those maps weren’t drawn to ensure that voters had their say. They were drawn to benefit the politicians who controlled the redistricting process. Using sophisticated software and voter history data, Republicans drew grossly misshapen districts, surrounding their allies with friendly voters and busting up communities to disadvantage their enemies. It worked.
The League of Women Voters has been holding a series of forums on redistricting reform. Everyone who has studied the issue and has any sense of fairness knows that our present system of gerrymandering has badly crippled democracy in this state. Peoples are frustrated, angry, disillusioned, and less and less likely to vote, because they think their votes don’t matter and nothing they can do will have any effect. What’s even worse, they are mostly right. In Michigan their votes mostly don’t matter, not for state government, anyway. Though more voters chose Democratic candidates for Congress and the state house of representatives last year, Republicans once again won huge majorities. Twenty-five years ago, that would have meant a government that might have been unrepresentative, but which would at least been able to get things done. We don’t even have that. The combination of term limits and one-party districts has resulted in a legislature full of craven extremists who have no interest in bipartisan cooperation or solving long-term problems.
National: Obama Administration Violates Voter Registration Law On Obamacare Website, Voting Rights Coalition Alleges | International Business Times
A coalition of voting rights advocates are criticizing the Obama administration for what they consider its failure to adhere to its own voter registration law. In a letter sent to the administration Wednesday, the groups said officials have not offered registration services through the federal healthcare exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act, as the federal law requires it to do, Talking Points Memo reported. Healthcare.gov, the website of the healthcare reform law known as Obamacare, does not ask people using the service if they would like to register to vote, said the coalition, which suggested it would take legal action. The National Voter Registration Act, the so-called Motor Voter law of 1993 law that expanded registration methods, requires that people seeking state services such driver’s licenses and ID cards, disability assistance, food stamps or Medicare get the opportunity to register to vote during the application process. “We hope to avoid litigation, but we note that the NVRA includes a private right of action,” stated the letter signed by Demos, ProjectVote and League of Women Voters. Separately, the groups have successfully sued states for not offering voter registration through public service programs, according to Talking Points Memo.
Faced with a close vote on a leadership-backed map to redraw state Senate districts, the Florida Senate agreed to modify three minority-based districts in Miami-Dade County on Tuesday, hoping to win the crucial votes needed to send the proposal to the House and win support for the revision in court. The sponsor of the amendment, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, argued that change was needed to make the districts more compact, in compliance with the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Florida Constitution, and to preserve the voting strength of Hispanic voters. He argued that the original map, which was drawn by House and Senate staff and approved on a party-line vote last week by the Senate Reapportionment Committee, diminished the ability of Hispanics to elect a candidate of their choice.
Kansas: State agency spokeswoman calls League of Women Voters ‘left-wing’ agitators | The Wichita Eagle
A Brownback administration spokeswoman criticized the League of Women Voters on social media for promoting a college course aimed at registering to students to vote. The League is partnering with professors at Washburn, Emporia State and Fort Hays State universities to develop a lesson plan on Kansas voting laws that can be taught over a day or a week with the goal of helping college students successfully register to vote and enabling them to help their peers do the same. Angela de Rocha, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services, panned the idea on Facebook. “So it takes an entire semester to learn how to register to vote. Really?” de Rocha wrote on Facebook around noon on Monday. “Do we want these slow learners voting? Or is this a stealth course paid for by taxpayers to train left-wing ‘community organizers’ like the League of Women Voters on how to agitate?”
Florida House and Senate leaders on Wednesday released six staff-drawn base maps that reconfigure the state Senate boundaries which they will offer up to legislators as a starting point for the three-week special session that begins on Monday. That maps, each drawn by adhering to two different sets of standards, were designed to replace the enacted map produced by lawmakers in 2012, which legislative leaders conceded violated the anti-gerrymandering provisions of the Fair Districts amendments to the Florida Constitution. “We believe each map complies with the relevant legal standards contained in the Florida Constitution and federal law, including the Florida Supreme Court’s recent interpretations,” wrote House Redistricting Chairman Jose Oliva and Senate Redistricting Chairman Bill Galvano in a memo to legislators on Wednesday.
Proposed changes to the state Constitution expanding when school elections can be held and modernizing language about who can vote failed to get the required 75 percent of the vote statewide, so they weren’t adopted. Or were they? In an unusual court challenge, the League of Women Voters is asking the state Supreme Court to rule that amendments that won majority approval in 2008, 2010 and 2014 – but failed to hit the 75 percent mark – are actually in effect. Changing most sections of the state Constitution requires the approval of only a simple majority of voters. But four sections, dealing with elections and with the educational rights of Spanish-speaking children, require a 75 percent approval.
Florida: Judge rejects Legislature’s redistricting map, recommends plaintiffs’ plan | Tampa Bay Times
Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis on Friday rejected the Florida Legislature’s third attempt at redrawing its congressional districts and recommended a map proposed by the challengers to the Florida Supreme Court for its final review. Lewis adopted the bulk of the map approved by lawmakers in the northern and central portions of the state but specifically rejected the proposed boundaries for seven districts, including District 26 in Miami-Dade, now held by Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo, potentially unseating at least three incumbents congressional candidates and opening the door for others. Download Romo Order Recommending Adoption of Remedial Map
Lawyers sparred over Florida’s congressional districts in court Thursday, the latest episode of a three-year battle that has left the state without political boundaries for the 2016 election. The case is in court because the Florida Supreme Court threw out the prior maps in July, ruling that GOP operatives had infiltrated the redistricting process and packed Democratic voters in District 5, a skinny district that snaked from Jacksonville to Orlando. Leon Circuit Judge Terry Lewis will now consider as many as seven proposals for the maps submitted by both chambers of the Legislature, the League of Women Voters and other plaintiffs. The trial will continue into next week, and Lewis will make a final decision and send it to the Supreme Court for review by Oct. 17. Already, litigation and special sessions related to redistricting have cost taxpayers about $11 million.
The latest chapter in Florida’s redistricting saga played out Thursday in a Leon County courtroom as two Miami congressional districts emerged as the heart of the differences over which of seven maps should be the one chosen by the court. Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis must decide which map, or pieces of maps, he will recommend to the Florida Supreme Court by the Oct. 17 deadline. The court invalidated the map drawn by the Legislature in 2012 because it violated the constitutional ban on protecting incumbents and political parties. After the Legislature reached a stalemate in a special session, the high court ordered Lewis to choose from proposals from the House, Senate and the group of voters who successfully challenged the original map.
A Wake County judge has refused a request from state lawmakers to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Voter ID requirement. Judge Mike Morgan issued his ruling on Wednesday, almost four weeks after a hearing on the matter. Lawmakers amended the state’s Voter ID requirement this legislative session on the eve of a trial in federal court. Attorneys for state lawmakers and the governor contended at the August hearing in state court that the legislative amendment to the requirement – offering voters without an approved ID the option of using a provisional ballot – made the lawsuit moot. Attorneys for the challengers disagreed and Morgan found in their favor. In the lawsuit before Morgan, the League of Women Voters, Randolph Institute and several voters argue that lawmakers overstepped the bounds of the state constitution in 2013 when they added the ID requirement as part of an elections law overhaul.
A lawsuit filed Monday in Richmond Circuit Court challenges 11 of Virginia’s legislative districts, arguing that they violate the state constitution’s requirement of compactness. The suit, backed by the nonpartisan redistricting reform group OneVirginia2021, challenges six Republican-held districts and five Democrat-held districts. The plaintiffs in the districts include members of both major parties, a tea party activist and members of nonpartisan organizations such as the League of Women Voters. The defendants are the Virginia State Board of Elections; chairman James B. Alcorn; vice chair Clara Belle Wheeler; board secretary Singleton B. McAllister; the state Department of Elections; and Edgardo Cortes, commissioner of the state Department of Elections.
Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis gave the Florida House and Senate, and the two groups of redistricting challengers, until the end of the day on Monday to submit their proposals for him to choose from when he recommends Florida’s final congressional districts map. At a 30-minute hearing, the Tallahassee judge approved in concept a proposal that would also require that anyone who submits a map to disclose who drew it, why they drew the lines they choose and how it comports to the constitutional guidelines in Florida’s Fair Districts law. He is likely to receive four maps — one each from the House and Senate and one each from the two plaintiffs groups, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause and the coalition of Democrat-leaning voters known as the Romo plaintiffs. The Florida Supreme Court last week ordered Lewis to choose between the maps after the Legislature ended its special session in August without an agreement on a map. The court said that Lewis must accept proposals from the parties and choose among them to recommend which of them most adheres to the July 9 ruling that set guidelines for lawmakers to follow when redrawing the map.