A federal court on Thursday approved new district boundaries for the Virginia House of Delegates that were drawn by a court-appointed expert and are likely to benefit Democrats in November’s state election. The U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Virginia voted 2 to 1 to finalize the map, which would put six Republicans into districts that would probably become majority Democratic, according to an analysis of recent elections by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. Several of those Republicans hold leadership positions — including House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights).
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that one of Mississippi’s 52 state Senate districts violates the Voting Rights Act because it does not give African-American voters an “equal opportunity” to elect a candidate of their choice. U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves ruled in a lawsuit that challenges the composition of Senate District 22. The district stretches through parts of six counties in the Delta down into the Jackson suburbs of Madison County. It has a 51 percent black voting-age population and a white senator, Republican Buck Clarke of Hollandale.
Lawmakers who want to reform the redistricting process in North Carolina say uncertainty over pending map litigation and the shaky balance of power at the legislature make them more optimistic their ideas will be voted on this year. House Democrats and Republicans filed legislation on Wednesday that would create an 11-member “nonpartisan” redistricting commission. The panel would propose new legislative and congressional maps to the General Assembly after each decennial census, the next one of which occurs in 2020. Lawmakers have filed similar bills in previous years, unsuccessfully. The House and Senate revise and approve General Assembly and congressional districts based on population changes from the census. For generations, majority parties have pushed through maps favoring their sides. When they were in the minority 10 years ago, many Republicans supported the idea of the commission. In the years since regaining General Assembly control, they largely have set the proposal aside.
Amid a major spat between House Republicans and Democrats that threatened to slow the House’s business to a crawl for the rest of this year’s legislative session, a controversial redistricting bill was pulled from the House floor on Tuesday by unanimous consent. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, asked to send HJR 2 — the GOP redistricting bill that proposed amending Idaho’s Constitution to add a seventh member to the Redistricting Commission — back to the House State Affairs Committee. The bill would let the state’s top elected officials — all Republicans — pick that final tie-breaking commission member. “That resolution, when it came to the floor, caused a lot of concern from some of our members here on the floor,” Moyle said.
Lawmakers say they are working on an agreement involving an impasse on legislation that could lead to changing the Idaho Constitution involving redistricting that Republicans want but Democrats oppose. Republican and Democratic leaders on Monday said they are talking, and that was enough for Democrats not to use procedural rules to slow down progress in the House by forcing the full reading of bills as they did on Friday.
The Republican-led Senate has killed a Democrat measure for an appointed non-partisan commission to draw a new map for North Dakota’s legislative districts. The Senate defeated the bill 36-10, along party lines on Monday. The measure was sponsored by Democratic legislative leaders. North Dakota now has 47 legislative districts, each of which is represented by a senator and two House members.
Three Democrats on a House panel considering a change to the Idaho Constitution involving redistricting walked out in protest on Friday at what they called a clear attempt at gerrymandering before the 10 Republicans voted unanimously to send the legislation to the full House. A short time later, the Democratic House Minority Leader, Mat Erpelding, continued the protest by requiring the full text of three bills be read before debate could begin. Democrats have said the redistricting legislation made public Wednesday followed by the hearing on Friday happened too fast to allow adequate public participation. “If they want to speed up the process, I can slow down the process,” Erpelding said after the House adjourned.
Ohio: Federal judges reject state of Ohio’s request to delay gerrymandering trial | Cleveland Plain Dealer
A three-judge federal panel on Friday rejected a request from the state of Ohio to delay a gerrymandering lawsuit that aims to put a new Ohio congressional district map in place in time for the 2020 election. The state wanted to delay the trial, scheduled to start March 4, until after rulings are released this summer in two gerrymandering cases before the U.S. Supreme Court – one brought by Republicans in Maryland and one brought by Democrats in North Carolina. But the judges in their Friday ruling cited time considerations. The state has said any changes to a map must be in place by Sept. 20, 2019, to get ready for the 2020 election.
Ohio: New top elections official says Ohio’s congressional lines shouldn’t change before 2020 election | Cleveland Plain Dealer
ew Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose said Thursday that he doesn’t think Ohio’s congressional lines should be changed before the 2020 election, something a pending federal lawsuit aims to do. LaRose, a Republican, said Ohio’s current congressional maps are “flawed,” but said changing them in the middle of an election cycle would cause confusion and possible lower turnout as a result. He said Ohio should wait until 2021, when the state will draw the maps using a new process approved by voters last year that was designed to help fix Ohio’s gerrymandered congressional districts. Those maps, if they meet meet new requirements to get minority-party approval, would remain in place for 10 years.
Virginia: ‘Taking redistricting into a smoke-filled room:’ Why Democrats are pushing back on reform measure | Virginia Mercury
Virginia is closer than ever to figuring out how to fix the process of drawing voting maps, but some Democrats are backing away from the bill that would do it.
House Democrats have serious concerns about the redistricting reform bill that passed their chamber, saying it doesn’t keep legislators far enough from drawing the districts they serve. “They say it’s independent but that’s like saying up is down and left is right,” said Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico. “It takes redistricting into a smoke-filled room.” On a party-line vote, the House passed a proposal from Del. Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, that would create a 12-member commission, with four members picked each by the speaker of the House of Delegates, the Senate Committee on Rules and the governor. The appointments would be evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.
Lawmakers voted Wednesday to consider a change to the Idaho Constitution to add a seventh member to the independent commission that redraws congressional and legislative maps. The House State Affairs Committee voted to conduct a hearing on the proposal. If it passes by a two-thirds majority in the GOP-dominated Senate and House, the plan would then go to the voters for approval. Redistricting is important because it can decide which party gets the majority of congressional and state legislative seats. It is a contentious issue nationwide. Currently, the commission in Idaho is comprised of three Republicans and three Democrats.
Illinois: Senate Republicans express support for redistricting amendment | The State Journal-Register
Illinois Senate Republicans expressed support for an amendment to the state constitution that would create a non-partisan system for drawing legislative maps. Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 4 would replace the current legislative redistricting method with a 16-member commission appointed by the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and the most senior Supreme Court justice of a different political party. The public would be able to submit maps for the commission to consider. Public hearings are also provided for in the amendment. The measure has sponsors from both parties.
Was the last re-drawing of Michigan’s political district maps so biased in Republicans’ favor, they were illegal? That question literally went on trial Tuesday, with a three-judge panel in Detroit’s federal court hearing arguments for and against Michigan’s 2011 redistricting maps. Democrats and the League of Women Voters took those maps to court. They claim that both quantitative research and insider emails show the state’s last redistricting was a conscious Republican gerrymander. The plaintiffs call it a “secretive, intense effort” to dilute the power of Democratic votes, and cement Republican advantages after the GOP’s 2010 electoral wins.
As the General Assembly’s session enters its second half, both the House and Senate have passed competing plans on how to redraw legislative districts. But groups that have been fighting gerrymandering prefer the Senate’s proposal, saying it would do more to take politics out of the process. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are concerned that without the proper provisions, the General Assembly may be doomed to repeat mistakes made in 2011 when legislators gerrymandered several Virginia districts for their own benefit by diluting the voting power of African-Americans. Those districts were later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court and had to be redrawn. Some legislators say there’s an easy fix to make sure it doesn’t happen again: Create an independent commission to redraw the lines, and take the process out of the hands of politicians.
Indiana: Lawmakers move redistricting bill that would leave them in control of maps | Indianapolis Business Journal
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder before the Senate Elections Committee, members of the Indiana Coalition for Independent Redistricting urged lawmakers on Monday to approve new standards for the way they draw maps for the state’s legislative and congressional seats. They held blue-and-gold “All IN for Democracy” picket signs and office clocks raised high, as the coalition members waited more than two hours to voice one central demand: that legislators put an end to what they call partisan gerrymandering. “Gerrymandering is no longer an art. It is a science,” said 17-year-old Christian Omoruyi, a senior at Columbus East High School. “Politicians have surgically manipulated district boundaries to ingratiate themselves with the kulaks of the party machine.”
New evidence submitted on the eve of a landmark trial challenging Michigan’s GOP-drawn legislative districts appears to strengthen the claim the maps were drawn in 2011 for partisan, Republican gain. Emails and other documents filed over the weekend in federal court show that Republicans saw the redistricting process as a way to consolidate its power and ensure a GOP majority in the state house, senate and the U.S. Congressional delegation. “Now that we had a spectacular election outcome, it’s time to make sure Democrats cannot take it away from us in 2011 and 2012,” according to a “redistricting essentials” memo issued in November, 2010, by the national Republican Party and shared with the Michigan GOP just after it swept to historic majorities in Michigan.
A lawsuit alleging partisan gerrymandering by Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature is heading toward trial next week after a three-judge panel rejected a settlement proposed by Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and plaintiffs. Benson does not have the authority to enter into the proposed consent decree without the blessing of the Michigan Legislature, the federal judges said Friday in a ruling rejecting the deal, which would have required reconfiguration of at least 11 state House seats for 2020 elections. A trial in the high-stakes case is set to start Tuesday, but the U.S. Supreme Court could still intervene. GOP attorneys are attempting to delay the case, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor on Friday asked parties wishing to weigh in to do so by Monday at 11 a.m., a sign the High Court is considering the request.
Texas: In reversal, Department of Justice under Trump backs Texas in redistricting fight | Austin American-Statesman
Reversing a stand taken by the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Justice has told a federal court that it no longer believes past discrimination by Texas officials should require the state to get outside approval for redistricting maps that will be drawn in 2021. As part of a long-running challenge to political districts drawn after the 2010 census, lawyers for minority voters, Democratic candidates and civil rights groups are seeking a ruling that requires federal approval before Texas can use any new maps. Under President Barack Obama, the Justice Department also had argued that such “preclearance” was necessary because “Texas has a history of intentional racial discrimination in redistricting.” The department no longer believes Texas requires federal oversight, according to a brief filed Tuesday evening by John Gore, the principal deputy assistant attorney general.
Editorials: Virginia is finally moving forward on bipartisan redistricting. It’s about time. | The Washington Post
Virginia has been trending Democratic. A Republican hasn’t won a statewide race in nearly a decade. But Republicans continue to control the state legislature thanks to what federal judges have concluded is a racially gerrymandered electoral map drafted by GOP lawmakers in 2011. Little wonder, then, that the party’s grandees in Richmond are reeling at what looks like a federal court’s imminent decision to impose a map that seems likely not only to flip both houses of the General Assembly to Democratic control in this fall’s elections but also to unseat several of the legislature’s top Republicans. The map, chosen by the court from configurations drafted by a professor in California, would shift six incumbent Republicans to newly drawn, and Democratic-leaning, districts. Among the probable casualties would be the current GOP House speaker, Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights).
Virginia: House GOP leaders endorse plan for independent redistricting commission | The Washington Post
Republican leaders of the House of Delegates have put together a plan for establishing an independent redistricting commission, aiming to change the process of drawing legislative boundaries even as they challenge a current redistricting effort in court. The plan rolled out Monday by Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Spotsylvania) and endorsed by Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) would call for an amendment to the state constitution to set up a 12-member commission appointed mostly by the legislature. The speaker of the House would appoint four members, two from each major political party, while the Senate Rules Committee and the governor would each do the same.
Assembly Democrats are withdrawing from a lawsuit over Wisconsin’s election maps, leaving it to a group of liberal voters to continue the high-profile litigation. By pulling out of the case, the Assembly Democrats are avoiding turning over documents and answering detailed questions to back up their claims that election maps drawn to favor Republicans have hurt their ability to recruit candidates and raise money. Assembly Democrats are getting out of the lawsuit because they believe others are well-equipped to handle the case and they do not have the money to continue the costly litigation, their lead attorney, Lester Pines, said.
At least 11 of Michigan’s 110 House districts would be redrawn for the 2020 election under a proposed legal settlement announced Friday by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat who said the deal would fix “egregious” examples of partisan gerrymandering. As part of her agreement with Democrats who sued, congressional and state Senate seats would stay intact. The Republican-led Legislature, which in 2011 drew the maps that are in question, would put in place new lines for 11 state House districts — subject to court approval. The number of newly cast seats would be higher, though, because of the impact on adjacent districts.
The Michigan Senate is looking to weigh in as a legislative body in the federal lawsuit challenging Michigan’s existing political district lines as Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson seeks a settlement in the case. On Wednesday, the chamber passed a resolution via voice vote to grant Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey the authority to intervene in the case, which was initiated by the League of Women Voters in December 2017. Amber McCann, Shirkey’s spokesperson, said the motion to intervene would be filed sometime Thursday. The court has final say over whether that motion is granted. “As a whole, the majority leader thought it was important to insert the Senate into the legal proceedings in the event that the body is included in the settlement,” McCann said.
A federal court will delay the date of the trial in Wisconsin’s partisan redistricting case until the U.S. Supreme Court decides two similar cases this summer, handing a partial legal victory to the Republican-controlled Legislature. The decision by the court to push the trial back from April to at least July, after the issuance of a decision in the two similar cases, is meant to prevent Wisconsin’s case from being tried twice. It is still possible Wisconsin’s political maps would be redrawn before the 2020 general election if the U.S. Supreme Court were to rule in favor of the plaintiffs — several Democratic voters across the state along with the Assembly Democratic Campaign Committee.
New Hampshire: Constitutional Amendment Would Create An Independent Redistricting Panel in New Hampshire | NHPR
Lawmakers heard testimony Tuesday on a proposed constitutional amendment that would create an independent commission to draw boundaries for state elections. Current law leaves the responsibility of redistricting to the New Hampshire Legislature. Supporters of this measure say that allows for gerrymandering, or the ability of the majority party to draw boundary lines in its favor. Democratic State Rep. Ellen Read, a supporter of the measure, said she’s mentioned limiting gerrymandering to members of her party in the past.
Virginia: Federal judges choose redistricting map favorable to Democrats; six GOP House districts would get bluer | The Washington Post
Federal judges have selected a Virginia House of Delegates redistricting map that appears to heavily favor Democrats, redrawing the lines of 26 districts and moving several powerful Republicans into unfavorable configurations. Six Republicans would wind up in districts where a majority of voters chose Democratic President Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election, according to an analysis of the maps by the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project. No current Democrats would see their voter majority change to Republican, based on those election results. Virginia does not register voters by party. If the court’s map selection stands, it would create a favorable environment for Democrats seeking to take control of the House of Delegates in elections this fall, according to the analysis. All 100 seats in the House are on the ballot, and Republicans hold a 51-to-48 majority.
A pending settlement proposal in a federal lawsuit alleging unfair bias in political district maps will be limited in scope but could still give Democrats a narrow chance to upend Republican majorities in the Michigan Legislature. The suit alleges that maps approved by GOP majority lawmakers in 2011 intentionally diluted the power of Democratic voters. New Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson and plaintiffs are negotiating “a compromise in which fewer than” 34 of the state’s 162 congressional and legislative districts would be redrawn for 2020 elections, according to a new filing. It’s not clear if proposed changes would have a ripple effect and impact other adjacent districts.
Supporters of a push to create an independent redistricting commission in Utah are steeling themselves for a potential challenge to the ballot initiative that voters narrowly passed into law last year. Leaders of the effort aimed at combatting gerrymandering say they’re staying vigilant amid talk of a possible lawsuit to challenge the voter-approved law, the Deseret News reports. “We’re going to be vigilant. We’re going to be present. And we’re prepared through either a campaign or legal means to defend that,” said Jeff Wright, a Republican who co-chairs the group behind Proposition 4.
New Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson moved Thursday to settle a lawsuit that challenges the state’s Republican-drawn legislative and congressional districts, a step that potentially could lead to new maps for the 2020 election. The Democrat, who took office two weeks ago, filed a brief seeking to halt a federal trial scheduled for Feb. 5. The filing says a resolution is in the best interest of the state and its voters, “as it will correct any lasting impact of impermissible partisan gerrymandering that may have occurred in the past.” Democrats and the League of Women Voters sued just over a year ago , alleging that Michigan’s U.S. House and state legislative districts are unconstitutionally gerrymandered to dilute the voting power of Democrats. The districts were enacted in 2011 by the Republican-led Legislature and former Gov. Rick Snyder.
Barack Obama and Arnold Schwarzenegger agree: Neither thinks Donald Trump has any business being anywhere near the White House, but the main political issue they’re going to focus on for the next two years is redistricting reform. The clock is ticking. The 2020 census, and the nationwide 2021 redistricting right after, are around the corner. Deadlines for ballot initiatives and legislation are already on the horizon for some states to change their procedures before then. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court could soon take up a case that would gut most of the efforts at redistricting reform that have, over the past 10 years, changed how states draw the maps that determine who runs where for Congress and their own legislatures.