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Category: Iowa (page 1 of 2)

Idealism vs. Realism: Alternative Paths to Redistricting Reform in an Anticompetitive World

By: Ben Williams

In my previous post for this blog, I compared the competitiveness of congressional races in various states which have enacted redistricting reform to one another—and to the nation as a whole—to discover if Iowa’s acclaimed redistricting reform lives up to the hype surrounding it. Since that post, the 2016 electoral map has changed significantly: several news outlets, such as poll aggregator RealClearPolitics, liberal news outlet Vox, and Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight are all suggested that—while unlikely—there was  at least a conceivable possibility that the Republican Party could lose the House of Representatives. The fact that the House would only be in play in a Democratic wave election speaks volumes about how successful the Republicans’ REDMAP project was in 2011. But this is a blog about election law, not politics.  The 2016 House races brought up several important questions: (1) Were House races truly competitive this year? (2) How did the states which have enacted redistricting reform compare to the national average? And (3) Which method of redistricting reform should reform advocates look to emulate in the non-reformed states?

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Iowa’s Redistricting Reform “Miracle”: Do the Outcomes Live Up to the Hype?

By: Benjamin Williams

When average Americans think of Iowa, they likely picture pastoral scenes apropos for a Norman Rockwell painting. What they may not realize is that sleepy Iowa is an election law trailblazer, with what some consider to be the most ambitions—and most successful—redistricting reform law on the books in the United States today. Iowa’s reform charges the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency (LSA) with redrawing the maps in the State after each census. The LSA looks to traditional redistricting criteria like compactness and contiguity, but it is also banned from looking at several categories of so-called “political data,” including (1) voter registration statistics, (2) election results, and (3) the addresses of incumbent legislators. The legislature then receives the maps and has the right to approve or reject them via an up-or-down vote. Since the reapportionment following the 1980 Census, no LSA plan has ever reached a third vote in either the state House or Senate. The races in these politics-blind districts create competition, with the Boston Globe describing them as some of the “country’s hardest fought races.”

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Crafting Competitive Criteria: The Institution is Critical

By: Benjamin Williams

With the rapid increase in political polarization in recent years, momentum is building in several states to dramatically alter the redistricting process after the 2020 Census. True to the idea of the states being laboratories of democracy, there have been state constitutional amendments in Florida, partisan gerrymandering challenges in Wisconsin, Maryland, and North Carolina, redistricting criteria bills in Virginia, as well as a myriad of racial gerrymandering challenges. But the new idea—based on a blend of Iowa-style and Florida-style redistricting—is to create stringent criteria for legislatures to follow. That idea is simple enough: if the redistricting body (legislature, independent redistricting commission, college students, etc.) is forced to follow strict criteria when redistricting, the result will be “better” districts that aren’t ugly and are more competitive. But does the data actually bear this out?

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Redefining unconstitutional: Varnum justices continue to be targets in Iowa

by Patrick Genova

What do you do when you don’t like the ruling of the Supreme Court? In Iowa the answer is easy: get a new Supreme Court. Iowa’s system of judge retention elections makes it unique. Judges are appointed by a council, and at the end of an eight year term the public votes on whether a justice should be retained or let go. Until recently, judges didn’t have to campaign hard for retention; in fact, from 1962 to 2010 every justice was retained. There are no challengers in these judicial elections, the public simply votes for or against retention. In 2010 the system was shaken when three justices, including Chief Justice Marsha Ternus, were voted out of office. Continue reading

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Validates Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission’s Makeup

by Nick Mueller

On April 9, 2012 the Eighth Circuit dismissed a case brought by four Iowa voters challenging the constitutionality of the process for the selection of members of the State Judicial Nominating Commission, the commission that selects candidates for the Governor to nominate to the Iowa Supreme Court.  The issue in contention was that seven of the commission’s 15 members are required to be Iowa attorneys and that these attorneys are voted on not by the general public but by members of the Iowa bar.  The voters bringing the suit claimed that allowing only attorneys to vote, as opposed to the general public, violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.

In deciding this case the court made a number of important legal findings.  It found that the commission served a “special and limited purpose” as opposed to performing “general governmental functions” such as taxing or issuing bonds.  It also found that, while the decisions of these members will affect all Iowans, they particularly affect attorneys in unique and amplified ways.  Having made these two findings they deem this election a “special interest election,” and under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, participation in such elections are reviewed with a lower level of scrutiny.  Instead of invoking the familiar “one person, one vote” standard, they ruled that as long as the selection process for commission members had a rational relationship to a legitimate government interest, then the process was constitutional. Continue reading

Mr. Colbert: or, How states might learn to love campaign finance reform

Its opponents deride its existence as a farce upon campaign finance law.  Its supporters suggest that it is the only way to set the system straight.  News of it has reached the public’s consciousness, rarified air for anything in the field of campaign finance. And we’re not even talking about Citizens United.

The Federal Election Commission’s recent decision permitting comedian Stephen Colbert to form his own Super PAC has successfully turned the media’s (and to a certain extent, the public’s) attention to the post-Citizens United world of political donations. Continue reading

A Vote for [Candidate] is a Vote for Slight Changes to Regulations!

The sheer number of elected officials is a unique factor of the American political system. Jobs that would be filled by civil servants or via appointment in other countries are chosen by the voters. There is something appealingly ‘American’ about such an arrangement; the idea that the democratic values of accountability and popular will should be extended to as many corners of our society as possible. That said, some of the things we know about Americans and elections should give us pause when it comes to filling technical and low profile jobs via the ballot.

It’s a well-known, but still unfortunate, truth that the Presidential elections every four years are high water marks when it comes to voter participation. When one starts going down the list—Congressional elections, Gubernatorial elections, State Legislative elections, and local elections—voter interest, attention, and participation wane at each step. Even in Presidential elections, where turnout is highest, often voters are only voting for many of the offices on the ballot because, well, if you’re already in the voting booth, why not? Continue reading

Let the Staff Handle it: Iowa’s Answer to Redistricting

In the wake of the 2010 Census, reapportionment and redistricting of seats of the US House of Representatives looms large on the political horizon. Those who have lost hope that redistricting can ever be anything but dysfunctional should spare some attention for Iowa during this ongoing process.

For those states unlucky enough to lose one or more of their seats, the unpleasantness is two-fold: reduced representation at the federal level accompanied by a contentious and highly partisan redistricting process. Continue reading

Some will Win, Some will Lose, Some States are Born to Sing the Blues: The Coming Battle Over Reapportionment

The stakes are incredibly high, reapportionment is looming, and recent data from Election Data Services shows that neither Democrats nor Republicans will be too pleased come next year. States which have been recently labeled as ‘safe Republican’ in Presidential elections will gain seats, but in more Democratically inclined areas. States recently labeled as ‘safe Democrat’ in Presidential elections will lose some seats. The biggest gain will be in Texas. Texas can expect to gain four House seats, at least some of which will be placed in locations more favorable to Democratic candidates. Meanwhile, New York, a state typically labeled as ‘safe Democrat’ in Presidential elections, will likely lose two House seats. In terms of multi-district moves, Florida will likely gain two seats and Ohio will likely lose two seats. Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, South Carolina, Utah and Washington will all likely gain a seat while Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and Pennsylvania will all likely lose a seat.

Reapportionment is becoming a problem not only for certain Presidential candidates but also state and federal candidates, especially candidates in the Midwest where rapid population flight is decimating the electoral landscape. The close electoral math is mapping onto reapportionment strategy. Democrats and Republicans are locked in a mortal struggle to gain control of state houses and governor’s mansions across the nation, in anticipation of being able to influence the composition of both state legislatures and Congress over the next decade. Continue reading

Redistricting Reform Part 4

Let’s make some sausage, the first half

When we last saw our intrepid hero…. He was explaining why redistricting by partisan actors is  a bad thing. It’s been about a month, so it may be worthwhile to go back and read the last few in the series.

The magic answer to redistricting

So you’ve decided you’re going to change the world and fix redistricting. Great! Now let’s talk about how. How, you ask? Yeah, how. It’s not like you’ve got the magic answer to the problem. Unless you’re smarter than, well, everyone, you have to make a lot of difficult decisions when you’re trying to reform an integral (constitutional!) part of the government.

This piece will outline the first half of decisions you have to make along the way as you develop a reform proposal. This may not be entirely applicable to every place in the country, but it’s what we went through in Virginia. Continue reading

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