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News Brief: Another California redistricting victim

by Brett Piersma

In September, this blog reported on the impact of a California initiative to create a citizen-panel to draw the new electoral districts. The commission’s efforts resulted in more competitive districts, with additional unintended consequences likely to follow such as more expensive campaigns relying on wealthy donors. On the other hand, more competitive districts are likely to draw more moderate candidates into the race, at least so goes the theory.

The Los Angeles Times reported in January that Elton Gallegly, the subject of our September piece, had chosen not to run for reelection. For some, this came as no surprise. A long-time representative earning reelection with big margins, Gallegly would certainly have carried his pre-redrawn district. But the commission’s actions placed Gallegly’s home in the same district as another popular Republican, Howard “Buck” McKeon. It does not require a top-dollar campaign advisor to calculate his chances of election in this new district, or in the new districts surrounding.

How his retirement will affect both California’s and the Republican Party’s clout in the House is uncertain, but not difficult to imagine. Gallegly not only chaired the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement and vice-chaired the Committee on Foreign Affairs, but reported in January on his significant connections with pharmaceuticals, finance, and real estate corporations.

Gallegly joins a long string of representatives retiring at the end of this term, many of whom are stepping down at least in part due to redistricting in their states.

Brett Piersma is a third-year law student at William and Mary.



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Updating Voter Registration in Ohio: Online is Easier

What can’t you do online nowadays? The government lets us use the internet to pay parking tickets, and several states even allow its residents to renew their driver’s licenses online, so why not update voter registration online too? That is exactly what House Bill 194 will allow Ohioans to do. Continue reading

Weekly Wrap Up

Every week, State of Elections brings you the latest news in election law

– On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Doe v. Reed.  The plaintiffs argue that Washington’s Public Records Act, which makes the names of signatories to ballot initiatives a matter of public record, should be declared unconstitutional .  Members of a group called “Protect Marriage Washington”, who submitted petitions for a referendum to repeal Washington’s domestic partnership laws, have asked for an injunction against the publication of their names.  The signatories fear harassment from gay marriage proponents should their names be published, as required under the Public Records Act. Here’s a transcript of the oral arguments.

– The Supreme Court of New Jersey has agreed to hear a case involving an attempt by a Tea Party organization to recall Senator Robert Menendez.  The New Jersey constitution allows Senators to be recalled, but the U.S. Constitution is silent on the issue.  The appeals court previously ruled in favor of the Tea Party and allowed their recall efforts to continue.

– Merced County in California is seeking to remove itself from the restrictions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights ActSection 5 requires that certain states and municipalities “preclear” changes to their voting laws with the Attorney General.  Only four counties in California are subject to the additional restrictions imposed by Section 5.

– Here’s a very odd story out of Orange County California.  According to a local newspaper, dozens of voters were allegedly tricked into registering as Republicans.  Members of the Republican Party supposedly tricked passersby into thinking they were signing petitions for liberal causes, like legalizing marijuana, when they were actually signing voter registration forms that identified them as Republicans.  The California Republican Party offers an $8 dollar bounty for every new Republican registration, which apparently inspired this latest attempt to trick voters into registering as Republicans.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the People’s Veto

dr_strangelove_1ed07Like many other states, Maine allows for citizen initiatives, the process by which individual citizens and nongovernmental organizations directly propose legislation.  Also like many other states, Maine’s initiative process attracts more than its fair share of bizarre characters and proposals, including this referendum to end the fluoridation of Maine’s drinking water.  Considering the most famous attempt to end the fluoridation of drinking water ended in a nuclear war, I suppose that the initiative process is a vast improvement.

However, the occasional strange referendum isn’t the only thing that makes Maine’s initiative process interesting. In addition to allowing conventional initiatives, Maine also gives its citizens a “People’s Veto”, through which the voters can veto laws passed by the state legislature.  The right to a People’s Veto is enshrined in Article IV, Section 17 of Maine’s Constitution, which also outlines the process by which a veto can appear on the ballot.  Continue reading

California’s Citizens Redistricting Commission: Do it Yourself Gerrymandering!

For too long, the joys of disenfranchising minorities and gerrymandering a district into irrelevancy have been selfishly hoarded by state legislatures. But in California, a group of 14 ordinary citizens will get the opportunity to draw the lines themselves, as members of California’s first Citizens Redistricting Commission.

The Citizens Redistricting Commission was created as a result of California’s citizen initiative process. California Common Cause, a nonpartisan organization for “open and accountable government”, proposed an amendment to the California Constitution that would take the task of redistricting out of the hands of the legislature and put it directly in the hands of the people.  That proposed amendment became Proposition 11, also known as the Voter First Initiative, and was voted on by the people of California in the 2008 general election.  Despite receiving support from a number of prominent figures, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Bloomberg, Prop 11 barely passed, receiving less than 51% of the vote. Continue reading

The Legislature Strikes Back: Citizen Initiatives in Washington State

Initiative proponent/Dark Lord of the Sith Tim Eyman appears in front of the Washington Secretary of State’s Office

This past January, for the second time in two years, a bill has been filed with the Washington State legislature to amend the State Constitution, removing the provisions allowing for citizen initiatives and referendums.  If passed by the state legislature, the measure would be sent to the voters for their approval at the next general election.  Citizen initiatives are the process by which citizens and nongovernmental organizations can directly propose legislation. If the proposed legislature receives a certain number of signatures (a number equal to 8% of the voters in the previous gubernatorial election), the proposal is then voted on by the people of the state, completely bypassing the legislature. Referenda require fewer signatures, but the proposed legislation must still be voted on by the legislature.

The bill, proposed by state Senator Ken Jacobsen, would remove the entirety of Article II, Section 1 of the Washington Constitution, as well as other sections that acknowledge the initiative and referendum process.   The initiative process is constantly being challenged by lawmakers, and this bill is just the latest debate in a long battle in a number of states, mostly in the West, where the use of initiatives is common.  Proponents of citizen initiatives argue that they are vitally important to ensuring the people have a say in their own government, while opponents argue that they interfere with the functioning of the legislature and government.

The initiative process has often been seen as the purest form of direct democracy, giving the most voice to individual citizens. Tim Eyman, intuitive guru and anti-tax crusader, had harsh words for Jacobsen and his initiative, as well the sponsors of other bills that would regulate the signature-gathering and initiative-filing process. Eyman calls the bill a “legislative jihad”, and claims that Ken Jacobson “is the most honest elected official on this issue. He’s openly pushing to take our rights away from us. The sponsors of the other anti-initiative bills…hide their opposition and seek to impose unneeded, costly requirements on citizens so as to effectively repeal the initiative process with a stealth “regulate to death” strategy.” Continue reading

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