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Tag: Gerrymandering (page 1 of 3)

Defining “Compactness”: Meaningless Truism or Gerrymander Slayer?

By: Ben Williams 

This past week, an upstart election law reform organization in Virginia garnered national attention for a lawsuit that could redefine the legal strategies of anti-gerrymandering activists across the country. Per Article II, § 6 of the Virginia Constitution, “[e]very electoral district shall be composed of contiguous and compact territory…” (emphasis added). Virginia is not alone in requiring its districts to be compact—a majority of states have such a requirement. But while the word “contiguous” is easily defined (all parts of the district are connected in a single, unbroken shape), the political science community lacks a common understanding of what exactly contiguity is. As a threshold issue, there are two potential ways to measure a district’s compactness: spatially (the physical shape and area of the district) or demographically (calculating the spread of persons within a given district).  While many states do not define which of these measures should govern, or if one should be preferred over the other, the Virginia Supreme Court in Jamerson v. Womack said the language of Art. II (cited above) “clearly limits [the Article’s] meaning as definitions of spatial restrictions in the composition of electoral districts.” Thus, one of the key questions the Circuit Court judge and the attorneys in the case had to address was how to measure spatial compactness in Virginia?

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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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Why Aren’t Virginia Voters Voting in Year 3 Elections?

By: Melissa Ryan

Virginia holds elections every year in November: Year 1 for Governor (most recently 2013); Year 2 for the U.S. Congress (2014); Year 3 for the Virginia legislature and statewide and local offices (2015); and Year 4 for the President and U.S. Congress (2016).

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Shifting Racial Make-Up of D.C

By: Randolph Critzer

Few places in the United States can offer a snapshot of American politics quite like Washington D.C. There are over 650,000 people living in the District, which serves not only as the focal point of our federal system, but also as the local and pseudo-state level government for its many residents.

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Conflicted Court Likely to Reverse 4th Circuit in Maryland Redistricting Case

By: Hayley Steffen

The stakes were high at oral argument for Shapiro v. McManus on November 4, 2015. Justice Breyer said Shapiro and his co-plaintiffs “want[ed] to raise about as important a question as you can imagine . . . And if they [were] right, that would affect congressional districts and legislative districts throughout the nation.” It was clear that the justices struggled with the serious implications that their decision could have for future redistricting and partisan gerrymandering cases.

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The Fourth Time is the Charm: Ohio Voters Implement a Bipartisan Redistricting Commission

By: Kelsey Carpenter

On Election Day 2015, Ohio voters implemented ballot initiative Issue 1. This initiative creates a bipartisan redistricting commission to draw the state legislative district lines following the 2020 census, as opposed to the current system that allows the majority party to elect five partisan members to the redistricting commission. According to Issue 1, a seven-member panel that includes representatives from both the majority and minority parties will redraw the lines. The redistricting plan will pass for four years if four members of the panel accept the lines, while it will last for ten years if at least two of those votes come from members of the minority party. It is an interesting plan that attempts to eliminate partisan politics by incentivizing bipartisanship and cooperation.

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Underlying Partisan Bickering in Harris: The Role of the Independent Commission in Arizona’s Current Redistricting Battle

By: Will Cooke

Several legislative districts in Arizona are potentially in flux as the Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments in Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission. Rooted in the ongoing debate about the permissible degree of population deviation in state districts, the plaintiffs in the case focus their argument on the strong correlation between political ideology and the population of a district. As the graph below demonstrates, eleven of the thirteen Democrat-leaning legislative districts in the state contain total populations below the “ideal district size” (or the size of a district if drawn with perfect uniformity of population).

Arizona Districts

Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, 993 F. Supp. 2d, 1094 (D. Ariz. 2014)

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Compactness and Political Considerations in Virginia General Assembly Districts

By: Emily Wagman

On September 14th, fourteen plaintiffs represented by DurretteCrump PLC filed suit in the Circuit Court for the City of Richmond against the Virginia State Board of Elections, alleging that their respective House of Delegates and State Senate districts are not compact. Compactness is one of the Virginia Constitution’s three redistricting criteria. Along with compactness, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) requirements, and the “one person, one vote” requirement, districts must be contiguous and as close to equal in population as possible. Contiguity and equal population are relatively easy to determine, by looking at the proposed maps and the population data, respectively, compactness is more complicated.

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When States Gerrymander, Everyone Loses: The Fight Over Florida’s Fifth Congressional District

FloridaFlorida’s Fifth Congressional District is quite a sight to behold. Beginning in Jacksonville, it runs south all the way to the outer edges of Orlando, also managing to scoop up part of Gainesville on the way. The District twists and turns, becoming very narrow and then very wide, so that one must wonder, what could be the motivation behind such an oddly shaped district? Unsurprisingly, the answer is gerrymandering. Unfortunately, the 5th District is an example of gerrymandering at its worst but there is hope. The shape of the 5th District may be changing very soon, but, in the meantime, nobody in either major political party will likely be happy with the district and average citizens are hurting when their community interests are not fairly represented.

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What a Pain for Payne: Virginia’s Racial Packing Lawsuit

By Ashley Eick

3rd ViginiaAs a slew of lawyers scurried around trying to organize their maps and evidence, Judge Payne sat calmly in the center of a three-judge panel. In late May of 2014, high-powered lawyers boiled down mountains of statistics, diagrams, and expert opinions into a two-day bench trial. They needed to convince Judge Payne and two Fourth Circuit judges to rule that the General Assembly primarily used race to concoct Virginia’s fantastically shaped 3rd congressional district. Against all odds, they succeeded.

Although all the attention and spotlight has been on Alabama, Virginia has been facing its own mudslinging, partisan wrangling, racial packing lawsuit. Three plaintiffs – Dawn Curry Page, Gloria Personhuballah and James Farkas – have challenged the constitutionality of Virginia’s 3rd congressional district as a racial gerrymander in violation of the Equal Protection Clause. They allege that the General Assembly “packed” black voters into the 3rd district, Virginia’s only minority-majority district, to dilute minority influence in the surrounding predominantly white districts. In the enacted plan, the black voting-age population increased from 53.1 percent to 56.3 percent while it decreased in every adjacent district. Furthermore, African-Americans “accounted for over 90% of the added voting age residents.” Continue reading

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