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Tag: Gerrymandering (page 2 of 3)

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

Gerrymandered or Court Ordered: The Second Re-Drawing Is the Charm for Florida’s Fifth

By: Jonathan Gonzalez

After the first round of judicial wrangling over two allegedly gerrymandered congressional districts, a Florida judge ordered on July 10th 2014 that the Florida fifth and tenth districts be sent back to the drawing board. The dispute arose from the Florida House of Representative’s mandated redrawing of the state’s congressional districts under amendments to Florida’s constitution passed during the 2010 election cycle. The amendments were intended to ensure that legislative districts were drawn cohesively and without favoring any political party. The Republican controlled state legislature interpreted “cohesive” as a mandate to pack African American voters into one district.

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Redistricting Reform Resurgence in the Badger State

By Alex Phillips

A proposal to adopt non-partisan redistricting for state and federal elections in Wisconsin is gaining momentum. Currently Wisconsin is one of twenty-four states where the state legislature is responsible for redistricting.  As outlined in the Wisconsin Constitution, districts must be as compact as practicable and contiguous.  They are also supposed to follow municipal ward lines when possible and three Assembly districts must be nested in each Senate district. Continue reading

News Brief: A Fox in the Henhouse

by Allison Handler

Though Ohio’s U.S. House district lines have been approved since September, it was not until February 17th that the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that those lines would remain in place for the 2012 elections. Much controversy has surrounded the lines, with claims from Democrats that the redistricting map was gerrymandered to favor the GOP. John Husted, Ohio Secretary of State, has called the state’s line-drawing system “partisan and dysfunctional.” Nevertheless, the Supreme Court based its ruling on timing; the Democrats “unreasonably delayed” the filing of their suit until 96 days after the districts had already been approved.

The redistricting scheme has famously left two veteran liberal incumbents running against each other: Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich. In addition to this high profile contest, the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting said the new map, developed last year when Republicans controlled four of the five seats of the Apportionment Board, reduces the number of competitive legislative districts and increases the number of safe Republican districts.

With primary elections only two weeks away, a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Democrats would have required postponed elections. Logistically, the doubt cast over the redistricting lines has led to some insecurity among candidates regarding where exactly they should be campaigning. Such controversies will be put aside for the upcoming primary, but the Supreme Court has agreed to evaluate the district map again for future elections. The lawsuit charged that GOP line drawing violated Article 11 of the state constitution, which requires that the districts be compact and contiguous and that local units of government not be split unnecessarily. The map divides 51 counties, 108 townships, 55 cities and 41 wards for a total of 255 divisions, according to the lawsuit.

The experience has prompted several advocacy organizations, like the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Common Cause Ohio, to band together in coalition to improve the way Ohio draws its districts. Known as Voters First Ohio, the group aims to create, by ballot drive, the Ohio Independent Redistricting Commission. The Commission would be charged with drawing lines for the 2014 election. This plan is meant to assuage some of the damage done by the 2011 redistricting in time to affect elections prior to 2021, when the state will undergo redistricting again after the next census.

“The [2011] plan was secretly drawn, the public hearings were a sham and it’s very clear that the sole goal was to maximize partisan advantage,” said Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Professor Daniel Tokaji, one of the leaders of the coalition. “It was the exact opposite of a fair process — you’d be hard-pressed to find a place where the process or end product was uglier than Ohio.”

Allison Handler is a first-year law student at William & Mary.


Waugh wrote up the occasion in his journal:a two day visit to see what ann has been up to.

Terminating “gerrymander” ghouls with transparency: Massachusetts’s 2012 redistricting approach (Part II)

by Richard Clausi

In light of Massachusetts’ long and sordid history with the issue of gerrymandering, it came as no surprise when Democratic Representative Michael J. Moran predicted two months ago that certain residents would be skeptical of the state’s recently-released congressional redistricting plans for the 2012 election cycle. However, thanks to the Massachusetts Legislature’s commitment to governmental transparency over the last eight months, it appears that the majority of Bay State citizens are confident that fairness and equal voting rights will prevail next November.

Beginning in March of this year, the Massachusetts Legislature Redistricting Committee (the “MLRC”) was given the difficult task of creating nine new voting districts following the loss of one of the state’s congressional districts due to the 2010 Census results. In light of the state’s failed 2001 Redistricting Act (which was struck down, in part, due to its discriminatory effects on the voting rights of African-Americans), the MLRC took great steps over the spring and summer monthsto ensure that Massachusetts residents were given the opportunity to weigh in on how the district lines would be drawn for 2012. Through the use of multiple public meetings and an extremely informative and accessible website, MLRC Chairman Michael J. Moran and his colleagues hoped that their “open-forum” philosophy would promote the idea that the new 2012 congressional districts would be created with voting equality principles in mind (as opposed to mere incumbency protection in a Democratic-dominated state).  And for now, that philosophy seems to have accomplished its stated objective. Continue reading

Terminating “gerrymander” ghouls with transparency: Massachusetts’ 2012 redistricting approach

by Richard Clausi

Generally known as the birthplace of the term “gerrymandering,” Massachusetts is certainly no stranger to accusations of unequal divisions of the state’s electoral power.  From Governor Elbridge Gerry’s 1812 attempts to weaken the Federalist Party to House Speaker Tom Finneran’s 2001 alleged legislative efforts to diminish minority vote strength, historical reasons abound as to why vigilant Bay State minority citizens would be extremely wary of the state’s upcoming Congressional redistricting.  In order to quell these inevitable fears of vote dilution and limit “beast sightings” (see right) in the 2012 election cycle, however, Massachusetts lawmakers have armed themselves with an invisible weapon – transparency.

Although its population grew a modest 3.1 percent from 2001 to 2010, Massachusetts still lost one of its ten congressional districts once the U.S. Census Bureau finalized its statistics last December.  As a result, Massachusetts voters in 2012 will elect the fewest number of their representatives to the U.S. Congress (nine) since the late eighteenth century.  However, before a single representative from Massachusetts even enters the 113th Congress, the state’s Legislative Redistricting Committee must create new congressional district lines that adhere to legal doctrinal principles and (hopefully) community desires. Continue reading

Open Up Elections With Proportional Voting

guest blog by Elise Helgesen and Rob Richie of FairVote

The battle over legislative redistricting in states around the country this year provides strong evidence of the failure of winner-take-all elections in single-member districts in modern America. In these districts huge numbers of people will, by design, be left feeling that they are without meaningful political representation – and without a realistic chance to change it.

Although seen as the norm in the United States, winner-take-all elections invite computer-facilitated partisan gerrymandering. The power to gerrymander districts is grounded in the simple fact that, given most voters’ strong opinions about the two major parties, outcomes are predictable in any district that leans more than 55% for one party. That makes it easy to make seats “safe,” especially given natural differences in voter opinion in different areas Continue reading

When a state’s constitution says “2011” does it really mean “2011?”

by Davis Walsh

Virginia’s House of Delegates appears ready to push Congressional redistricting to 2012, when Republicans will effectively control both the Commonwealth’s House and Senate. But such an action may be impermissible because Virginia’s Constitution, Article II, Section 6, mandates redistricting be completed in 2011, but the Constitution prescribes no express penalties for the failure to adopt a plan in 2011. The question that this situation presents is whether the General Assembly can ignore a provision of the Commonwealth’s Constitution when that provision includes no penalties.

Earlier this year, the Democrat-controlled Senate and Republican House of Delegates agreed on state General Assembly redistricting,  but each house passed competing plans for Congressional redistricting. The Republican House of Delegates plan would keep the Commonwealth’s split of eight Republicans and three Democrats in Congress. The Democratic Senate’s plan would create a new minority influence district, which would provide minorities with a substantial number of voters in a district but not a majority. Continue reading

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