State of Elections

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Tag: iowa

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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Flip and Flop: Federal judge lifts Michigan state law banning “Ballot Selfies,” but Sixth Circuit reverses four days later

By: Angela M. Evanowski

On October 24, 2016, famous singer and actor Justin Timberlake found himself in trouble after posting a “ballot selfie” on his two social media accounts, Twitter and Instagram. Timberlake, who is registered to vote in Tennessee, flew from California to his home voting county and posted the selfies in order to encourage millennials and fans to vote. However, to the surprise of Timberlake, the state of Tennessee earlier this year passed a law banning voters from taking photographs or videos during the voting process. Luckily, for this famous former boy-band member, he is not going to face any criminal charges or punishment for posting his ballot selfies. Continue reading

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

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