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Tag: Redistricting (page 1 of 9)

Efforts to Challenge Pennsylvania’s 2011 Redistricting Continue into 2017

By: Scott McMurty

Election law—and particularly map drawing—in Pennsylvania carries the potential to have significant impacts on the composition of government in Washington, as the state has long been considered a battleground in national elections. Yet despite its reputation for competitiveness, Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation has consisted of thirteen Republicans and just five Democrats in the past three Congresses, following a redistricting overhaul by the Republican-controlled state legislature in 2011. This imbalance has sparked calls for redistricting reform in Pennsylvania, and in June became the subject of a legal challenge in Commonwealth Court by the League of Women Voters and disgruntled voters from some of the state’s more “convoluted” districts.

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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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Federal Court Ruling Creates Chaos for North Carolina Primaries But There May Be a Solution

By: Blake Willis

Election litigation has experienced a new spike in recent years, with many states being involved with litigation over redistricting plans, Voter I.D. laws, and other ballot access issues. Since the inception of litigation under the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), there has been a consistent concern that federal courts should not be involved in determining the policies of voting, re-districting, and other related issues. Cases such as plurality opinion Davis v. Bandemer express such concerns, stating that partisan gerrymandering concerns are not justiciable, and that opening the door for federal courts to examine similar claims may set a dangerous precedent. In Veith v. Jubelirer, Justice Scalia echoed this sentiment, arguing that it is an increasingly difficult task for courts to determine what the predominant factor for drawing a district line may be. The expanding jurisprudence from both partisan and racial gerrymandering cases proves this argument may hold some validity, as evidenced by courts’ disagreement over the correct standard to apply, what the evidentiary standard should be, and who the burden of proof rests upon, as just a few examples. Although this litigation has been ongoing for decades, it is by no means near reaching an end.

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South Dakota Redistricting: Legislature or Independent Commission?

By: Bethany Bostron

Along with the extensive campaign finance reform posed by Initiated Measure 22, South Dakotans will be deciding whether to amend the state constitution to have state legislative redistricting conducted by an independent commission. The constitution currently provides that the legislature itself conducts state legislative redistricting. The commission established under Constitutional Amendment T would be comprised of nine registered voters selected by the State Board of Elections in each redistricting year (currently every 10 years). These nine commission members would be selected from a pool of 30 applicants comprised as follows: 10 from the Democratic Party, 10 from the Republican Party, and 10 individuals not registered with either party. Each applicant must be registered or not registered with a party for the three years prior to appointment. Of the nine selected members, no more than three may belong to the same party. Commission members are barred from holding office in a political party or certain local or state offices for the three years before and three years after their appointment. The amendment calls for the new commission to redistrict the state in 2017, 2021, and then every 10 years. The new commission must comply with applicable state and federal law when drawing districts and allow for public comment on the proposed map. Attorney General Marty Jackley’s explanation of the amendment does not state any foreseeable challenges to the change.

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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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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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The Fantasy of the Hispanic Voting Bloc in Florida and Its Implications on Redistricting

All across the country for the last few years, whenever politicians or the media talk about minority groups, they talk about the “Hispanic Vote,” lumping all Hispanic voters into a single group. But this statement is problematic for the United States, particularly in a state like Florida, in the context of redistricting, because Hispanic voters are not like other minority voters. Unlike black voters, Hispanic citizens, despite their shared language, are not one single homogenous block of voters. They come from different countries, have different cultures, and identify as different races. In fact, certain groups of Hispanics from some countries share strong animosity against groups of Hispanics from other countries. These differences, reflected in some Hispanic voting patterns, make it difficult for state legislatures to comply with the Voting Right Act when drawing district lines, but it can make it even more difficult for Hispanic plaintiffs to challenge districts because of the case law enunciated in Thornburg v. Gingles (1986). Gingles requires that a plaintiff challenging a state for violating §2 of the Voting Rights Act must prove that a minority is sufficiently large, politically cohesive, and that the majority votes as a block against the minority to prove vote dilution.

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West Virginia Considers New Redistricting Procedures, Including a Citizens Redistricting Commission

By: Stephanie Wilmes

During the most recent session of the West Virginia legislature, state lawmakers introduced two new bills, House Bill 2129 and House Joint Resolution 21, that would change the way the state draws its district lines. Currently, the West Virginia Constitution requires only that Congressional districts be contiguous, compact, and of equal population; that state Senate districts be “compact, formed of contiguous territory, bounded by county lines, and, as nearly as practicable, equal in population;” and that the arrangement of the districts “shall… be declared by law.”

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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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