Redistricting Roundup: Legislature approves new maps, much to chagrin of voters
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Edited by Geoff Pallay
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New York’s politically contentious redistricting process began winding its way to a close this week as the Legislature passed new state Senate and Assembly districts, as well as a constitutional amendment that would create a bipartisan commission to handle the task of redistricting following the next census. That is not to say any of this happened without controversy. Congressional districts remain in the court while the legislative districts passed in the Senate only after Democrats walked out in protest. Here’s a rundown on the week’s action:
On the congressional front, legislative leaders on Sunday admitted that they have been unable to reach a compromise on a new district map. Late the following day, U.S. Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann, who was appointed as redistricting master, issued her final recommendations on the map, making only minor changes to the first map she proposed last week. The legislature could still have avoided Mann's proposal from taking effect by adopting its own plan by Thursday, but that failed to materialize.
Mann’s plan now goes to a panel of three federal judges who have until March 20 to decide whether or not to accept her recommendations. Republicans issued their formal objection to the plan on Wednesday, focusing their arguments on incumbency protection. Their letter to the court says incumbents should not be placed in the same district if at all possible, stating that such protection is a traditional redistricting principle.
Over on the legislative side of things, leaders of LATFOR filed a 253-page bill detailing new state Senate and Assembly districts late on Sunday. The actual maps, however, were not released until nearly 24 hours later. They closely resemble the maps originally proposed back in January which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said were unacceptable. Along with this, leaders offered a constitutional amendment that would set up a new bipartisan commission on redistricting following the next census in 2020. The amendment has been the focus of a compromise between leaders and the Governor, with Cuomo agreeing not to veto the lines in exchange for a long-term solution.
When the new districts came to a vote in the Senate on Wednesday, the Republican majority passed it easily - after Democrats walked out in protest. Senate Democratic Leader John Sampson said he had reached an agreement with Republicans to extend the debate to four hours but when that was cut off after only two they left the chamber. The following day the legislature approved the constitutional amendment. In order to become law, it must be passed by the next separately elected legislature and also approved by voters in a referendum. With that approved, Cuomo is set to sign the new maps into law.
The governor -- as well as the state legislators who signed a pledge to have an independent commission draw the maps -- has taken a lot of heat for agreeing to a commission that many see as offering little change from the current process. Under the proposed amendment, legislative leaders in each chamber would appoint a total of eight members, with those 8 selecting two additional members. They would make recommendations to lawmakers, but the final decision on maps would still fall with the legislature. According to Cuomo, however, they would only be able to deviate two percent in any district from the commission’s report.
On Tuesday, the Alaska Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit against the state's new legislative districts. Last month, Judge Michael McConahy of Alaska's Fourth District Superior Court ruled that state House Districts 1, 2, 37, and 38 violate the Alaska Constitution. McConahy found that Districts 1, 2, and 37 violate the compactness criterion of the state constitution. In addition, he found that District 37 violate the contiguity condition and that District 38 violated the socio-economic integration condition. The Alaska Redistricting Board appealed the ruling with respect to Districts 37 and 38, defending the districts as drawn to comply with the Voting Rights Act.
On Wednesday, March 14, the High Court ruled that the redistricting board must redraw the plan with a priority on following Alaska Constitution. The court did not specifically rule on Districts 37 and 38. Instead, it instructed the Board to first attempt to square the districts with the state constitution, then adjust for compliance with the Voting Rights Act. Only then, argued the court, will the justices be able to evaluate which deviations from the constitution were truly necessary.
If the map is not altered in advance of the 2012 elections, the board could petition to use the contested plan as an interim map, redrawing the districts after the election season. However, since the changes ordered to Districts 1 and 2 were not contested in the appeal, these changes must be made to any interim map. The case was remanded to Judge McConahy who set a April 2 deadline for submission of a new plan. The plaintiffs and other interested parties have been invited to submit their own proposals. The Board has scheduled meetings from March 26-31 to work on a new plan.
Last week, the state legislature contemplated how much money to send to the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission in order to replenish its depleted budget. One measure approved by the State Senate approved an additional $1 appropriation (yes, that's not a typo). Yesterday, the commission's executive director Ray Bladine said the commission will file a lawsuit over the state's failure to approve additional funding. Bladine said the commission will run out of money by the end of the month without a supplemental appropriation. The commission cited unanticipated legal expenses as the cause of the early draining of its budget.
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"NY legislature jerks us all around by releasing new #redistricting plans without publishing actual maps"
The Florida State Legislature reconvened on Wednesday to begin redrawing the state's new Senate districts. The original Senate plan was struck down by the Florida Supreme Court. The Court found that eight districts had been drawn to favor incumbents and thus violated the state's legislative redistricting amendment. In addition, the court found that districts had been renumbered in order to allow select incumbents to serve longer terms. Florida has staggered Senate elections--half of its Senate seats are up for election every two years. Odd numbers are up in one election and evens in the next. However, because of redistricting, all 40 of the state's Senate seats will be up for election in 2012. Twenty seats -- those usually up for election in 2012 -- will have four-year terms. The other 20 seats, those not due for an election until 2014, will only have two-years terms, preserving the staggered arrangement. However, by selectively swapping numbers, lawmakers who had already served six years would have been up for another four-year term. Ordinarily, Florida's two-term limit restricts lawmakers to eight consecutive years in the Senate. In any case, lawmaker must now fairly renumber the seats and correct the eight offending districts. The Senate will take the lead in redrawing the chamber plan with the House deferring to their decisions.
|Total States with Lawsuits filed:||35 See full list here|
|Total States where courts have altered/changed the final map: 15|
|Maps submitted for vote: 135 out of 142 (95.1%)**||No votes on initial maps in the following: AL (2), KS (1), ME (2), MT (2)|
|States that have completed Congressional Maps||40/43 (Maps unfinished: KS, NH, NY)|
|States that have completed State Legislative Maps||43/50 (Maps unfinished: AL, KS, ME, MS, MT, NH, NY)|
|**With 50 states, there are 142 possible maps. 50 State Senate, 49 State House (No House in Nebraska), and 43 Congressional (7 states have 1 seat)|
A House committee passed a new congressional map by a vote of 12-11 on Wednesday. The controversial bill moves a portion of Wyandotte County--home to Democratic-leaning Kansas City--into the conservative 1st congressional district of Kansas. The map is a stark contrast to the one passed by the State Senate. The upper chamber chose a bipartisan map that keeps Wyandotte in the 3rd congressional district of Kansas.
On Wednesday, a constitutional amendment was approved by the Kentucky Senate's State and Local Government Committee. The bill would require state legislators to finish redistricting in the first complete session after census data is published. If the maps are not completed, lawmakers must stay in session without pay until a plan is approved. It would also clarify certain constitutional provisions guiding the process. The reform amendment must be approved by a 3/5 supermajority in each chamber before it can be presented to voters. On February 24, the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned the state's legislative districts.
On Monday, Missouri's bipartisan redistricting commission approved a new redistricting plan for the state Senate. The plan includes a few adjustments from the preliminary map. The first maps had angered St. Louis area Republicans and drawn a lawsuit over the population balance between urban and rural districts. The final plan tweaked the St. Louis districts and somewhat evened population disparities across the state. On Tuesday, the lawsuit was officially dropped in response to the modifications. Lawsuits are still pending against the state House and congressional maps.
Congressional redistricting is finally on the move in the Granite State. Despite having only two districts, both of which are held by Republicans, it has been a long and drawn out process that has mostly taken place out of the public eye. That changed on March 7 when a House subcommittee voted 7-3 to accept a plan for Congressional districts. The plan, known as the "revised Mirski/Bates Proposal," moves seven Republican leaning towns from the 2nd District to the 1st in exchange for Merrimack, New Hampton and Hart's Location. This would make the 2nd District slightly more Democratic leaning and the 1st slightly more Republican.
However, on March 12 the full committee voted 14-1 to adopt a different plan that makes no drastic changes, moving only 250 people. It is expected to be up for a full House vote next week. Once passed it will go to the Senate.
Meanwhile, a map of new House districts also advanced, with the Senate voting 15-8 in favor of the plan. Four Republican senators broke ranks to side with Democrats against the plan. If these senators hold their ground and New Hampshire Governor John Lynch (D) vetoes the plan as he is expected to, the Senate will not be able to override.
|This Week's Redistricting Highlight|
A panel of federal judges upheld South Carolina's new congressional and state legislative districts. Late last Friday, March 9, the judges dismissed a lawsuit that had alleged the lines were drawn to weaken African-American voters in the state.
While a case against the new districts remains pending, the Washington Supreme Court on Wednesday authorized the use of the new districts for the 2012 elections. Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, writing for the unanimous court, said there was not adequate time before the candidate filing period, which begins on May 14, to resolve the case.
Retired attorney John Milem first filed a petition with the court on February 8, arguing that the state redistricting commission did not draw the lines as outlined by state law and the state constitution. The current plan, he says, limits competition and does not represent communities as best as it could. The new congressional map splits 9 counties, two more than the previous map, while the legislative map splits 17. According to Milem, is is only necessary to split three to four for congress and 11 for legislative.
Milem and state attorneys have until April 13 to submit an agreed finding of facts. If they do not agree, the case will go to Thurston County Superior Court.