Redistricting Roundup: Push for redistricting commissions increases among minority parties

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February 11, 2011

Redistricting Roundup.jpg

By Geoff Pallay

Nationwide, the push for independent redistricting commissions varies in strength from state-to-state. But the evidence is clear -- the party in power nearly always opposes independent redistricting commissions, while the minority party generally supports them.

Take the following examples:

Who Received their Redistricting Data this week?

The same stories are true in many other states -- Utah, New York, South Dakota and Wisconsin have all experienced some sort of push for an independent commission. And in all states thus far, the minority party has been rebuked by the party in control.

Meanwhile, New Jersey does have a bi-partisan commission, but it is made up of 5 Democrats and 5 Republicans (and an 11th member chosen by the first 10). But half of New Jersey's voters are "unaffiliated" -- which has led to some speculation as to why there are no unaffiliated representatives on the commission.

The message is clear -- whoever does not have a seat at the redistricting table is dissatisfied to be left in the dark; the powers-that-be at the table generally prefer to keep control to themselves.


Lawsuits pertaining to redistricting have been filed in four states so far -- Arizona, Florida, Minnesota and Oklahoma.

State news

Redistricting Facts
Total Lawsuits filed Next state deadline? States with Maps submitted States that have completed redistricting
4 (Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Oklahoma) New Jersey: March 7 0 0


The Arizona redistricting commission received its third member this week. Richard Stertz of Tucson was chosen by Senate President Russell Pearce (R). Stertz was one of the 2 names added to the nominee list after Pearce and Speaker of the House Kirk Adams (R) filed suit over the legality of two nominees.


Growth in Arkansas was largely centered in the northwestern portion of the state -- a historically Republican-heavy location. Both the Senate and House are controlled by the Democratic Party. However, their majorities fell during the 2010 elections. With population trending toward Republican districts, and Democrats' hold over the chambers slipping, one must question whether Democrats will try to use redistricting to strengthen their hold on the majority. The Arkansas Board of Apportionment is responsible for re-drawing legislative districts. That board is made up of 2 Democrats (Governor Mike Beebe and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel) and 1 Republican ( Secretary of State Mark Martin).


Last week, Republicans created the Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office to be in charge of redistricting. This week, Democrats called for a second agency that will focus more on minority party rights in the redistricting process. Senator Horacena Tate (D) formally requested the office in a letter to Speaker of the House David Ralston (D) and Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams (R). Ralston and Williams rejected the request. During the last redistricting process in 2001, the roles were reversed as Democrats were in power and resisted Republican attempts to create more input from the minority party.


The local census data released last week in Louisiana has revealed that Baton Rouge has officially moved ahead of New Orleans as the biggest city in state. With population hemorrhaging out of the southern part of the state post-Katrina, it is appearing more likely that the removal of a Congressional district will come at the expense of the southern geographic area of Louisiana. The majority of state power over redistricting rests with legislators in the northern part of the state, which makes it all but a foregone conclusion that the reshaping from 7 districts to 6 will come at the expense of southern Louisiana.

This week in redistricting
Former Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry.
The nice way to refer to the reapportionment and re-drawing of seats is to call it redistricting. The more commonly used terminology for when politicians re-create their own districts, is gerrymandering. It was on this fateful day -- February 11 -- 199 years ago that the term gerrymander came into being. Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry created a district that quite simply looked like a salamander. The term gerrymander was created, and politicians have never looked back.


Massachusetts must cut one Congressional district from its map, as it moves from 10 seats to 9. So far, none of the 10 sitting incumbents (all Democrats) have hinted at retirement, which puts the Democratically-controlled Senate and House in a predicament -- which 2 incumbents will be drawn into the same district and forced to run against one another? Recently, Representative Michael Moran (Massachusetts) (D), chairman of the House redistricting committee, and Senator Stanley Rosenberg (D) met privately with members of the Congressional delegation in both Washington D.C. and western Massachusetts. Moran and Rosenberg were seeking input about how best to draw the districts.


Being one of four states with legislative elections in 2011, the deadline for candidates to declare for 2011 races is June 1st. This date has already been moved once, from March 1st, owing to the Mississippi redistricting process. The redistricting committee has said it needs 2-3 months to draw the maps; in addition to this. the U.S. Justice Department reserves the right to take 60 days to deliver pre-clearance on those maps. Mississippi is 1 of 16 states requiring pre-clearance from the federal government under the Voting Rights Act. If this tentative timeline unfolds as expected, it's possible the June 1st deadline will not be met. Mississippi's primary is currently scheduled for August 2, 2011.

South Carolina

As redistricting in South Carolina gets underway, Democrats are positioning themselves to make an impact, despite the heavy Republican majority. In particular, White Democrats -- of which there are 19 in the House and 10 in the Senate -- could try and partner with African-American Democrats to try and strengthen their numbers and the chances of White Democrats winning more districts. Democrats have raised $50,000 to draw pro-Democratic districts. Republicans control the governor's mansion, Senate, and House.


House Speaker Joe Straus (R) announced Procedural Redistricting Committee members. Burt Solomons (R) received the chairmanship and Michael Villarreal (D) will serve as vice-chair. Of the remaining 15 members, 4 are Democrats and 11 are Republicans. Texas picked up 4 additional U.S. House seats in the reapportionment.

See also