Redistricting Roundup: Redistricting affects more than Congressional and state legislative districts
By Geoff Pallay
As census data continues to be released to states, most of the attention has been given to what that means for Congressional and state legislative districts.
But in many states, the population figures matter with respect to even smaller levels of public officials -- such as county councils, school boards, and city council districts. These locations have been far from shielded from the controversy of state-level redistricting. Across the country, a number of heated redistricting battles have emerged.
- In Harford County, Maryland, the Republican-controlled County Council has determined that the Democratic Party is a "fringe" party -- meaning it will be shut out of the redistricting process. In the previous election, Democrats only garnered 12 percent of the total votes, which is below the county-established 15 percent figure in order to be eligible to sit on the redistricting committee. Democrats have been outraged, while Republicans have argued that to make an exception for Democrats would open the door for third parties (Green Party, Libertarian Party, etc...) to file similar complaints.
- Two ballot measures in Washington were passed on February 8, 2011 which impact school districts. The Morton school district passed a measure to re-organize the school district to have 3 districts and 2 at-large districts, rather than 5 specific districts. A similar measure was passed in the Oroville school district. That measure created four specific districts and one at-large, rather than 5 specific districts. Both measures were meant to foster better citizen participation on the school board.
|Who Received their Redistricting Data this week?|
- Residents of Dekalb County, Georgia (just outside of Atlanta) are rallying to combat school closings. Under a newly proposed redistricting plan the county would close 8 schools, impacting nearly 9,000 students. The original plan called for closing 14 schools but was scaled back due to the public outcry. The school board will vote on the plan on March 7.
- School administrators in Bowling Green, Kentucky must have maps ready in time for school registration this fall. Further complicating matters, any plan must be approved by the State Board of Education. The district is also waiting on the delayed construction of a new elementary school.
- A Dover, New Hampshire school construction plan is similarly held up by the need to iron out funding matters before the redistricting necessary to move students during and after construction can occur.
- In Memphis, Tennessee, school board members want to merge with nearby Shelby, thus increasing the number of board seats, and proceed to redistrict school boundaries under a unified board. That proposal has raised judicial and legislative questions over whether the Board has the right to add seats at all, and those debates threaten to bog down redistricting.
President's Week census data will feature the most releases to date, with eight states expected to receive their localized population figures. Those states are: Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii, Missouri, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Washington.
This week, an additional lawsuit was filed in Texas and the case in Oklahoma presented oral arguments in front of a judge. Overall, lawsuits pertaining to redistricting have been filed in five states so far -- Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Oklahoma and Texas.
|Total Lawsuits filed||Next state deadline?||States with Maps submitted||States that have completed redistricting|
|5 (Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Texas)||New Jersey: March 7||0||0|
The Arizona Redistricting Commission is nearly complete, with all four appointed commissioners now in place. The final member was chosen this week, as Senate Minority Leader David Schapira (D) chose Linda McNulty as the final appointed commissioner. On February 24, the commission will meet to choose a fifth and final member. Once the commission is full, it can embark on the process of redrawing Arizona's 9 Congressional, 30 Senate and 60 House districts.
Local census population data was delivered to Illinois on Monday. Chicago's population declined by 6.9 percent -- nearly 200,000 residents. The majority of that population was centered in Democratic-controlled districts. Currently, the five-least populated Senate and House districts in Illinois are all represented by Democratic legislators. The redistricting process is controlled by Democrats and the legislature.
A plan to re-draw the congressional districts in Louisiana -- apparently agreed upon over dinner at a Chinese restaurant -- has been unraveling as the odd-man out has been putting up a fight. Louisiana is losing a Congressional seat due to population loss and must re-draw its districts from seven down to 6. Jeff Landry, freshman Republican representative, was slated to have his district absorbed by Charles Boustany, a more senior Republican representative. Meanwhile, Boustany began holding meetings in Landry's current district -- anticipating those areas becoming part of his district -- which has led to a suddenly contentious process. Additionally, the first of nine public hearings on redistricting was held on Thursday. More than 100 people attended the meeting, held in Covington.
Congressional delegation's agreement on a map is falling apart. Jeff Landry, newly elected Republican does not want to give up his seat. Charles Boustany has the other district and he has seniority. Boustany has already begun holding meetings in parts of Landry's district, confident that this will become part of his new district. The legislature continued holding public meetings this week.
|This week in redistricting|
Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) released legislation that would create a bi-partisan redistricting commission in New York. The bill, known as the Redistricting Reform Act of 2011, addresses ever increasing calls for such reform in the state. Under the plan, the process of creating the commission would begin with the executive and legislative branches nominating a bipartisan pool of qualified candidates. From that pool, legislative leaders would select the members of the commission, which would hold public hearings, draft a plan, and submit it to the legislature for approval.
A bill was filed to move the deadline for redistricting from March 1 to June 1. It has already passed the House and is now before the Senate. The measure would also require approval from the Justice Department because Mississippi is under jurisdiction of the Voting Rights Act. Mississippi's signature filing deadline is June 1, 2011, which was already moved back from March 1. Should legislators succeed in moving the redistricting deadline, that would likely also push back the signature filing deadline for candidates running for office in 2011.
Nebraska currently has 49 seats which are redrawn by the state senate. Cedar Rapids Senator Kate Sullivan introduced a bill, LB 195, to add a Senate seat, taking advantage of a law that allows chamber to cap out at 50 members. A competing bill, LB 233, would cut the number of seats from 49 down to 45. Its sponsor, Bob Krist, pointed out that the bill would save $500,000 in each biennial legislative cycle, money that would potentially be used to provide travel stipends to Senators dealing with larger districts.
As New Jersey's redistricting commission draws nearer to its deadline, more attention is being paid to the history of uncompetitive races in state legislative elections. According to election results, only 2 districts had winners' margins of victory less than 10 percent over the past decade. Thus, in the four years of elections in the 2000s, the average margin of victory for winners in 38 districts was greater than 10 percent.
A preliminary hearing was held in the lawsuit regarding Oklahoma's redistricting ballot measure. The suit maintains that the measure -- which restricts membership on the redistricting commission to only Democrats and Republicans -- violates the one man, one vote principle and is unconstitutional. The state argues that no actual harm has been done to minority voters. Barbara Swimley, Oklahoma State Supreme Court judge heard oral arguments in the matter on Wednesday. Swimley will likely simply rule whether the Supreme Court should take the case. Lawsuit is about the ballot measure that made the apportionment committee comprised of only Democrats and Republicans.
The first lawsuit in Texas targeting the 2011 redistricting cycle was filed last Friday, February 11th. The Texas Tribune reports that Attorney Michael Hull of Austin, representing three North Texas voters, sued the state and several elected officials -- including Governor Rick Perry (R), Lieutenant Governor of Texas David Dewhurst (R) and Speaker of the House Joe Straus (R) -- alleging that counting undocumented immigrants in political districts has an unfair and illegal effect on voters in districts with smaller numbers of non-citizens. The U.S. Census released the Texas population data on Thursday, setting the stage for legislators to get busy with redistricting. Texas's population grew percent 20.6 since 2000; the Hispanic population grew 42 percent over the same period. The Hispanic population grew by more than 100 percent in 17 Texas counties.