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Redistricting Roundup: Vermont takes step toward eliminating multi-member House districts

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June 17, 2011

Edited by Geoff Pallay

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In several of our roundups over the past few months, the issue of multi-member versus single-member districts has been highlighted as a point of contention in several states. Now, as states enter the heart of the redistricting season, decisions about restructuring state representation are beginning to be made.

Last week, Vermont took the first actual step forward, as its Legislative Apportionment Board voted 4-3 to eliminate the state’s multi-member districts, selecting a draft plan containing 150 individual House districts. The board will now begin discussing the issue with local election officials. Any plan drafted by the board must be approved by the Vermont State Legislature.

Currently, Vermont has 66 single-member districts and 42 two-member constituencies. Eric Davis, a retired political science professor from Middlebury College, called the single-member districts proposal impractical. Davis criticized the plan because it would force some towns to split into multiple districts and create more work for town clerks by requiring more polling stations.

Among the incumbents who could be combined into single districts would be current House Speaker Shap Smith (D) and Mark Woodward (D).

The single-member draft plan can be found here.

Other states where multi-member districts have been debated include:

  • Hawaii: The Hawaii Attorney General's office signed off on a possible shift to multi-member districts without a constitutional amendment. Hawaii used to employ multi-member districts, but that system was overturned in a 1981 federal lawsuit.
  • West Virginia: Currently, the West Virginia House of Delegates has 100 members with 36 single-member districts and 22 multi-member districts. Several legislators have pushed the creation of 100 single-member districts.
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  • Utah: Democrats proposed creating multi-member districts but that idea was rejected by the majority Republicans.

There are currently 11 states that employ multi-member legislative districts in some capacity.

State news

Alaska

The Alaska Redistricting Board officially completed the state’s legislative redistricting plan on Tuesday. Redistricting will have a profound effect on Alaska’s 2012 elections. In addition to the five sets of incumbents paired under the plan, many senators will face early elections in 2012. Ordinarily, half (10) of Alaska's senators would be up for election in 2012, and half would be up for election in 2014 -- Alaska senators serve staggered four-year terms. However in 2012, every senator except Dennis Egan (D) will face re-election due to substantial changes to their constituency. (Egan's district saw only marginal change.) Senators scheduled for the 2014 election will be elected to two-year terms in 2012, preserving Alaska's staggered Senate elections.

 Alaska Redistricting: Statewide Redistricting Plan 
 Note: Numbers denote House districts, and letters denote Senate pairings. 

Georgia

Following the release of 2010 census data, the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus filed a lawsuit seeking the dissolution of five cities in DeKalb and Fulton counties. The suit against the state claims that normal procedures were circumvented in order to create "super-majority white" cities, which dilute minority votes and violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the U.S. Constitution. On June 10, the Georgia Attorney General's Office filed a motion to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing that the formation of the cities "does not diminish anyone’s existing right to vote and did not violate the Voting Rights Act.."

Hawaii

Quote of the Week
"We’ve been here since January, we don’t have any maps, and we haven’t had any meaningful committee meetings. We have no criteria. It’s perfectly apparent that the maps are going to be drawn in secret by the majority."[1]

-- Joe Hackney, North Carolina House of Representatives House Minority Leader

Currently, Hawaii and Kansas are the only states that exclude non-resident military personnel in redistricting calculations. However, Hawaii's policy may change during the 2011 redistricting process, giving representation to the nearly 72,000 non-residents on the islands. Advocates of their inclusion argue that military personnel deserve representation because they pay sales tax and form an important part of the economy. However, including non-residents could change the outcome of state legislative redistricting.

On Wednesday, the Oahu Advisory Council unanimously passed a resolution urging the state to include non-residents. Doing so could allow Oahu to retain its current Senate seatsand prevent the Big Island from gaining one. The matter is still under consideration with the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission.

Michigan

Michigan Republicans released their proposed redistricting plan today, detailing possible changes to the state's Senate, House, and Congressional districts. In the proposed Congressional plan, Reps. Gary Peters (D) and Sander Levin (D) would be paired together. At least one Democratic Congressman is expected to be eliminated.

The State House maps largely preserve the current GOP advantage. The Senate plan appears to strengthen GOP incumbents, but does makes some districts more competitive for Democrats in Saginaw and Kalamazoo counties. Both state legislative plans weaken the power of Detroit after a decade of sharp population decline for the city. The plans effectively remove two House districts and one Senate member from Wayne county. In addition, no Senate district would be entirely contained within Detroit proper. Detroit saw a population decline of 25% in the last decade. Michigan as a whole lost 0.6% of its population and forfeited one U.S. House seat -- the only state in the nation to see an overall population decline.

New Jersey

Members of the New Jersey Congressional redistricting commission were appointed this week. There are 12 commissioners -- 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans. Those members will now have one month to vote on a 13th member to serve as the tiebreaker. Because New Jersey is losing one Congressional seat, the process is expected to be closely monitored to see which incumbent gets the short end of the stick. The deadline for the map is January 17, 2012.

New York

As U.S. House Representative Anthony Weiner announced his resignation, the redistricting picture could become a little clearer in New York. The Empire State will not likely deal with redistricting until next year. With two seats to trim from the map, the recent resignations of Weiner and Chris Lee could simplify the process of finding two seats to cut. Historically, whichever districts had no clear incumbent were on the chopping block.

Ohio

Redistricting Facts
Total States with Lawsuits filed: 19
Next state deadline? Delaware
June 30, 2011
Maps submitted for vote: 42 out of 142 (29.6%)** MS (2), LA (3), AR (1), VA (3), IA (3), NJ (2), MO (1), IN (3), OK (3), TX (3), MN (3), NV (3), NE (2), AL (1), IL (3), OR (2), SC (2), AK (2)
States that have completed Congressional Maps 7 (AR, LA, IA, IN, NE, OK, AL, )
States that have completed State Legislative Maps 10 (NJ, LA, IA, VA, IN, NE, OK, IL, OR, AK)
**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)

The Ohio Legislative Task Force on Redistricting, Reapportionment, and Demographic Research held its first meeting on Thursday. The committee will assist the General Assembly and Ohio Redistricting Commission in drafting new maps. In addition to providing research support, the task force oversees funding for the Ohio redistricting process. House Speaker William Batchelder (R) and Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro (D) will co-chair the task force.

Oregon

On Monday, Governor John Kitzhaber (D) signed the new Oregon state legislative maps into law. Lawmakers praised one another for completing the process in the legislature without court involvement for the first time in 100 years. The plan is largely based on the 2001 maps drawn by then-Secretary of State Bill Bradbury (D) and preserves Rep. Betty Komp's (D) majority-minority Hispanic district. Although Republicans had pushed for more significant changes to the previous maps, the partisan tie and the threat of handing the process over to Secretary of State Kate Brown (D) motivated a compromise. The plan passed 27-3 in the Senate and 47-10 in the House.

Note: An interactive map of the new plans can be found here.

Rhode Island

The Senate and House passed legislation this week that will establish a new process for conducting redistricting. The bill -- if signed by the Governor -- will establish an 18-member commission comprised of 12 state lawmakers and 6 members of the general public. The commission would then make recommendations to the Rhode Island General Assembly by January 15, 2012 on new Congressional and state legislative maps.

The legislation was sponsored by Senator Michael McCaffrey (D) and House representative Stephen Ucci (D).

South Carolina

Legislators in South Carolina returned this week for a special session to handle Congressional and legislative redistricting. So far, both chambers have passed their respective legislative redistricting plans and sent them to the opposite chamber for concurrence.

Next on the agenda will be Congressional redistricting, which could prove contentious with the addition of a 7th District as a result of widespread population growth. The House passed a Congressional map on Wednesday. That map would create the new district around Georgetown and Horry counties, in the northeastern part of the state. A Senate public hearing is scheduled for Monday to gather feedback.

The Congressional map passed by the House most closely matches that of the one proposed by Congressional representatives Mick Mulvaney (R) and Joe Wilson (R) on May 4, 2011.

The special session is set to run until July 1. Democrats in the House have already hinted at a possible lawsuit.

Texas

This Week's Redistricting Highlight
Analysts have had a full week now to examine the draft maps released by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission. One early take by Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report notes there are 25 total districts either vacant or with multiple incumbents (11 with 2 incumbents, one with 3, and 13 vacant).

Meanwhile, some Latino activists are concerned that the new Congressional maps are a "worst-case scenario" for Hispanics. While the Latino population accounted for 90 percent of population growth since 2000, there are only 7 "opportunity" districts out of 53 newly drawn Congressional seats. This figure has Latino activist groups like NALEO and MALDEF up in arms.

The Commission will now seek input from citizens across the state about the newly released Congressional and state legislative maps. The new maps can be found here.

The Texas House of Representatives gave final approval to a Congressional redistricting map Wednesday. The bill is a slightly amended version of the plan recently passed by the Senate. It is now on its way back to the Senate for concurrence on the amendments before being sent to Governor Rick Perry's desk. Speaker of the House Joe Straus commented "I am particularly pleased that we have passed all four redistricting maps required this year. The members provided much input and direction on maps that reflect the population changes in our state."[1]

Another redistricting lawsuit was filed in Texas on Saturday, this one from the The League of United Latin American Citizens, "the oldest and largest Latino membership organization in the United States."[2] The group filed the suit against the state of Texas over how redistricting lines were drawn and the resulting effects on minority representation.

Utah

After criticizing the "donut hole" map offered by Rep. Kenneth Sumsion (R) in May, Senate President Michael Waddoups has offered his own version of a "donut hole" map. Currently, Democratic-leaning Salt Lake County is divided among several U.S. House districts with none of them contained entirely within the county. County Democrats argue that this arrangement is intended to dilute Democratic votes. A "donut hole," or a district entirely contained within the county, has been suggested as a solution to these concerns. While some Republicans feared this arrangement would weaken Republican Congressional representation, Waddoups' plan would create a Republican-leaning "donut hole" district. The plan excludes many of the county's Democratic strongholds and combines several Republican areas south of Salt Lake City. The remaining, Democratic areas would continue to be paired with rural Utah.

Wisconsin

Currently, there are 9 Wisconsin state senators headed for recall elections this year - six Republicans and three Democrats. With the partisan makeup of the senate standing at 19 Republicans and 14 Democrats, the recalls could potentially lead to a Democratic senate, which would give them control over redistricting in that body and create a divided government. The recalls have been set for July 12 and 19. If there is more than one challenger, then the July dates become primaries and the actual recalls fall on August 9 and 16.

Sensing that Republicans may try to speed through redistricting legislation before the recalls, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said the process has been concealed in a "dark ethical cloud."

During the last redistricting cycle following the 2000 census, Democrats controlled the Senate and Republicans the Assembly. Unable to agree on a map, the task was ultimately completed by the courts.

See also



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