Redistricting Roundup: Commission looks to approve map before deadline
Edited by Geoff Pallay
|Other states featured in this week's Roundup|
With time running out to meet the December 31 deadline, the Washington Redistricting Commission released a draft plan of new congressional districts on Wednesday. Under the plan the newly created 10th District would be centered in Olympia, a strongly Democratic area. Democrats are also considered to have safe seats in the 6th, 7th and 9th Districts, while Republicans also have four safe seats - the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 8th. The 1st and 2nd are considered up for grabs. The commission has until Sunday to make changes to the plan, but at most only minor changes are expected.
Plans for new legislative district maps have proved more difficult and have not yet been released.
|Redistricting Maps, approved December 2011|
On Friday, December 23, Judge Michael McConahy of Alaska's Fourth District Superior Court issued a preliminary ruling, siding with several Fairbanks residents on a number of key issues concerning their redistricting challenge. He ruled that Districts 1, 2, 37, and 38 all violated the Alaska Constitution's compactness requirements. However, since the Voting Rights Act trumps this provision, the board has another avenue to defend its map under the VRA. McConahy did rule that District 2 had no credible VRA defense. The trial is scheduled to begin on January 9 and should be finished by the end of the month.
|Quote of the Week|
"The maps discriminate against, clearly, African-American voters and minority voters"
Following the Connecticut Reapportionment Commission's failure to produce a new congressional map by the December 21 deadline, the Connecticut Supreme Court this week announced that a special master would be appointed to oversee the court's redrawing of the map. Republicans and Democrats on the committee were asked to submit a list of nominees for the special master by today if they could not agree on a single candidate. The court will appoint the special master on January 5 and be given a deadline of January 27 to submit a recommended congressional map to the court.
However, the court also ordered the commission back to work, noting that the task of drawing new district lines is essentially a function of the legislature. If the commission is able to agree to a plan anytime during the court proceedings, the court said it would attempt to enact the plan.
|Total States with Lawsuits filed: 31|
|Maps submitted for vote: 106 out of 142 (74.6%)**||AK (2), AL (1), AR (3), AZ (3), CA (3), CO (3), DE (2), GA (3), HI (3), IA (3), ID (3), IL (3), IN (3), LA (3), MA (3), ME (1), MD (1), MI (3), MN (3), MO (3), MS (3), NC (3), NE (2), NJ (3), NM (3), NV (3), OH (3), OK (3), OR (3), PA (3), SC (3), SD (2), TX (3), UT (3), VA (3), WA (1), WI (3), WV (3)|
|States that have completed Congressional Maps||32 (AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, GA, HI, ID, IL, IA, IA, LA, MA, ME, MD, MI, MO, NE, NJ, NV, NC, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, TX, UT, WA, WV, WI, )|
|States that have completed State Legislative Maps||33 (AK, AR, AZ, CA, CO, CT, DE, GA, HI, ID, IL, IA, IA, LA, MA, MI, MO, NE, NJ, NC, ND, NM, NV, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TX, UT, VA, WV, WI)|
|**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)|
On December 23, the US Department of Justice gave pre-approval to Georgia's redistricting plan under the Voting Rights Act. This is the first time in Georgia history that all of the state's maps -- House, Senate, and US Congress--have been approved upon first review. However, state Democrats say that past DOJ approvals have not stopped revisions by the courts and that the party is considering legal action. Georgia's Legislative Black Caucus was less circumspect, saying that they still plan to challenge the maps in court.
On December 23, a three-judge panel dismissed a lawsuit challenging the new congressional map, stating the plaintiffs failed to meet the burden of proof for any of their claims. In regard to the allegation that the map discriminated against African-Americans by failing to create a third majority-black district, the court said the residents of the additional proposed district were not shown to be a single community of interest. The panel also said plaintiffs failed to show the map was a partisan gerrymander. Representatives of the Fannie Lou Hamer Foundation Political Action Committee said they plan to take the case to the United States Supreme Court if they can find the resources.
The court did note that several districts were oddly shaped and divided many obvious communities of interest, with Neimeyer saying that the original Massachusetts Gerrymander looked tame in comparison to Maryland's new 3rd District. A study by Azavea, a geographic information systems firm in Philadelphia, shows that, of the 28 states that have finalized congressional maps, Maryland's districts are the least compact in the nation.
Last week's approved congressional map is considered a win for the GOP. Democratic incumbents Steve Rothman and Bill Pascrell Jr. will square off in the June 2012 primary for New Jersey's 9th Congressional District. Rothman does not physically live in the 9th District, but legally, citizens do not have to live in the district to represent it.
On Wednesday, the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a complaint on behalf of four New York residents, arguing for equal representative in the new districts when they are drawn. According to AALDEF, the current lines split the largest Asian-American neighborhoods in the city into different districts, reducing their voting power. New York City's Asian-American population increased to more than 1 million, but Assemblywoman Grace Meng (D) is the only Asian representative in the legislature. The complaint seeks to add the four residents to the Favors v. Cuomo suit filed in November, which asks that a three judge panel appoint a special master to draw the maps, rather than the current legislative-controlled process.
The US District Court for the District of Columbia has rejected a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. The section requires US DOJ pre-approval of elections laws in states with a history of racial discrimination. The lawsuit was filed by North Carolina Rep. Stephen LaRoque (R) and several Kinston residents over a plan to adopt nonpartisan ballots. Section 5 also requires DOJ pre-approval of redistricting legislation. LaRoque plans to appeal the decision.
|This Week's Redistricting Highlight|
Yesterday District Judge James Hall adopted a new map for New Mexico's three congressional districts. The plan -- which had received bi-partisan support including from Governor Susana Martinez -- makes the fewest possible changes to the existing boundaries. The signature filing deadline for candidates running in the 2012 U.S. House elections is February 14, 2012. The New Mexico primary takes place on June 5, 2012.
A redistricting reform initiative sponsored by Sen. Jim Wilson (D) has failed to collect sufficient signatures to be placed on the ballot. The ballot measure would have invalidated the new maps and instituted a bipartisan redistricting process. In October, Wilson's legal challenge against the maps was rejected, but he has promised to appeal decision to the State Supreme Court.
Next week, the state house Republicans will release initial maps during an open meeting. It will be the first chance for voters to see the possible new district lines. The meeting takes place on Jan. 4, and a vote is expected within two weeks. Republicans control both chambers and thus, the redistricting process.
Virginia law allows municipalities to exclude inmates from local redistricting calculations when inmate populations exceed 12% of the population. Federal and regional prison facilities, however, may not be excluded. Counties say this gives some local districts disproportionate political clout. In an attempt to address these concerns, Del. Riley Ingram (R) has introduced HB 13 which would allow counties to exclude federal and regional prison population above 12%. Under the law, twice as many counties would be eligible to exclude prisoners.
Members of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee will meet in Cheyenne on January 19, 2012 to consider public comments and begin preparing a final redistricting bill for introduction to the full Legislature. The press release on the meeting can be found here.