Redistricting Roundup: Partisan breakdown of committees reveals clues about map-drawing process

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May 20, 2011

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Edited by Geoff Pallay

Redistricting Roundup.jpg

In the majority of states, redistricting is taken up by the state legislature. This process is generally conducted via legislation like any other bill, and as such, it is first introduced via committee.

For this reason, many states create redistricting committees or use existing committees to handle the special task of drafting and reviewing proposed plans. In most states, the committees are appointed by the majority leader or chamber leader, which allows for potential variations in the number of members from each political party. Thus, one way to gauge potential partisan impact on redistricting is to examine the partisan breakdown of these committees. To this end, we conducted research on states where such committees are appointed and where these committees that have been named.

In the 23 states that fit the criteria for this study, 573 legislators that have been appointed to committees dealing with redistricting. Of those 573, there are 251 Democrats (43.80%) and 315 Republicans (56.20%).

Complete study here

In the 23 states, Democrats control 7 Senate and 7 House chambers. Republicans control 16 Senate chambers and 15 House chambers. There is one tie (Oregon).

The percentage breakdown of the committees generally holds true to the overall partisan breakdown of the chamber. In the states studied, Republicans hold 55.94% of the seats. As mentioned above, 56.20% of the committee members in these states are Republican. This implies that most committees generally stuck close to the chamber’s partisan makeup.

Another way of looking at the data is to consider majorities irrespective of party control. Our research shows that the majority party holds, on average, 63.71% of the seats. By comparison, the party in power generally has a 66.25% majority on the committees, again suggesting a close correlation between chamber and committee partisan composition.

However, there are some states where the majority party appears to have “stacked” the committee in their favor.

The Mississippi House committee on redistricting is made up of 8 Democrats and 1 Republican despite the Democrats holding only 56% of the seats in the House. Meanwhile, Republicans hold 60% of the seats in the Alabama Senate, yet the redistricting committee is made up of 9 Republicans and 2 Democrats.

Other chambers appear more open to minority involvement. For example, while Republicans hold 70% of the seats in the Oklahoma House, the redistricting committee has 5 Republicans and 4 Democrats (a 56% majority).

Early in the redistricting season, committee makeup proved critical to the process in Arkansas, where despite Democratic majorities in both chambers, the Senate committee had 4 Democrats and 4 Republicans. This prevented Democrats from advancing any bill out of committee without some bipartisan support. Ultimately, a compromise Congressional map was passed by the full legislature.

As more maps develop, it remains to be seen how much partisan representation will be a key factor in other states.

State news


Quote of the Week
"We have no leverage here because (the Democrats) could at any time say, 'Thanks we're done here.'"

-- Oregon House representative Shawn Lindsay on the redistricting process, noting that should the legislature fail to produce maps, the process falls to Democratic Secretary of State Kate Brown (R)

The joint legislative committee on reapportionment approved a Congressional redistricting plan on Thursday. The committee rejected the first map by a 10-9 vote but approved a revised version 19-1. Alabama is re-drawing its 7 Congressional districts.


The redistricting commission in Arizona hired two law firms to serve as legal consultants to the commission during the map-drawing process. One firm will serve as Democratic counsel while the other as Republican counsel. The firms were hired by a 3-2 vote with the two Republican commissioners -- Richard Stertz and Scott Freeman -- dissenting. Stertz and Freeman wanted to hire a different law firm as Republican counsel and expressed frustration that the nonpartisan chair, Collen Mathis, cast a tie-breaking vote for an opposing firm.


With Congressional redistricting on a collision course for the courts, the state is still moving forward on the separate process of drawing state legislative maps. The Colorado Reapportionment Commission is responsible for reapportioning state districts. The Governor, the Colorado Supreme Court, and the majority and minority leadership in both the House and Senate all nominate members to the commission.

Recently, the last of the nominees were named. Governor John Hickenlooper (D) named three-long time political activists, none of whom currently have an official position, while the Supreme Court tried to be bipartisan and include the entire state in its four picks. Republican legislators selected a pair of attorneys with ties to the party while the Democrats actually named sitting legislators.


State legislative redistricting maps were introduced by the minority Republican caucus this week. The proposed map would shift some districts from the Northern part of the state to the South, based on population patterns in the state. On Thursday, House Democrats released their proposed redistricting map. According to Peter Schwartzkopf (D), House Majority Leader, the two maps are similar. One difference he pointed out is that the Democratic proposal has four majority-minority districts while the Republicans plan has two. A public hearing will be held on May 26 at 7 p.m.

Redistricting Facts
Total States with Lawsuits filed: 19
Next state deadline? Oklahoma
May 25, 2011
Maps submitted for vote: 28 MS (2), LA (3), AR (1), VA (2), IA (3), NJ (2), MO (1), IN (3), OK (3), TX (1), MN (3), NV (3), NE (1)
States that have completed Congressional Maps 4 (AR, LA, IA, IN)
States that have completed State Legislative Maps 5 (NJ, LA, IA, VA, IN)


U.S. House Rep. Todd Rokita (R) was drawn outside his current district by Indiana's recently adopted Congressional plan. However, Rokita is not required by the US Constitution or Indiana law to reside within the district. Thus, since he now lives only 500 yards from the new boundary, Rokita plans to run for re-election without moving. The decision is not unprecedented in Indiana history. Former Rep. Chris Chocola was elected in a similar situation after the 2001 redistricting cycle.


A panel of three federal judges ruled on Mississippi's redistricting lawsuit at the beginning of this week. The state's 2011 elections will proceed using the existing maps, those drawn in 2002 after the last Census. The judges also gave the state the option of a special session to draw fresh maps, but required them to have preclearance from the Justice Department by the June 1, 2011 filing deadline, something that made the option unrealistic.

After the first hearing in the case, the panel said they were inclined to order the maps drawn in the recent session be used, though they had not actually passed. This was what the NAACP, who brought the case, and the Democrats had hoped for. Yet, the panel had changed its mind by the time it ruled, agreeing with the Republican Secretary of State that Mississippi's legislature has until the end of 2012 to complete the task.


On Wednesday, Governor Mark Dayton (D) vetoed the legislature's Congressional and legislative redistricting plans. In a letter accompanying his veto, Dayton cited two key reasons for his veto. First, he argued that the maps were to designed for the purposes of "protecting or defeated incumbents," citing the disproportional number of Democrats displaced by the plans. Second, Dayton again reiterated that he would not sign a map without bi-partisan support. Dayton had raised both concerns prior to his veto, making his decision quite unsurprising. While it is still possible that Dayton and the legislature could reach a compromise early in the next session, the veto suggests that the state's maps may once again be headed for the courts.


Congressional boundaries for Nebraska's three seats in the U.S. House passed the first of three votes in the state Senate yesterday, on a 32-8 vote. The Republican designed map has sparked controversy over its treatment of the suburbs of Omaha with moves that critics say are obvious attempts to turn the state into solid red territory.

Bellevue and Offut Air Force Base were pulled from the 2nd, centered on Omaha, and added to the 1st, a large district covering the state's east. In turn, Sarpy County, full of Republican voters, was moved from the 1st to the 2nd, where it is likely to counter the historically-liberal voters in the city. Nebraska's nearly unique system of awarding electoral votes individually means Democrats can usually pick up a single vote in the 2nd, something the GOP is moving to change.


It's been a bumpy week in Nevada, where the Democratically held General Assembly passed SB547 over the roaring objections of Republicans. At the heart of an escalating battle between the two parties have been competing visions of how to treat the state's growing Hispanic population. Nevada grew more than any other state in the last decade and Hispanics drove that, now representing more than a quarter of the state's population.

They are a reliably Democratic voting bloc for the most part, and Democrats sought to break the population into several districts, maximizing their electoral chances while maintaining at least the levels needed for minority-influence seats. The GOP instead put most of the state's Hispanic population centers into one district, making it a majority-minority seat but also isolating Hispanic influence. Republicans were accused of "packing" the Hispanic minority while Democrats were in turn called out on charges of ignoring needs unique to the Hispanic community in favor of simply optimizing registered Democrats in each district.

Nevada Brian Sandoval (R), vetoed the bill and warned Democrats to be more mindful of the state's Hispanics. Democrats in the Assembly amended Ab 566, one of the original redistricting bills, and quickly passed it again. Sandoval may veto those plans too. While the legislative session does not end until June 6 and there is theoretically time for a third round, legislative Republicans are skeptical that any compromise is possible. Both parties have already filed placeholder lawsuits over the entire matter.

This Week's Redistricting Highlight
Democrats released proposed maps of the 59 Illinois State Senate districts on Thursday. Democratic Senate President John Cullerton said the proposal is legal and follows Voting Rights Act standards. Republicans, however, were anything but pleased, saying the maps would likely guarantee a Republican minority for the next decade. The new lines merge a number of current Republican districts, potentially leading to runoffs between incumbents in at least 4 districts.

One of those affected is Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, who saw her district merged with freshman Sen. Ron Sandack. Radogno called it a "very partisan map." The maps and details of the proposal can be found on the Senate Redistricting Committee website. Public hearings on the maps will be held in Chicago on May 21 and in Springfield on May 24. House and Congressional maps have not yet been released.


Democrats and Republicans have now released proposed maps with stark contrasts for Oregon at both the state and federal level. Democrats, who hold a majority in the Senate, have broken Portland, a stronghold for their party, into three seats to maximize their chances at the polls. The GOP insists that Portland is a community of interest and should be kept intact, meaning its wealth of liberal voters would be kept within a single district. The Democrats are, while fighting that battle, also retooling their maps after three of their U.S. House Representatives publicly criticized the map and complained over what happened to their districts.

Republicans have little leverage in the legislature since they only hold a tie in the House and cannot easily afford to let the process go to the Democratic Secretary of State, Kate Brown as it has in the past when the lawmakers cannot sort out the matter. To that end, they filed suit in Yawmill County, asking that a panel of three judges selected from across the state be seated to address redistricting in the event of a legislative collapse.

South Carolina

The deadline for citizen-generated maps has passed in South Carolina. The House subcommittee on redistricting introduced new House and Congressional districts this week. Next week the Election Laws subcommittee will convene in the House to debate the House and Congressional plans.


The General Assembly will reconvene on June 9 to finish Congressional redistricting. Before adjourning, the House passed a Congressional plan which appeared to be endorsed by all 11 incumbent Congressmen. U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R), however, has declined to publicly endorse the proposed Congressional plan or comment on the state's redistricting process. The sponsor of the House plan, Bill Janis (R), contends that his proposal was drawn with input from the entire Congressional delegation.

In either case, the bill now moves to the Democratically-controlled Senate which may approve, amend, or reject the bill. The Senate has drafted a competing congressional plan which seeks to create an additional minority-heavy district. Under the Senate plan, Republican-controlled District 4 would become a minority-majority district, and District 3, the current minority-majority district, would become a minority-influence district.

West Virginia

While the House of Delegates has yet to announce its redistricting committee, statements by Delegate Tiffany Lawrence (D) indicate that the House may already be crafting maps. This has prompted criticism for delays in holding public hearings on the plans. Others dismiss the criticisms, calling the closed door work preparation for the public process. According to House Speaker Rick Thompson, the House Committee will likely opt for open meetings at the capitol rather statewide hearings due to the costs involved.

See also