Redistricting Roundup: Vetoes, lawsuits and possible voter referendums on the horizon

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August 12, 2011

Edited by Geoff Pallay

Last Friday, the West Virginia State Legislature approved a Congressional redistricting plan that shifts Mason County from the 2nd to the 3rd District. The plan passed the Senate 27-4 and the House of Delegates 90-5. The Senate rejected a plan by Senator Herb Snyder (D) that would have shifted six additional counties. The plan now moves to acting-Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D) for approval. Overall, the final plan is easier on Republicans than alternative plans, but it also involves minimal change to existing Congressional districts.

Also last Friday, the House of Delegates gave final approval to its redistricting plan, 64-33, receiving Senate concurrence the same day. The House also concurred with a State Senate plan passed earlier in the week, giving its approval, 82-13.

However, the House plan quickly encountered opposition. Unsatisfied with the partial shift toward single-member districts, opponents of the plan are considering a lawsuit challenging the maps. According to reports, the West Virginia Republican Party, 2008 Congressional primary candidate Thorton Cooper (D), and the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce are all mulling legal challenges. Chamber President Steve Roberts argues that the plan "fails to provide an equitable distribution of legislative seats throughout the state."

In addition to these philosophical disagreements, acting-Governor Tomblin (D) plans to veto the House map due to a number of technical errors. In a press release, the governor announced that he plans to call the legislature back into session in order to fix the errors.

  • The Congressional map can be found here.
  • The House map can be found here.
  • The Senate map can be found here.

Alaska

On Thursday, the Alaska Redistricting Board submitted the state’s redistricting plan to the Department of Justice for pre-clearance. Alaska is one of several states that require Department of Justice approval prior to implementation. Although the VRA most often applies to states with a history of discrimination against African Americans, it applies to Alaska due to its significant native population.

Earlier in the week, the board released an internal review of the state redistricting plan in light of the Voting Rights Act. The report was included in the state's submission to the DOJ.

  • The full submission can be found here.

Arizona

In the final public hearing on August 6, state senator Al Melvin said he would like to see his district remain unchanged as much as possible. Meanwhile, other residents continued to stress the creation of more competitive districts.

The issue over the commission’s public records and conduct continues. Chair Colleen Mathis has said she would like to make all executive-session minutes public, in order to help dispel public criticism of the commission’s conduct. However, doing so would likely violate state law, as the executive session minutes are legally meant to be kept confidential. The request will be discussed during a commission meeting next week.

Fact of the Week
The California State Legislature has 120 elected officials -- 40 Senators and 80 Assemblyman. The size of the legislature was set at 120 in 1879, when the state's population was 1 million people. Now, there are 37.3 million residents represented by those 120 officials.[1]

California

As the new process of redistricting in California nears the finish, analysis has predicted that the new maps will give Democrats an opportunity to achieve a 2/3 majority in the Senate and Assembly -- meaning they could pass tax increase legislation without the agreement of any Republican legislators.

At the Congressional level, speculation abounds in a game of musical chairs that has incumbents scurrying for different districts based on the final makeup of the map. It is expected that there may be a number of districts with more than one incumbent. Some possibilities include the 30th District with Democratic Representatives Howard Berman and Brad Sherman; as well as the 39th District with Republican Representatives Ed Royce and Gary Miller. Another scenario could pit Democratic Congressman Dennis Cardoza against either Jeff Denhmam or Jim Costa; although speculation is that Cardoza may retire instead.

However, all speculation is still just that -- speculation -- until the final maps are approved on Monday. Until then, groups are still recommending and presenting changes -- such as the Democratic Central Committee of San Bernardino County, which provided an alternative map for several districts in that area of the state.

Although maps are expected to be finalized on Monday, that may not signal the end of the redistricting process in California. Republicans announced that they may challenge the new legislative district maps. California Republican Party Chairman Tom Del Beccaro said they may file a referendum on August 16 for the 2012 statewide ballot to overturn the maps, which are expected to be approved by the Commission next week. If the suit is filed, it is possible that courts will delay the new maps from being implemented until the referendum is either voted upon at the ballot, or fails to qualify for the ballot.

Florida

Redistricting Facts
Total States with Lawsuits filed: 21
Next state deadline? California
August 15, 2011
Maps submitted for vote: 59 out of 142 (40.1%)** AK (2), AL (1), AR (3), DE (2), IA (3), IL (3), IN (3), LA (3), MI (3), MN (3), MO (1), MS (2), NC (3), NE (2), NJ (2), NV (3), OK (3), OR (3), SC (3), TX (3), VA (3), WI (3), WV (3)
States that have completed Congressional Maps 13 (AR, LA, IA, IN, NE, NC, OK, AL, IL, TX), OR),SC), MI), WI)
States that have completed State Legislative Maps 12 (AK, IL, IN, IA, LA, NE, NJ, NC, OK, OR, TX, VA), (AR, (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)

Speculation and criticism continues as Florida's public hearing schedule draws to a close. The last scheduled meeting is set for September 1. In July, lawmakers decided to delay the actual map-drawing process until after the public hearings had concluded. While this angered residents who wanted a chance to comment on actual proposed plans, recent events have further incited critics of the hearing process. Notably, House representative Chris Dorworth (R) was caught on local news cameras using Facebook during testimony and his personal Facebook page revealed that he had "liked" a local plastic surgery clinic during the hearing. Dorworth apologized for "multitasking" during the hearing, but insisted that he found the presentations insightful. At other meetings, residents have complained that lawmakers did not seem interested in their testimony.

Meanwhile, a coalition of organizations, including the NAACP, League of Women Voters of Florida, Democracia USA and Common Cause, sent a letter to lawmakers on August 10, urging them to accelerate the redistricting timetable. The current deadline is January 13, but the DOJ must also approve the plans under the Voting Rights Act. The organizations argue that such late approval will confuse voters, allowing little time prior to elections. Speaker Dean Cannon (R) argues that the letter is politically motivated and contends that the constitution requires the bill to be approved in 2012.

In other news, observers are speculating that recent Republican gains in Florida may make it difficult to avoid pairing incumbents. As maps are drawn, Republican legislators may find it difficult to avoid drawing GOP incumbents into the same districts. Such pairings could force fierce primary battles and allow Democrats to rebound from losses in 2010.

Georgia

Georgia is set to release proposed redistricting maps this afternoon in advance of the special session beginning on Monday. Lawmakers got to view the maps this morning. A public release is expected on the state’s redistricting website later this afternoon. When published, the maps will be available here.

Massachusetts

On July 29, the redistricting committee received new precinct population data from the Secretary of State. This data will be used in conjunction with the testimony from public hearings to begin crafting actual map proposals. There are 2,151 precincts with an average of 3,043 residents per precinct. The committee hopes to complete the process before Thanksgiving.

New York

A Quinnipiac poll released yesterday revealed that 50 percent of those questioned believe redistricting should be completed by an independent commission. Only 13 percent believe the legislature itself should have that responsibility, while 26 percent said an independent entity working with the legislature would be acceptable. According to SUNY professor Bruce Gyory, there are only 50 to 70 competitive seats in the New York State Assembly.

Meanwhile, after legislators originally stated that Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment (LATFOR) would not follow the law requiring prisoners to be counted in their home district, Senate Republicans announced recently they would comply with the law -- even as their lawsuit to overturn it continues. Democrats and Republicans alike have accused each other of using prisoners to gerrymander districts in their favor. Because nearly half of the prison population is made up of New York City residents (a Democratic stronghold) -- but nearly all prisons are in upstate New York (regions more favorable to Republicans) -- the way prisoners are counted in redistricting will impact the partisan makeup of legislative districts.

In July 2011, the Senate and Assembly majorities hired law firms to serve as legal counsel during the redistricting process. The GOP-controlled Senate hired Jones Day with a $3 million contract that runs through March 31, 2014. The Democratic-controlled Assembly hired Graubard Miller and lawyer C. Daniel Chill with a $1.55 million contract that runs through December 31, 2014.

A vote on maps is expected in February 2012.

South Dakota

This Week's Redistricting Highlight
On Tuesday, Governor Rick Snyder (R) signed Michigan’s Congressional and legislative redistricting plans. The plans were passed as House Bill 4780 and Senate Bill 498, respectively. In a statement made after the bills were signed into law, US Rep. Gary Peters said he would support a lawsuit to challenge the redistricting. As yet, no challenge has been filed.

The subcommittee on redistricting is holding meetings this week on Indian reservations in order to display proposed maps and gather public input. A total of 15 possible plans have been proposed that deal with the legislative districts encompassing Indian reservations. The legislature will convene on October 24 to vote on a redistricting plan.

Utah

This week, the Joint Redistricting Committee announced details for the final part of the state’s redistricting process. The committee plans to have final maps ready by September 10 in advance of a special session tentatively planned for the second week of October. Among the central disputes in the map-making process has been how to balance rural and urban interests in redistricting. Currently, Salt Lake City is divided between each of the states three Congressional districts. However, with the addition of a fourth Congressional district, Salt Lake residents have pushed for a district of their own.

Vermont

Despite a preliminary plan that eliminated nearly-all of the state's two-member districts, the Legislative Apportionment Board decided on Thursday to adopt a more modest revision of Vermont's political boundaries. The decision comes after extensive feedback from local governments about the preliminary plan. Several Boards of Civil Authority opposed the plan for their local districts, but others accepted the change to single member districts.

The final plan reduces the number of two-member districts in the state from 42 to 29. However, the board's plan is advisory, and lawmakers may choose to adopt an even more modest change to the state's legislative districts. The legislature will consider the board's recommendations in January of 2012.

Wisconsin

Gov. Scott Walker quietly signed new congressional and legislative maps into law on August 9, the same day the state was holding six state senate recall elections. It was also the last day he had to act on them before becoming law without his signature.

Democrats criticized the governor for signing the legislation in private during the elections. They previously filed a federal suit alleging that the new maps violate both the state and U.S. constitutions, as well as the federal Voting Rights Act. Additional legal action may be on the horizon. Following the signing, Walker's office released a one-sentence statement simply saying that the maps meet the required criteria and are therefore legal.

See also