January 17, 2017
March 2-3 Redistricting Reform Conference
Common Cause, the Campaign Legal Center, and Duke University’s Center for Political Leadership, Innovation, and Service (POLIS) will host a national conference on redistricting reform that will bring together academics, litigators, and activists from around the country to discuss strategies for ending the manipulation of legislative districts for political advantage. The conference will take place March 2-3 in Durham, North Carolina at Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy.
More information and an RSVP link are available here.
Holder Launches New Redistricting Organization
Last week former Attorney General Eric Holder launched the National Democratic Redistricting Committee. President Obama is likely to take on a major role in the effort. The NDRC states that it will have a three-part focus:
- ELECTORAL – The NDRC will focus on winning critical state elections that impact redistricting. The NDRC will coordinate and support state-based electoral work led by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, Democratic Governors Association, while supporting other key down-ballot races with redistricting implications.
- LEGAL – The NDRC will ensure that Democrats have the necessary resources to fight for better maps. The NDRC will support ongoing infrastructure to guide a proactive legal strategy using data, technical, and map-drawing resources.
- BALLOT INITIATIVES – The NDRC will invest in targeted initiative campaigns, in states where ballot reforms are an effective means to changing maps.
Golden Globe Voters Ignore Gerrymandering for 74th Consecutive Year
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association might have missed the boat by failing to recognize the documentary series America Divided, but we will not. In Democracy For Sale, the seventh of eight episodes, Zach Galifianakis returns to his home state of North Carolina to discuss voter restriction measures and gerrymandering in the state. Watch Democracy For Sale here.
No Roses for this Pasadena: Major Victory in Texas Redistricting Case
U.S. District Court Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ruled in a lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) that a change to city council districts in Pasadena, Texas violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court also required the city to seek Department of Justice approval of future voting changes. This is the first "bail in" of a jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act since the Supreme Court's 2013 decision gutting the law in Shelby County v. Holder.
Just as Latinos were on the cusp of electing their candidate of choice in a majority of city council districts in Pasadena, Mayor Johnny Isbell and his political allies pulled the rug out from under them. Political leaders changed the eight-person city council from eight district-based seats to six districts and two at-large seats, making it more difficult for Latinos to win a majority. Stating that "the justice department can no longer tell us what to do," Mayor Isbell announced the proposal immediately after the Shelby County decision.
Prior to the decision, a change to the voting system such as this would have required preclearance by the U.S. Department of Justice or a federal district court due to Texas's history of racial discrimination in voting. Although the Shelby County decision eliminated preclearance for the list of jurisdictions covered at the time, it did not affect the provision of the Voting Rights Act allowing courts to place a jurisdiction under the preclearance regime if they are found to act in a discriminatory fashion.
The decision is available here at MALDEF's website.
Kasich Double Dog Dares Ohio Legislators to Reject Congressional Redistricting Reform
Gov. John Kasich has taken a creative approach to reforming how Ohio's congressional districts are drawn. He has included in his proposed budget a requirement that a bipartisan commission with protections against one-party dominance of the redistricting process be empowered to draw the state's congressional map. Currently, the Ohio General Assembly draws the state's 16 congressional districts with no such protections.
Voters ratified Issue 1, a state constitutional amendment creating a commission to draw General Assembly districts, with 71 percent of the vote in 2015. The Kasich proposal would empower that same commission to redraw congressional boundaries as well. Fair Districts = Fair Elections, the coalition that supported Issue 1, has stated that they will strongly consider a citizen initiative if the legislature fails to act.
Kasich predicted that legislators could remove the redistricting provision as not germane to the budget but added "then let them do it and then answer for it."
SCOTUS Puts Temporary Hold on North Carolina Special Election
The U.S. Supreme Court issued an order putting on hold North Carolina General Assembly special elections that were scheduled to take place this year. In a case brought by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a lower court ordered new elections following a ruling that current districts are an illegal racial gerrymander. The justices ordered the delay so they can consider an appeal of the lower court's decision when they convene for a conference on January 19.
Cities Take On Gerrymandering in California
Last week, California Common Cause released The California Municipal Democracy Index, a report showing how local governments function in the state's 482 cities. The report examines various aspects of government structure, voting methods, and campaign finance rules. The Index shows that 22 California cities have created advisory (14) or independent (8) citizen commissions to draw city council districts. The California Voting Rights Act prohibits the use of an electoral system “that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election." As a result, dozens of cities have switched from at-large city council elections to district-based elections. At the state level, California empowers a Citizens Redistricting Commission to draw congressional, state legislative, and Board of Equalization districts.
Quote of the Month
"When Congress is dysfunctional, we should draw our districts to encourage politicians to cater to common sense and not rigid extremes." Barack Obama, farewell address, January 10, 2017