Reform Groups Urge Court to Attack Partisan Gerrymandering
- Scott Swenson, Dale Eisman
Common Cause, New Virginia Majority File Amicus Briefs in Redistricting Case
Using an impartial standard for measuring partisan fairness, New Virginia Majority and Common Cause have submitted a brief that evaluates the 10 proposed “remedial” plans to adjust the boundaries of Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District.
The analysis conducted for the groups by a team of academics at the State University of New York, Binghamton, gave “A” ratings to two plans and “B”s to three others. The academic researchers said the “A” plans would foster congressional races that accurately reflect the state’s partisan divisions and that the “B” plans merit further statistical analysis. The findings were submitted in an amicus curiae brief filed for the groups by the Campaign Legal Center.
The three-judge court is looking to adjust the state’s district lines after determining earlier this year that the General Assembly’s Republican majority packed African-American voters into the 3rd District, diluting their voting power elsewhere and violating the Voting Rights Act.
The SUNY Binghamton researchers, headed by Profs. Michael McDonald and Robin Best, concluded the existing districts are similarly skewed against Democratic voters generally, diluting their influence and enhancing that of Republicans.
Alternative plans aimed at curing the districts’ racial imbalance have been submitted to the court by a variety of individuals and groups, including the NAACP, General Assembly Republicans, and Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The two “A” plans in the Common Cause/New Virginia Majority analysis came from Gov. McAuliffe and the plan created by a University of Virginia student team, respectively. The UVA plan was submitted by State Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax.
“In state after state where legislatures and party insiders have drawn their own political districts, we see how We the People have been silenced in elections,” said Kathay Feng, Common Cause’s national redistricting director. “We call on the court to establish a new standard for fair redistricting that counts all voters, of every partisan stripe.”
“At the end of the day, the courts have an opportunity to establish a new map that values all voters equally, regardless of party. Based on this impartial analysis, there are five maps that pass the fairness standard and five that failed,” said Tram Nguyen, co-executive director of New Virginia Majority.
“To ensure the integrity of congressional elections in the Commonwealth of Virginia, it is vitally important that the new maps avoid both racial and partisan gerrymanders in keeping with U.S. Supreme Court precedent,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Campaign Legal Center Executive Director. “The new plan must resolve the existing racial gerrymander that the court ruled unconstitutional and further must comply with the Voting Rights Act, as well as the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions.”
Common Cause and New Virginia Majority are among several reform-minded groups that have been pressing the legislature and leaders of both parties to create an independent commission to handle redistricting. Commissions created in California, Arizona and other states have squeezed partisanship out of the process, creating districts that more accurately reflect the racial makeup of their communities, in most cases are more compact, and foster competition between Democratic and Republican candidates.