Category Archives: Redistricting

The Democrats Have Problems Beyond Redistricting

The Democratic federal elected officials are gathered in Baltimore right now, discussing the future of their party and ways to recapture much of the political territory they lost in the 2014 elections. A clear theme settling around their US House predicament is redistricting, and how the Republican-drawn boundaries, they say, in what are typically Democratic states have unfairly cost them large numbers of seats.

North Carolina Rep. David Price (D-NC-4) spoke at length about redistricting and how it affects the party. According to an article on Yahoo News, Price said, “Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia display the most egregious examples of gerrymandered districts for congressional and state legislative races.” His solution is to continue the process Democrats are using in several states, which is to sue over the current congressional boundaries contending that the district boundaries are “racially biased”. Except for Virginia, where a court has already declared the map unconstitutional for this reason, it will likely be difficult to make such a case in places where the minority districts have actually been maximized.

The 2014 electoral statistics cast a different light on the situation, however. Let’s take the case of freshman Rep. Gwen Graham (D-FL-2). She won a Republican-leaning seat in what was the worst of years for Democratic congressional candidates. The fact that she Continue reading >

Two Florida Congressional Districts Ruled as Illegal

A north Florida circuit court judge who briefly came to fame during the George W. Bush/Al Gore 2000 post-election counting process, has declared Florida congressional districts 5 (Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville) and 10 (Rep. Dan Webster, R-Orlando) illegal per the criteria adopted in the state’s 2010 redistricting ballot initiative. The Democratic legal challenge was launched soon after the lines were enacted in 2011, but technicalities pertaining to the plaintiff’s discovery motions here and in federal court delayed the process until now. Additionally, the US Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision changed the legal situation.

Democratic Judge Terry Lewis, who issued a pro-Bush presidential recount decision 14 years ago, ruled that the two districts fail the compactness criteria as outlined in the voter-passed proposition. Should the entire appellate process, including final review by the Florida State Supreme Court, uphold the Lewis decision districts 5 and 10 will be re-drawn. The tangential changes stemming from altering those boundaries could conceivably affect all of north and central Florida.

Judge Lewis ruled against the Democratic  Continue reading >

Impact of NC Redistricting Upheld

The special three-judge state panel hearing the redistricting challenge to the legislative and congressional maps unanimously, and with a mention that partisanship was left out of their decision, ruled in favor of the state of North Carolina. This means that the Republican-drawn maps will continue to stand.

The judicial panel was comprised of two Democrats and one Republican. The upheld maps sent nine Republicans and four Democrats to Washington from the congressional delegation; a state Senate consisting of 33 Republicans and 17 Democrats; and a state House comprised of 77 Republicans and just 43 Democrats. Prior to the 2010 elections and the subsequent redistricting, Democrats held an 8-5 advantage in the congressional delegation, a 30-20 margin in the state Senate, and commanded a 68-52 House majority.

The decision will undoubtedly be appealed to the state Supreme Court, but a panel with a Republican majority is unlikely to overturn a Democratic special court that found in the state’s favor.

There are two key practical effects from the ruling. First, as it relates to the US Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder opinion, it is now highly unlikely that the maps will be redrawn prior to the next census. Thus, the Shelby County decision will not likely come into play here until 2021. Since North Carolina has live redistricting litigation ongoing, as does Florida, Arizona, and Kentucky, an overturn of the state’s map could have had a major effect upon any new court-mandated drawing.

Second, one of North Carolina’s remaining four Democratic seats, the 7th District of Rep. Mike McIntyre, saw the closest finish of any 2012 US House race. McIntyre was re-elected over former state Sen. David Rouzer with a mere 654-vote margin from more than 336,000 ballots cast. With Rouzer already running again and facing a mid-term turnout model without President Obama leading the Democratic ticket, it makes McIntyre the most endangered Democrat in Congress. A redraw would have greatly helped him. Now without such a boost, does McIntyre even run again? The coming weeks in the southeastern corner of  Continue reading >

What They’re Missing

The analyses and coverage of the Supreme Court’s decision this week that invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is typically missing a very subtle but highly important point.

As mentioned in many articles and interviews, now that the official formula determining whether a jurisdiction must adhere to US Justice Department supervision is invalid, the laws previously stayed through the denial of pre-clearance procedure have taken effect. A representative sampling of recent laws that failed the pre-clearance test but are now fully enforceable are several polling place voter identification statutes from various states.

In terms of political district map drawing, there is now another crucial factor present in some places. Most states have what is commonly described as a “county line law.” The statute typically says that a county must be kept whole unless more population is needed to reach the proper district target figure. Often times counties are split between or among two or more districts for purposes of adding more minorities to a congressional or legislative district in order to protect that seat under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Now that the elimination of Section 4 effectively debilitates Section 5, the county line laws will presumably be stronger than the VRA, the reverse of what had, heretofore, been the usual practice.

Florida could be the state most quickly affected by the county line situation. In 2010, voters passed a ballot initiative that defined new and additional redistricting criteria. One of the included items is the county line provision. Currently, the state is embroiled in live redistricting litigation, and apparently headed for a January trial in Leon County (Tallahassee). The Supreme Court’s opinion this week will likely bear major influence upon the state judge’s ultimate decision, and it is probable that the tables have turned in the plaintiffs favor. If they do in fact win at the lower and upper court levels, new congressional and legislative maps will likely be mandated, and that could happen as early as the 2014 election cycle.

Florida is particularly vulnerable on the county line issue. The state has seven counties that are larger than a congressional district. Within those seven counties is enough population to complete 10 CDs. The  Continue reading >

Voting Rights Act Goes Before Supreme Court

The Voting Rights Act lawsuit plaintiffs from Shelby County, Alabama, and many of the Republican legal and political class who support overturning the VRA, need to take a step back and briefly consider the adage: “be careful what you wish for, ’cause it might come true.”

The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments for and against the Shelby County case on Wednesday. The complaint challenges the constitutionality of parts of Sections 4 and 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that Congress last renewed for a 25 year period in 2006.

Based upon the Justices’ questioning of the participants plus their recent past rulings and writings about the Voting Rights Act, the Shelby County plaintiffs have a reasonable chance for victory but not without unintended consequences. For it is unlikely that the petitioners and vocal Republicans who support overturning the VRA want the Democratic Party to regain control of southern state legislatures and re-assume majority status in the House of Representatives. Yet, such a result will almost assuredly happen.

The case’s main tenet attacks the Act’s outdated “triggering mechanism.” When the legislation was first enacted in 1965, jurisdictions that saw a voting age population turnout falling below the 1964 presidential election standard were placed under VRA supervision.

During the Nixon administration, the VRA was amended to designate 1968 and the then-upcoming 1972 as triggering presidential elections. Such is the last time Congress altered the criteria, which is the basis of Shelby County’s complaint. Their local election officials argue that 40-year-old political data is not representative of the region’s contemporary electoral status.

The government contends that because the legislation contains what is known as a  Continue reading >