Category Archives: Voting Rights

Michigan’s Redistricting Complexities

One of the draft Congressional maps put forward by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission for public review this week.

By Jim Ellis

Oct. 18, 2021 — In this redistricting cycle’s early going, one state appears to be adopting a unique map-drawing approach, and its design likely assures a long and challenging legal process to follow.

The 13-member Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission has drafted 10 maps of the congressional, state Senate, and state House maps and made them available for public testimony and comments at a series of upcoming public hearings. Within the series, four relate to the congressional boundaries with the remaining six being divided evenly between the state Senate and House.

The multiple congressional maps go in several different geographical directions and radically alter the state’s district layout to the point of even changing the entire numbering system.

It appears the basis could be in place for many lawsuits and possibly from people or organizations associated with both parties, since the final version will likely draw complaints from both Republicans and Democrats. This would be particularly true if the final map collapses a Voting Rights Act minority district as one version features.

While four draft maps were released, the congressional plan base outline seems to be in place. Remember that Michigan will lose one congressional seat, reducing the delegation size to 13 members, and we will inevitably see at least one pairing of incumbents. At this point, no sitting member has indicated that he or she will retire.

The map versions suggest several options for the Detroit metro area; for example, meaning Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Township), Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn), and Haley Stevens (D-Rochester Hills) could all find themselves in some type of a paired situation.

Looking at what little partisan political numbers are available, most of the maps point to the Democrats gaining a net of one seat, but some of the districts would be competitive to the degree of making the final outcome unclear.

Below is a synopsis of where each current member could land:

• District 1: Rep. Jack Bergman (R) – looks to receive a strongly Republican northern Michigan seat bordering Canada from the upper peninsula that will drop even further into the lower peninsula. Labeled District 12.

• District 2: Rep. Bill Huizenga (R) – could be in a paired situation with either Reps. Fred Upton (R) or John Moolenaar (R), as the commissioners take his current 2nd District to the southeast instead of due east or north as expected. The primary winner would get a safe Republican district. Labeled District 9, though Huizenga could run in a new District 13 in a potential pairing with Moolenaar.

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The Tennessee Rumor

Tennessee Congressional Districts (click on image to see larger)

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 13, 2021 — Unconfirmed stories from Democratic sources are flying around the Internet suggesting that the Tennessee Republican state legislative leadership is in the process of drawing a new congressional map that would shred Rep. Jim Cooper’s (D-Nashville) seat and convert the current 7R-2D map into 8R-1D.

This may well be happening, but when looking at the population densities in each of the state’s nine congressional districts, drawing such a map may be unavoidable and not entirely partisanship-driven. The problem for Cooper and the Democrats is not the congressman’s Nashville-anchored 5th District. Rather, the Memphis seat of Rep. Steve Cohen (D) is the source of their difficulty. It is this 9th District, with a major population shortage and unfavorable geographic boundaries from a redistricting perspective, that could adversely affect Rep. Cooper.

Despite Tennessee ranking as the 17th fastest growing domain during the previous decade, the Volunteer State did not gain a new congressional seat in reapportionment. Additionally, and the fundamental problem for Rep. Cooper, middle Tennessee is experiencing explosive growth, while the east and the west are inhabitant deficient, at least from a congressional district equivalency perspective. Rep. Cohen’s Memphis anchored seat is the least populated of the nine CDs and must gain 77,122 people to meet the new Tennessee congressional district population requirement of 767,871 individuals.

As you know, Memphis sits in the far southwestern corner of Tennessee. Therefore, the Cohen district is bordered by Arkansas to the west and Mississippi to the south. Thus, the people needed to fill the 9th can only come from the north and east. To further complicate matters, the TN-9 is a Voting Rights majority minority district and must remain with relatively constant minority population numbers.

Additionally, the 8th District of Rep. David Kustoff (R-Georgetown), that stretches from Kentucky to Mississippi and the only place from where the 9th District can annex the people it needs, is also under-populated. To meet its own population requirements, the 8th CD must gain 51,524 inhabitants, hence having to stretch closer to the Nashville area districts, which is how Cooper’s Nashville seat factors into Memphis’ population swing problem. Combined, these issues making drawing western Tennessee difficult.

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The Michigan Wild Card

Michigan Congressional Districts


By Jim Ellis

July 16, 2021 — For the third consecutive census, the Wolverine State of Michigan loses a congressional seat but this time it is more difficult to determine how the new map will be drawn and which of the state’s 14 US House members, comprised of seven Democrats and seven Republicans, will be the odd member out.

The big change is that for the first time a citizens’ commission, and not the state legislature, will draw the map. The 13-member commission has been conducting briefings to organizations around the state since April 3 and has public input meetings scheduled with those that began July 8 through Aug. 26.

What places Michigan in a wild card situation, however, won’t become clear until the US Census Bureau sends the state its individual tract data that will arrive on or around Aug. 15. At that point, the key question will be answered as to just how many people the city of Detroit has lost. This will be the critical factor in determining how the new congressional map is constructed.

Like every state, Michigan is bordered on all sides meaning the members with districts on the edge are typically in better defined position than those residing in the geographic middle. In this state’s case, the Great Lakes surround the split land masses on the north, east, and west, with Canada lying to its north and east, and Indiana and Ohio to the south.

Looking at the available public population data that only is current through July 1 of 2019, all current 14 districts must gain residents, hence the state losing a CD, with three most significantly holding the fewest people. Those three are the two Detroit seats, Districts 13 (Rep. Rashida Tlaib-D) and 14 (Rep. Brenda Lawrence-D), and the Flint-anchored seat, District 5 (Rep. Dan Kildee-D). All three are likely to need an influx of more than 100,000 people apiece.

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California’s Lost Seat

By Jim Ellis

July 7, 2021 — For the first time in history, California loses a congressional seat in reapportionment, and the public input session that was scheduled to begin yesterday continues the California Citizens Redistricting Commission’s Phase 2 process. This week, the commission members continue listening to testimony about how the districts should be drawn for the state’s congressional delegation and both houses of the Golden State’s legislature.

Sitting adjacent to each other are the following California congressional seats: CA-32 (Rep. Grace Napolitano; D-Norwalk), CA-38 (Rep. Linda Sanchez; D-Whittier), CA-40 (Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard; D-Downey), and CA-44 (Rep. Nanette Diaz-Barragan; D-San Pedro).

After California, along with the other 49 states, receives its census tract information after the Aug. 15 negotiated deadline, the five Democrats, five Republicans, and four non-affiliated CCRC members will study and organize the data until their Phase 3 line drawing process commences in September. The commission was created through a 2010 ballot proposition that removed redistricting power from the legislature and instituted a citizens panel to create the new post-census maps every 10 years. This is the body’s second redistricting cycle.

The commission timeline was crafted after the state of Ohio sued the Census Bureau to force a faster distribution of the state redistricting data. Originally, using COVID as their principal excuse, the Bureau leadership set Oct. 1 as their distribution deadline goal. In typical years, states would have received the census tract information months ago. The Ohio lawsuit was settled with the two sides agreeing on an Aug. 15 deadline that is now in effect for the whole country.

The commission members are now tasked with changing the state’s 53-member congressional delegation into a map that features only 52 seats. And now, the question of just which area will lose the district must be tackled.

Looking at the latest public district data, that through July 1, 2019, we see some patterns providing key clues. It is understood that the last year of the census is not included in these numbers, and reports suggest that the final 12 months of the 10-year cycle resulted in significant change for the state as the number of people leaving for other places substantially increased. In fact, for the first time, California actually has fewer people than it did in a preceding year.

The most significant loss appears to come in central Los Angeles County. Looking at the current 53 districts, the seat with the lowest population is Rep. Adam’s Schiff’s (D-Burbank) San Fernando Valley 28th CD. But the cluster of seats in the heart of Los Angeles suggests an area where two seats can easily be collapsed.

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SCOTUS Rules; Calif. Recall Scheduled

Current US Supreme Court

By Jim Ellis

July 6, 2021 — On their last day of the year’s early session last week, a Thursday, the Supreme Court of the United States issued rulings on the Arizona voting rights case and the California non-profit organization disclosure lawsuit.

In the Democratic National Committee v. Brnovich, the Supreme Court with Justice Samuel Alito writing for the 6-3 majority, ruled that the state of Arizona did not infringe upon minority voting rights or violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act in both prohibiting ballot harvesting with certain exceptions, and not counting provisional ballots cast from voters who do not reside in the particular precinct that the polling place covers.

The high court agreed with Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s (R) arguments that the laws are not racially motivated, nor do they intentionally discriminate against certain segments of the voting population, thus overturning the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling.

Originally in 2016, Brnovich won at the district court level and on the first appeal to a three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit. The DNC requested an en banc review of the original appellate ruling that agreed with Brnovich, and the entire 9th Circuit membership overturned the decision, siding with the plaintiff. At that point, AG Brnovich petitioned the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. (Hearing cases en banc allows the full circuit court to overturn a decision reached by a three–judge panel. Due to the decreasing probability of U.S. Supreme Court intervention, the circuit court is often the court of last resort in the ordinary life of a case, thereby amplifying the importance of en banc review.)

In his ruling, Justice Alito stated that “every voting rule imposes a burden of some sort,” and that “mere inconvenience cannot be enough to demonstrate a violation of Section 2.” He also cautioned that, “what are at bottom very small differences should not be artificially magnified.”

While agreeing that holding free and open elections is a “valid and important state interest,” he also addressed the voter fraud argument, clearly stating that attempting to prevent such abuses is also a “strong and entirely legitimate state interest.”

In her article discussing these rulings, Supreme Court expert Amy Howe, in her Howe on the Court article that was published on the SCOTUS blog, offered that the Brnovich ruling “will make it more difficult to contest election regulations under the Voting Rights Act,” and thus likely means fewer voting rights cases coming through the courts. She further categorized this decision as a “major ruling.”

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