Voting Rights Roundup: ACLU sues over Ohio GOP’s new maps after governor’s startling admission

Voting Rights Roundup: ACLU sues over Ohio GOP’s new maps after governor’s startling admission

Leading Off

Ohio: The ACLU has filed a lawsuit with Ohio’s Supreme Court asking it to strike down the new legislative maps that the Republican majority on the state’s bipartisan redistricting commission passed along party lines last week. The plaintiffs argue that the new districts are “extreme partisan gerrymanders” that violate the state constitution and are asking the court to order mapmakers to draw fairer lines instead. This lawsuit is the first of the 2020s redistricting cycle arguing that adopted maps are illegal partisan gerrymanders, but it almost certainly won’t be the last.

Initial analyses of the new districts indicate they’re heavily tilted toward the GOP and would likely give Republicans in this red-leaning swing state roughly a 62-37 state House majority and 23-10 advantage in the state Senate. That translates to 64% of all seats in the legislature, in a state Donald Trump won with 53% of the vote last year. At this level, the GOP would continue to enjoy the three-fifths supermajorities needed to override gubernatorial vetoes, just as it does now.

Many analysts and reformers thought it wouldn’t wind up this way. That’s because Ohio voters approved two constitutional amendments in the previous decade—backed by both parties—that were ostensibly designed to make redistricting fairer. The new legislative redistricting amendment prohibits maps that “favor or disfavor a political party” and requires that they “shall correspond closely to the statewide preferences of the voters of Ohio,” which Republicans acknowledged was roughly 54% Republican and 46% Democratic.​

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​But others, including Daily Kos Elections’ Stephen Wolf, have long argued that the measures were in fact a sham intended to head off activists’ attempts to pass more vigorous reforms. One of the major flaws under this new setup is that it left mapmaking in the hands of a commission with a majority of Republican officeholders and even gave them a way to pass maps without any Democratic support—which is precisely what they did. The only catch is that partisan maps are good for four years rather than 10, but even that supposed drawback will allow the GOP to fine-tune its gerrymanders after just two elections.

The amendments also left enforcement of the ban on partisan gerrymandering up to the state Supreme Court, which has a 4-3 Republican majority. Democrats managed to flip three seats on the court in 2018 and 2020, likely because races appeared on the ballot without party labels. (Candidates are nominated by the parties.) Wary of losing another seat—and their majority—in 2022, Republican lawmakers threw another obstacle in front of Democrats earlier this year when they passed a law transforming Supreme Court races from nonpartisan affairs to partisan elections. That makes it even less likely that the court will actually police any improper maps.

Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who serves on the redistricting commission and voted to approve the new maps, even conceded that “this committee could have come up with a bill that was much more clearly constitutional.” He added, “I’m sorry that we did not do that”—though of course, he could have voted against the maps but did not.

However, that admission, coupled with the language of the state constitution, led prominent redistricting expert Nicholas Stephanopoulos to argue that the case “should be a slam dunk” on the legal merits. The suit’s fate will likely come down to whether Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, a GOP swing vote who isn’t running again next year, will side with the court’s three Democrats to block the new maps or allow the GOP’s gerrymanders to survive.

Redistricting

California: California’s Supreme Court has extended the deadline from Dec. 15 to Dec. 27 for the state’s independent redistricting commission to pass new maps for Congress, the legislature, and the state’s Board of Equalization districts, though it rejected commissioners’ request to move the deadline to Jan. 14 instead.

Indiana: Indiana’s state House has passed new Republican-drawn maps for both Congress and the legislature in a mostly party-line vote, with three Republicans joining all Democrats to oppose them. The package will now head to the state Senate, where a committee is expected to take it up on Monday, with a final vote before the full chamber planned for Friday.

The congressional map would make the suburban Indianapolis 5th District, historically conservative turf that became competitive during the Trump era, dramatically redder and more rural: The current district, represented by GOP Rep. Victoria Spartz, voted for Donald Trump by a narrow 50-48 margin last year, but one preliminary analysis suggests the new version would have instead gone for Trump 57-41—the same as his statewide margin in 2020. Overall, the map would almost certainly elect seven Republicans and just two Democrats, giving the GOP 78% of the state’s congressional delegation.

The new legislative districts would likewise lock in huge GOP advantages: Redistricting expert Christopher Warshaw, a professor at George Washington University, called the state House map “one of the most extreme gerrymanders in history.” According to an analysis from PlanScore, a map evaluation site run by the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, Republicans would be likely to win 78% of all seats in the Senate and 69% in the House.

Nebraska: Lawmakers in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature appear to have reached a compromise over a congressional map after a Democratic-led filibuster blocked an earlier GOP-drawn proposal from advancing. Republicans also failed to overcome a Democratic-backed filibuster of their proposed legislative map, but lawmakers had not reached any sort of compromise over it as of Friday.

Unlike the previous version of the GOP’s congressional map, which sought to split the Democratic bastion of Omaha between two districts, the new map keeps the city (and surrounding Douglas County) wholly within the competitive 2nd District, which Republican Rep. Don Bacon held on to by a 51-46 margin last year. However, it relies on creative gerrymandering to keep the revised district roughly in line with the seat’s current political lean (it went 52-46 for Joe Biden last year). It does so by removing blue-leaning suburbs from adjacent Sarpy County and placing those in the solidly red 1st District while adding farther-flung red areas to the 2nd.

Because the Omaha region grew faster than the rest of the state, a more logical and compact map would slim down the 2nd District by reuniting the city with the adjacent inner suburb of Bellevue in Sarpy County; such a district would have voted for Biden by about 9 points. Bellevue was in fact part of the 2nd District for many decades, until the previous Republican gerrymander excised it following the 2010 census. Instead, under this plan, Bellevue remains in the 1st District, while rural Saunders County and the most rural parts of Sarpy are grafted on to the 2nd.

The map must still pass further votes before it’s finalized, and one Democratic senator who voted against it says he plans to seek further adjustments. However, given the bipartisan 36-8 majority (a pair of additional senators also voted present) in favor of the map during the initial vote, a renewed Democratic filibuster to compel more changes looks unlikely.

Texas: Earlier this month, two Democratic state senators filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the Texas constitution does not allow the state’s Republican-run legislature to meet in a special session to draw new legislative districts, citing constitutional language that states the legislature “shall” redraw the state’s legislative maps “at its first regular session after the publication” of each census. Since the release of 2020 census data was delayed due to the pandemic, this year’s regular legislative session had already ended before census figures became available in August. Texas’ next regular session won’t occur until January 2023, which is after next year’s midterm elections.

The lawsuit asks for the court itself to draw the maps for next year’s elections, but given the conservative tilt of the federal judiciary, the plaintiffs’ chances of success are in doubt.

Virginia: The Virginia Supreme Court has rejected a lawsuit brought by a Republican state senator and other officials who represented rural communities with prisons that sought to block the state’s new bipartisan redistricting commission from following a new law that bans the practice of prison gerrymandering. The law requires counting incarcerated people at their last known address instead of where they are imprisoned.

Wisconsin: The conservative majority on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court has voted 4-3 along ideological lines to take up a case brought by conservative activists who are urging the court to assume control over the redistricting process in the likely event that Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the Republican legislature are unable to reach an agreement on new congressional and legislative maps. GOP lawmakers are also asking the U.S. Supreme Court to dismiss a competing federal case filed by Democrats.

Republicans, believing the Wisconsin courts will be friendlier to their arguments, want them to assume control over redistricting in order to preserve their ability to gerrymander. By contrast, Democrats are hoping their suit in federal court will yield more favorable maps. That case was recently combined with another federal one filed by voting rights advocates and allowed to proceed by the lower court. For now, though, it’s impossible to say which court will implement new maps if lawmakers fail to compromise.

Voting Access Expansions

California: California’s Democratic-run legislature has passed a bill to create a statewide standard for verifying mail ballot signatures and require officials to contact voters with signature issues to help resolve them, sending the measure to Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom for his expected signature.

Voter Suppression

Hawaii: A federal district court has rejected a motion by federal and state officials to dismiss a case brought by several former Hawaii residents who are challenging federal and state laws that prohibit them from voting for president and Congress solely because they moved from the states to American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. The plaintiffs note that U.S. citizens originating from the 50 states retain the right to vote for federal offices in their former state if they live in a foreign country or the Northern Mariana Islands but not in the other four territories. They have argued that the system violates the 5th and 14th Amendments by privileging citizens who move to one territory above the other four.

The same district court had previously dismissed this case in April on the grounds that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to sue, but the plaintiffs subsequently amended their lawsuit, and the court’s latest ruling “concludes that Plaintiffs have alleged an injury in fact for standing purposes.” However, the plaintiffs may still face a tough road ahead, since the Supreme Court in 2018 refused to take up an appeal of a 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in a similar case.

Kansas: A state judge has refused to temporarily block a law passed by Republicans earlier this year that nonpartisan voter advocacy groups say has made it impossible for them to conduct voter registration drives for fear of criminal prosecution. Among other provisions, the new law makes it a felony to impersonate an election official, which the plaintiffs argued was written in such an overbroad way that they’re afraid they could face criminal charges for trying to register new voters. The court’s ruling rejected that argument, though the suit will still proceed on the merits.

Voter advocates in this case and a separate federal one are also challenging parts of the GOP’s new legislation that ban out-of-state groups from sending absentee ballot applications to voters; add new requirements for absentee ballot signature verification; and ban people or groups from helping more than 10 voters return their absentee ballots.

Montana: Labor organizations and disability advocates have filed a suit in state court challenging a law enacted by Republicans earlier this year that eliminated the ability of voters to register on Election Day, arguing that it discriminates against working people and those with disabilities in violation of the state constitution. Montana Republicans used their first unified control over state government in 16 years to pass a raft of voting restrictions, which has sparked a wave of lawsuits in response. This is now the fourth case alone that is challenging the repeal of Election Day registration (we previously covered the other three here and here).

Electoral System Reform

Wyoming: Earlier this month, a committee in Wyoming’s Republican-dominated legislature narrowly advanced a bill that would adopt primary runoffs if no candidate wins a majority, though it wouldn’t take effect until the 2024 elections. Republicans also rejected a proposal to adopt ranked-choice voting. A previous effort to implement runoffs was voted down by the state Senate earlier this year.

From Daily Kos at Read More. This article is republished from DailyKos under an open content license. Read the original article at DailyKos.

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