Redistricting Roundup: Citizen activist organizations work to reform redistricting

Apr 22 2011

By Geoff Pallay

Earlier this year, we discussed the push in some states to take redistricting power away from state legislatures and instead hand authority to independent commissions.

Across the country, citizen activist organizations have formed to push for redistricting reform. At least 15 different organizations and coalitions have been created by concerned citizens looking to try and play a part in this year’s redistricting. Some of those organizations are:

  • North Carolinians for Redistricting Reform: A coalition of nonprofit organizations, the group advocates for a constitutional amendment in 2012 that would establish an independent redistricting commission. Currently, the legislature controls redistricting in North Carolina.
  • Represent Me Utah: This citizen activist group held a recent protest at the statehouse in Utah, demanding an end to gerrymandering. The group has five principles it would like to see followed when drawing new districts. These include a policy of releasing plans to the public early and avoiding splitting communities unnecessarily.
  • Fair Districts Now: While advocating for redistricting reform in Florida, this group supported and helped get two amendments (5 and 6) passed in 2010, aimed at making a fairer process. The ballot measures are meant to keep favoritism for incumbents from playing a part in redistricting.
  • Draw the Line Midwest: Led by the Midwest Democracy Network, the group is a coalition of 25 organizations in six states that are pushing to depoliticize redistricting. There are also additional partners in each state. Draw the Line Midwest is active in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin. The primary mission is to make redistricting more transparent while ensuring compliance with the Voting Rights Act.

Some organizations — like the New Jersey Legislative Redistricting Coalition — went as far as proposing their own maps for consideration. Whether these reform organizations will have a say in new districts, will ultimately be up to the powers in charge of the process.

Quote of the Week

“We’re just a different breed of cat. We love you, but we don’t want you representing us in Washington,”[1]
Don Coram (R) during a recent redistricting hearing.

State news


After last week’s release of preliminary maps, the public has had the opportunity to react at several public hearings. As expected, the redistricting plans reduce representation in the state’s slow-growing Southeast. Each senate district will continue to be composed of exactly two house districts, and at least one controversy surrounding the plans is which house districts ought to be paired together. Some argue that the plans, which pair Ketchikan with either Kodiak or Valdez, ignore the lack of shared community interests in the districts. Others are concerned that the plans split some Native Alaskan lands and combine Anchorage and Fairbanks suburbs with rural districts.


The redistricting commission hired an executive director, Ray Bladine. A former deputy city manager in Phoenix, Bladine will help guide the 5-member commission through the redistricting process.


Last Friday, the 10-member Reapportionment Commission, split evenly between the Democrats and Republicans, exchanged proposed Congressional maps. This was the first time that either party had seen the other side’s work – and also the first time the public had seen anything. Eleven maps — six from the Democratic sponsors and five from the GOP sponsors– were immediately torn apart in partisan clashes. Republican maps kept things largely as-is, basically adjusting for population changes. Democratic maps described a radical departure from the map familiar to Coloradans, with rural-urban hybrid districts and major changes for the state’s Western Slope.

Republicans charged that a Democratic map would render rural votes meaningless and lead to an entire state represented by seven Congressmen living within miles of one another in the Front Range. The Democratic argument was that their maps, called the “City Integrity” plan, were drawn to maximize competitiveness – something that is not a federal or a state requirement.

At a three-hour hearing on Tuesday, little more was expected than an intensely partisan yelling match. However, both sides came to an agreement to toss out all 11 maps and start drawing Congressional districts anew, this time working jointly. However, those discussions will still likely occur behind closed-doors.

Redistricting Facts
Total States with Lawsuits filed: 15
Next state deadline? Indiana
April 29
Maps submitted for vote: 20 MS (2), LA (3), AR (1), VA (2), IA (3), NJ (2), MO (1), IN (3), OK (3)
States that have completed Congressional Maps 2 (AR, LA), (IA)
States that have completed State Legislative Maps 3 (NJ, LA), (IA)


Four months after announcing the members of all other House committees, Speaker Dean Cannon (R) finally named the members of the redistricting committee. Notably absent from the list was Rep. Perry Thurston, the Democrat’s informal leader on redistricting. Democrats immediately criticized the decision and are pressing for his inclusion.


The 8 appointed members of the Hawaii Reapportionment Commission failed to meet the deadline to agree on a ninth member to serve as Chairman. The authority to select the final member now goes to the Hawaii Supreme Court, which will have until May 1 to make its decision.


The House and Senate redistricting committees have been holding meetings throughout the state to receive input from the public. Citizens at nearly all meetings have pressed the legislators to hold further hearings on the maps once they are proposed but before they are voted on. Critics have said if such additional meetings are not held, it renders the current ones meaningless. Most legislators have said they support such hearings but do not know if it will be possible due to time constraints.


On Wednesday, both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly approved redistricting plans. The plans, authored by the state’s Republican majority, include both Congressional and state legislative maps. The plans passed the senate on a party-line vote. One Democrat crossed over in the house. In the house, Republicans altered the original bill, redrawing a district which paired two house Democrats. Since the plans were independently approved by the House and Senate, each bill now moves to the opposite chamber for concurrence. If either plan receives concurrence, it will proceed to Governor Mitch Daniels (R) for approval.

Indiana Democrats have been critical of the new maps. While the GOP insists that the maps are not politically motivated, Democrats are demanding more demographic data on the partisan breakdown of the new districts. The maps are generally thought to largely favor GOP interests. Republicans point to public redistricting hearings and wide publication of the plans as proof of their commitment to transparency. Some redistricting advocates and state Democrats are calling for a slower pace for the process, despite the state’s looming April 29th deadline.

This Week’s Redistricting Highlight

Congressman Russ Carnahan (D)

The House and Senate have at least agreed to go into conference to settle differences between their Congressional maps. These differences are found mostly in the state’s central regions. One thing that both sides do agree on, however, is that Russ Carnahan of St. Louis will be the odd man out as Missouri shrinks her Congressional delegation. Carnahan’s home is now proposed to end up in Lacy Clay’s seat, setting Carnahan up for a primary he would likely lose if he chose to run. Carnahan and Clay reportedly had a verbal skirmish this week in Washington over Carnahan’s impression that Clay failed to help convince Governor Jay Nixon (D) to veto the plan.


On Tuesday, Governor Terry Branstad (R) signed Iowa’s 2011 redistricting plan. All three maps — Congressional, Senate, and House — were included in the legislation. Last week, the Iowa State Legislature approved the first redistricting proposal drafted by the Iowa Legislative Services Agency. The plan passed by a 48-1 margin in the State Senate and a 90-7 margin in the Iowa House. The maps are generally seen as favorable to Iowa Democrats. Iowa is the second state in the nation to approve both Congressional and legislative maps. Only Louisiana, whose plan still requires Justice Department pre-clearance, approved maps sooner. Iowa is often noted for is non-partisan approach to redistricting.


The Pelican State’s regular session begins Monday, and has upwards of 20 bills already filed that address the ongoing redistricting saga. Several are placeholders anticipating a Justice Department rejection of one or more of the maps. There are also bills asking for an independent commission and at least one that seeks to undo details of the recently concluded extraordinary session.


Mississippi’s state Senate and House maps remain entangled in the courts. Having failed to meet their deadline, the legislature saw control of the maps go to the federal courts, where a three-judge panel has been assembled. The same judge heading that panel is sitting on the NAACP case, also a federal suit. That case, in which the NAACP is asking for a federal order forbidding Mississippi from using the new maps in the fall 2011 elections, had its first hearing this morning. All parties have been ordered to appear and make arguments relating to their petitions. Key Republicans include [[[Governor of Mississippi|Governor]] Haley Barbour (R), Lieutenant Governor Phil Bryant (R), and Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann. Hosemann is leading the argument to have the entire case dismissed.

If the NAACP is successful, the most likely outcome is that the 2011 elections will be held under the existing maps and special elections will be held in 2012 under new maps drawn by federal judges.

New Jersey

On Thursday, the Bayshore Tea Party filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new state legislative districts passed in early April. The suit is joined by 38 other plaintiffs from 21 counties. The predominant allegation is that the Southern districts are generally larger than legislative districts in the Northern part of New Jersey. Also, the suit argues that the splitting of Newark and Jersey City from three districts to two is unconstitutional.


In Ohio, there is increasing speculation that Congresswoman Betty Sutton (D) — rather that Dennis Kucinich (D) — could face the redistricting axe as Ohio cuts two Congressional seats. Given the location of Sutton’s district, it could be divided among her Democratic neighbors, none of which she would fair well against in a primary. The Washington Post blog, “The Fix”, has placed Sutton on its list of the 10 most vulnerable congressmen — Kucinich did not make the list.


Oklahoma is in line to be the most proactive state in redistricting. With more than a year before they absolutely have to be done, the state has made headway on all three tasks set before the legislature – maps for the House, Senate, and for Congress. HB 1527, the Congressional plan, has cleared the entire House 88-0 (with 13 not voting) and makes little alterations to the current map.

With five weeks left in the 2011 regular session, Oklahoma lawmakers are also working on state level maps. There are “shell bills” for both, HB 2145 and SB 821; the pair are going before a House conference committee to iron out differences


The Keystone State uses a five-member commission made up of four elected officials and one citizen, who holds the chair and casts a tie breaking vote. After the four seated members of the commission failed to make a selection on time, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court named Superior Court Judge Stephen McEwen. As every name submitted for initial consideration was rejected, the Court had to go outside that list to come up with McEwen. He will be suspended from his Superior Court duties for the length of his service on the redistricting commission.


The Texas House Redistricting Committee approved a revised plan on Tuesday that would add two Hispanic-dominated districts in the Texas House. The revision to the map released last week comes in response to calls for more representation from Hispanic legislators and advocacy groups, such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund. Hispanics are responsible for the largest share of the population growth that gave Texas four new Congressional seats. Hispanic advocates want to ensure the maps produced through the current redistricting process proportionately reflect these demographic realities. While appreciating the nod to Hispanics in the revised map, advocates say that the revisions don’t go far enough and that they intend to continue pushing for more Hispanic districts.


Last Friday, after the publication of the Redistricting Roundup, Governor Bob McDonnell (R) vetoed the legislative redistricting plan sent to his desk by the legislature. Along with the veto, McDonnell included a letter to state lawmakers detailing his reservations about the proposed maps. Although he called for the State House to “pursue opportunities that strengthen its plan,” the brunt of the Governor’s criticism was leveled at the senate map.

However, the veto has not been without criticism. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw (D) contends that the veto was politically motivated. Saslaw said that he and other Democrats will not compromise and will pass the same plan again. Saslaw has promised that no further plan will be passed. Thus, if the Governor rejects the plan a second time, the plan could end in stalemate and court intervention would be the result. Doug Smith, chairman of the Virginia Redistricting Coalition has also criticized aspects of the veto. He contends that while the veto was a step in the right direction, McDonnell’s criticisms fail to address the “significant questions” about the house plan.

Although lawmakers wanted to return on April 18 to resume debate, too many were out of town on vacations, and thus no sessions were held this week. A slightly modified House plan was passed in committee. With primary elections scheduled for August 23, 2011 and a mandatory Department of Justice review, Virginia legislators are on a short timeline to amend the maps and complete the process.[1] Otherwise, the 2011 elections may take on a whole different appearance to voters.