Category Archives: citizen commissions

“No legal battles for California’s new election maps. But what lessons can be learned?”

Cal Matters:

As the clock struck midnight on Feb. 10, 14 people scattered around California collectively exhaled in relief.

The 14 are members of the state’s independent citizens redistricting commission who drew 120 new districts for the Legislature, 52 for Congress and four for the state Board of Equalization that voters will use in this year’s election. The commissioners struggled at times to reach consensus, and their mapping was critiqued nearly every step of the way by some experts, advocates, elected officials and the public. 

But after all the criticism, the commission approved the maps unanimously in late December, and Feb. 10 — the 45-day deadline for anyone to go to court to block the maps — came and went.

No one sued. 

There’s still one more state hurdle to clear: critics have until March 27 to challenge the maps via a referendum — asking voters to reject them — before the new districts officially become effective. But there’s no sign any such costly effort is underway. (The maps could also be challenged in federal court as violating the U.S. constitution or the Voting Rights Act.)

“The absence of a state lawsuit challenging these maps is a testament to the effectiveness of California’s open, publicly accessible redistricting process and the design of its independent redistricting commission,” current commission Chairperson Russell Yee said in a statement.

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“Yelling, accusations of bullying turn Michigan redistricting meeting into chaos”

Detroit Free Press:

A Thursday meeting of Michigan’s redistricting commission saw accusations of bullying, yelling, a failed censure vote against the group’s chair and a public apology for the tense exchanges that came as the group stares down multiple lawsuits and faces the sudden resignation of its top lawyer

Only weeks ago, commissioners cheered and hugged one another after adopting new congressional and state legislative districts with few hiccups. The achievement prompted anti-gerrymandering advocates across the country to herald the commission’s work and tout the state’s commission as a model for how a randomly selected group of voters can draw fair voting districts. 

But the group’s Thursday meeting saw some of the harshest bickering among commissioners yet and revealed new vulnerabilities in the group’s dynamics as it faces pending litigation that threatens to force commissioners to return to the drawing board

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“Ungerrymandered: Michigan’s Maps, Independently Drawn, Set Up Fair Fight”

NYT:

One of the country’s most gerrymandered political maps has suddenly been replaced by one of the fairest.

A decade after Michigan Republicans gave themselves seemingly impregnable majorities in the state Legislature by drawing districts that heavily favored their party, a newly created independent commission approved maps late Tuesday that create districts so competitive that Democrats have a fighting chance of recapturing the State Senate for the first time since 1984.

The work of the new commission, which includes Democrats, Republicans and independents and was established through a citizen ballot initiative, stands in sharp contrast to the type of hyperpartisan extreme gerrymandering that has swept much of the country, exacerbating political polarization — and it may highlight a potential path to undoing such gerrymandering.

With lawmakers excluded from the mapmaking process, Michigan’s new districts will much more closely reflect the overall partisan makeup of the hotly contested battleground state.

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California Redistricting Commission Seeks Counsels

The 2020 California Citizens Redistricting Commission is seeking to retain Voting Rights Act Counsel and also Litigation Counsel. The two Requests for Information are at https://wedrawthelines.ca.gov/job_opportunities/. Interested individuals or firms with relevant experience are encouraged to apply to one or both. The application deadline is January 29, 2021. For more information, contact Kary Marshall, Chief Counsel, kary.marshall AT crc.ca.gov.

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“New Report Highlights Arizona as a Model for Redistricting Reform Nationwide”

Ash Center:

Today, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, a research center at Harvard Kennedy School released “The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission: One State’s Model for Gerrymandering Reform,” a new report detailing the lessons learned from Arizona’s innovative approach to legislative redistricting.


 The report’s authors, Colleen Mathis, the current chair of the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (AIRC); Daniel Moskowitz, Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy; and Benjamin Schneer, Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and Ash Center faculty affiliate, argue that independent redistricting commissions such as Arizona’s have been successful at fostering increased competition in individual legislative districts and promoting partisan fairness in the state as a whole.

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“Neil Gorsuch’s Bad-Faith Ploy to Save Partisan Gerrymandering and Doom American Democracy”

Mark Joseph Stern for Slate:

As Talking Points Memo’s Tierney Sneed has observed, Gorsuch’s question effectively weaponizes redistricting reform as an argument againstfederal court intervention. His solution—let the people solve the problem—is absurd for at least two reasons: The court may well strike down independent redistricting commissions, andeven if it doesn’t, at least 24 states bar citizens from circumventing the legislature to enact gerrymander reform. In response to this problem, Paul Clement, the conservative attorney defending gerrymanderers, pointed on Wednesday to H.R. 1, the Democratic measure that would compel each state to adopt an independent redistricting commission. But as Clement hinted, there is a good chance that the Supreme Court would also strike down this central provision of H.R. 1. The upshot is that without the support of the federal judiciary, millions of Americans will be powerless to stop partisan redistricting….

That’s true in theory, even though the bill has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Senate. But Clement added a caveat. H.R. 1, he said, “was an effort to essentially force states to have bipartisan commissions. Now, query whether that’s constitutional.”
Wait—what? Remember, the elections clause states that Congress can “make or alter such regulations” regarding the “manner” of congressional elections. So why can’t Congress compel states to adopt independent redistricting commissions? The probable answer, as a white paper by Pack the Courts points out, is that this requirement could be struck down under the Supreme Court’s “anti-commandeering doctrine.” Under that principle, Congress can’t force state legislators to adopt or enforce a federal law. SCOTUS could easily cite the amorphous and ambiguous doctrine to justify invalidating the anti-gerrymandering provision of H.R. 1 on constitutional grounds.

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“California’s independent redistricting rules could offer some hope for Republicans”

John Myers for the LAT:

California government auditors will begin accepting applications in June from citizens who would like to help redraw the state’s congressional and legislative maps, a task with enormous political consequences.


The once-a-decade redistricting process will also offer a rare chance for the dwindling ranks of Republicans to get equal billing with Democrats. When complete, the maps will offer the GOP its best — perhaps only — chance at launching an electoral comeback.

Not that independent redistricting was designed to favor any political group. It is instead meant to ensure districts aren’t divvied up by lawmakers in Sacramento in ways that make an election’s outcome a foregone conclusion.


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