Resurrecting redistricting reform in Indiana

The Journal Gazette — EDITORIAL Among the unfinished business of this year’s General Assembly session is one particularly vexing failure on redistricting.

The long-overdue reform plan didn’t simply die; the bill – which was assigned to the Committee on Elections and Apportionment – was killed. Committee chair Rep. Milo Smith blocked a vote, saying the committee had insufficient time to prepare amendments to the proposal.

That’s a real shame, and a real loss for the state, which badly needs a change in the way redistricting is done. Currently, the process is handled by the state Senate and Indiana House after the U.S. census tallies the state’s population.

Over the years, both Democrats and Republicans have taken advantage of a system that gives the legislature responsibility for drawing its own legislative and congressional districts. The resulting maps make it easy for incumbents to get re-elected and nearly impossible for challengers to be competitive. The real losers are the voters, whose role in the political process has been reduced.

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Redistricting reform passes key test in Ohio

The Hill — A measure to reform the way Ohio draws its congressional district lines has cleared a key procedural hurdle, likely setting up a ballot initiative in next year’s midterm elections.

The Ohio Ballot Board, headed by Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), gave formal approval to language that would appear alongside the initiative. That gives supporters the ability to begin collecting signatures to place the initiative on the ballot.

But those backers are not optimistic that they can collect the 305,591 valid signatures required to get the measure on the ballot this year. They would have to collect those signatures by July 5, just five weeks from now.

Ohio rules require supporters to gather signatures from half of the state’s 88 counties. They must collect a number of signatures equal to 5 percent of the total number of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election in each of those 44 counties.
While backers aren’t optimistic about their chances this year, the Ballot Board’s decision to ratify language gives redistricting reformers the chance to get a head start on collecting signatures ahead of next year’s deadline.

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Is Illinois Ready for Redistricting Reform?

Chicago Mag — It’s still one of the few remaining items on Bruce Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda, and arguably the most popular. If you go by public polling numbers, Illinois is more than ready to turn over the process of redistricting—which has been a subject of political struggle for the past 140-plus years—to a nonpartisan arbiter. Last year, the Paul Simon Institute at SIU found that seventy-two percent of respondents favor an independent redistricting commission.

Perhaps this sentiment is related to the budget impasse and the state’s long slide into fiscal oblivion, but not necessarily; redistricting is popular across states and time periods. A 2013 Harris poll found that 50 percent of Americans favored independent state commissions, with the rest divided among five other categories and just 14 percent in favor of lawmakers redoing the lines. Gerrymandering (when lawmakers draw districts to favor their own party) has become such a national problem that it was even the subject of a popular Last Week Tonight episode, garnering more than 5 million views on YouTube.

Last year Illinois lawmakers tried to reform its redistricting process, but failed. It came down to a heated 4-3 division on the Illinois Supreme Court, in which the Democratic majority judged that the redistricting initiative overreached; lawmakers could modify the “structure and procedure” of the legislature but not non-legislative offices like the auditor and state Supreme Court.

Basically, the state auditor would play a small administrative role in redistricting, and the Supreme Court could play a big one, by choosing someone to redraw the map in the event the independent commission couldn’t pick one. These procedural matters might be minor or unlikely, but it was enough to derail what had already been an uphill battle to get a ballot measure passed.

Political support, from both the masses and the powerful interests that supported the ballot measure, made it possible to push the widespread (if somewhat apathetic) support of such an effort. Doing it twice is a lot to ask, but the support for it is unlikely to change. If so, there’s an appealing option sitting on the shelf: a plan from the Illinois state representative-slash-Fermilab researcher Mike Fortner that I wrote about in 2013.

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Signatures filed Ohio redistricting

The Columbus Dispatch — A trio of nonprofits filed an initial batch of 1,000 signatures Monday to kick-off an effort to place congressional redistricting reform on the November 2017 or 2018 ballot.

The proposed ballot issue would closely follow a legislative redistricting proposal that voters overwhelmingly supported in 2015. The goal is to dampen the political gerrymandering that allows the political party in control to draw districts to its benefit, creating few competitive seats and securing the party’s majority status.

“This is a critical effort to ensure fair districts and fair elections for every congressional seat in Ohio,” said Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio. “When members of Congress have safe seats drawn to guarantee which party wins, the real losers are the voters.”

Republicans have held 12 of Ohio’s 16 congressional seats since they drew the district lines in 2011. The lines will be drawn again in 2021, after the next Census.

As part of the Fair Districts Ohio coalition, Common Cause Ohio and the Ohio Environmental Council joined the League in filing the signatures. Within 10 days, Attorney General Mike DeWine will determine if the summary language is fair and truthful. If it checks out, it goes to the Ohio Ballot Board, which will decide if it is a single issue, and then the group begins collecting more than 300,000 valid signatures of Ohio registered voters.

When lawmakers approved placing legislative redistricting reform on the ballot in 2015, they specifically declined to change the process for congressional districts, which are drawn by the legislature in a bill signed by the governor.

House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, has said he is working on a congressional redistricting plan, and a bill was introduced in the Senate that would require a two-thirds vote from each legislative chamber to approve a new map. The Senate proposal, like one last session, has seen little action. Gov. John Kasich proposed including a redistricting proposal in the state budget, but relented when legislative leaders ask to consider the issue separately.

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Michigan Redistricting Reform Topic of Forum

MLive.com — State Rep. Yousef Rabhi argues Michigan lawmakers should not be the ones deciding the boundaries of their own political districts, as that opens the door to gerrymandering to gain partisan advantage.

The Ann Arbor Democrat argues the state’s congressional and state legislative districts should be drawn up by a nonpartisan group of people who are truly independent from the state Legislature and are not eligible to run for office anytime soon and haven’t been in office anytime recently.

“I strongly believe that voters should pick their representatives, not the other way around, so a fair redistricting system is essential,” Rabhi argues.

Rabhi is inviting residents who want to learn more about Michigan’s current system and thoughts about redistricting reform to a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, April 24, at the downtown Ann Arbor library, 343 S. Fifth Ave.

“This is the critical issue of our time, in my opinion, that will transform the way that politics are done in Michigan particularly,” Rabhi said. “In some states, it doesn’t have as big of an impact because some states had the foresight in adopting a process that removed this particular issue from the hands of politicians in the legislature and put it in the hands of a nonpartisan, independent committee. And that independence, I think, is the most important part.”

Monday night’s forum is being hosted by Rabhi and includes a panel discussion featuring former Republican Congressman Joe Schwarz, former Democratic Congressman Mark Schauer and Daniel Rubenstein of the League of Women Voters. The event is free and open to the public.

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Redistricting reform faces Delaware House vote

Dover Post — A plan to change how the state sets the borders for legislative districts has attracted bipartisan support in the upper chamber of the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 27 seeks to overhaul General Assembly redistricting by taking it out of the hands of the legislature, sponsor Sen. Bryan Townsend said.

Instead, an independent commission would redraw voting maps without reference to politics. The Democrat of Newark said the idea is to create an unbiased and transparent method of setting boundaries. The legislation proposes a nine-member nonpartisan commission.

“We’ve seen gerrymandering across the country and it’s becoming a huge issue on both sides of the aisle,” Townsend said. “Courts around the country are starting to overrule legislatively drawn districts.” In many states, congressional districts are gerrymandered by the party in power, but the bill would not apply to Delaware’s single district; its single House of Representatives member is elected at large.

The Issue and The Impact
THE ISSUE:

Almost since the founding of the republic, politicians have attempted to ensure survival in office by changing election districts to favor themselves. their own party, or to lock out the opposition.

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Pennsylvania’s Cumberland County

The Sentinel — The Cumberland County Commissioners are again trying to get the political weight of Pennsylvania’s county-level governments behind redistricting reform.

The commissioners adopted a resolution Monday endorsing the idea of a nonpartisan citizens’ commission to redraw the state’s legislative boundaries, and requesting the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania to adopt the same.

“This is reaffirming our support for a constitutional amendment for an independent citizens’ commission to redraw district lines,” Commissioner Jim Hertzler said.

 The previous iteration of the proposal came within two votes of being formally adopted by CCAP, Hertzler said.

The idea of an independent redistricting body is an alternative to the current system, which has been widely criticized. Pennsylvania’s constitution specifies that redistricting be performed by a legislative commission, consisting of appointees of the state’s House and Senate majority leaders.

Those four members then select a fifth member, who may be picked by the state Supreme Court in case of a deadlock.

A close-up view of redistricting

Denton Record Chronicle — Dione Harbour has to be careful when she opens the front door to her east Denton home. Her small dog Max Jr. has been known to duck past her legs, bolt across Mockingbird Lane and end up in a neighbor’s yard.

What Harbour (and certainly Max Jr.) didn’t know is when the dog crosses Mockingbird, he also crosses a boundary line that splits the neighborhood into different state Senate and City Council voting districts.

“That’s bizarre,” Harbour said when she found out  her neighbors across the street have a different state senator and City Council member than she does.

State Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, represents Harbour and her neighbors on the east side of Mockingbird Lane in District 12. Keely Briggs represents them in District 2 on the City Council.

Across the street, state Sen. Craig Estes, R-Wichita Falls, represents the neighbors on the west side of Mockingbird in District 30. Kevin Roden represents them in Denton’s District 1.

Mockingbird Lane is a symbol of an arcane political science called reapportionment, or redistricting. Every 10 years, politicians in Austin convene to draw new boundaries for congressional districts, state Senate and state House districts. Put a microscope on Mockingbird, and you can learn a lot more about why we vote at a certain location and for certain candidates.

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