Citizen-Led Efforts to Reform Redistricting in 2018

In just a few years, voting districts will be redrawn across the country. Advocacy and grassroots groups in a number of states are busy drafting ballot proposals and launching campaigns that support legislation aimed at curbing gerrymandering.

May 11, 2018

Grassroots and advocacy groups around the country are working to curb gerrymandering – the manipulation of voting districts to favor or disfavor one group of voters over another or to protect incumbents. Similar grassroots efforts in recent years led to the successful implementation of independent commissions in Arizona and California.

24 states have a ballot initiative process that allows citizens to propose a law or constitutional amendment, either to the legislature or directly to voters. Other states only allow the legislature to amend the constitution or pass laws, meaning, in these states, that citizens must persuade their legislature to pass reforms.

Here is a round-up of the latest news surrounding key citizen-driven efforts to reform the redistricting process.

Ballot Initiatives

Michigan

A nonpartisan ballot committee, Voters Not Politicians, has proposed a ballot initiative that would create a citizens’ redistricting commission to draw the state’s political boundaries. Voters Not Politicians founder Katie Fahey hopes a nonpartisan commission will remove politics from the redistricting process, and create a system that “represents voters instead of politicians.”

The group submitted nearly 450,000 signatures to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers in December 2017, overwhelmingly surpassing the amount necessary to place a question before Michigan voters on the ballot in 2018 (315,654).  

The Board of State Canvassers is in the process of validating the required number of signatures.

Learn more about the proposal here.

Missouri

Clean Missouri is campaigning for a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would mandate the use of a new statistical model for redistricting. The amendment also would give a nonpartisan state demographer responsibility for drawing state legislative lines for approval of the legislature. If voters approve the measure, Missouri would be one of the first states in the nation to require a statistical test to measure partisan fairness in the redistricting process.

The coalition is in the final stages of gathering the minimum 160,199 signatures it needs by May 6, 2018 for the initiative to appear on the November ballot. 

Ohio

On May 8, Ohio voters will vote on whether to change how the state will draw its congressional districts.

State Issue 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would keep the legislature in charge of drawing congressional maps, but, will restrict politicians’ ability to manipulate district lines for partisan advantage. The proposal would require support from both parties to ensure a map has bipartisan approval and sets new rules for map drawing that were previously absent, such as ensuring districts are compact and rules for preserving cities, townships and municipal corporations in the same district. If the legislature fails to pass a map with bipartisan support, the state’s seven-member redistricting commission would have the opportunity to draw a map. If the commission fails to pass a map with bipartisan approval, the legislature would have a second chance to pass a map, but would be subject to strict rules if it cannot garner significant bipartisan support.

The final amendment was a compromise between Democrats, Republicans, and Fair Districts = Fair Elections, a nonpartisan coalition who prepared a ballot proposal that would have added congressional maps to the state redistricting commission’s duties.

Oklahoma

Represent Oklahoma, a nonpartisan citizens group, is seeking a state constitutional change that would transfer redistricting duties from the legislature to an independent, nonpartisan commission. According to the group’s website, the proposal would provide clear criteria such as ensuring common communities are intact and prohibits drawing districts with partisan motivations. It would also require consensus from each party represented for a plan to pass.

Represent Oklahoma plans to file a ballot initiative in the coming weeks and begin collecting signatures this spring. The group needs to collect 123,725 signatures by May 1 to get their proposal the 2018 ballot.

Oregon

Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is leading the effort to find a “fair, nonpartisan unbiased way” to conduct the redistricting process. Last February, Secretary Richardson assembled the Fair Redistricting Task Force to gather best practices of redistricting reforms in the country to help craft a nonpartisan redistricting proposal. Richardson proposed a plan that would have created an eleven-member redistricting commission, composed of members of the two largest political parties and third-party or unaffiliated voters, that would to use a custom computer algorithm to draw state legislative district boundaries. The proposal would have also prohibited the commission from considering political or electoral data, favoring or discriminating against a candidate, incumbent, or political party, and diluting the voting strength of a minority group.

The task force had some concerns with Richardson’s proposal, and released a report in October issuing its recommendations for reform. The task force’s recommendations would create an eleven-member commission to draw maps, implementing procedures for public input and hearings during the map-drawing process, and using ranked-order criteria. A constitutional amendment needs at least 117,578 signatures to qualify for the ballot.

As an alternative to a citizen-led proposal, a local newspaper reported that Richardson is talking with Republican lawmakers to try and introduce a bill in the 2018 legislative session. Voters would ultimately have to decide and approve a measure in order to amend the state constitution.

Utah

Organizers have gathered enough signatures to put proposal that would change Utah’s redistricting process before voters in November.

Better Boundaries, the ballot proposal organized by the bipartisan group, Utahns for Responsive Government, would create a seven-member advisory redistricting commission to advise Utah lawmakers on the redistricting process beginning in 2021. The commissioners, who would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, would be required to follow ranked-order criteria to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts, which would include preserving communities of interest and neighborhoods together. The proposal would also prohibit the commission and the legislature from considering partisan political data unless necessary to comply with other redistricting criteria.

To get an initiative on the ballot, campaigns need to gather 113,000 signatures in 26 of Utah’s 29 senate districts. Official certification for the November ballot will not be complete until June.

Colorado

Two citizen coalitions have joined forces to support ballot measures reforming how the state draws its political districts.

Fair Districts Colorado and People Not Politicians plan to run two ballot initiatives that would put a twelve-member commission in charge of drawing the state’s congressional and legislative districts. The commission would have an equal number of Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters. A majority of eight commission members, including at least two unaffiliated members, would be required to approve a map. The commission would be required to hold at least three public hearings in each congressional district before approving a redistricting map. The proposals also establish new criteria for map drawing, including provisions barring partisan gerrymandering and rules favoring competitive districts.

Supporters of the initiative include former governors and state lawmakers from both parties. The ballot measures combine parts of earlier measures proposed by Fair Districts and People and Not Politicians.

A ballot initiative that amends the state constitution must have at least 98,492 signatures, (5 percent of the total votes cast in the most recent secretary of state election) in order to be placed on the November 2018 ballot.

Legislative Efforts

Pennsylvania

Fair Districts PA, a nonprofit volunteer organization, is working to amend the state constitution to give an independent redistricting commission responsibility for drawing the congressional and state legislative boundaries. The organization supports Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 722, which both would create an eleven-member commission, composed of members the two largest political parties and third-party or unaffiliated voters. HB 722 currently has 112 co-sponsors. Governor Tom Wolf also has voiced his support of the proposals. The legislature held a hearing on SB22 at the end of March. According to the chief of staff to Sen. Mike Folmer, more hearings could follow.

In order for the amendment to pass, the state legislature would need to pass the same bill in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 legislative sessions, and voters would then need to approve a public referendum in 2020.

Illinois

A coalition of good government groups has restarted efforts to amend the state constitution to change how legislative districts are drawn. The Fair Maps Amendment would create a sixteen-member commission to draw legislative district boundaries. Seven Democrats, seven Republican, and two independents would be chosen by the state Supreme Court to serve on the commission.

Previous redistricting petitions in 2014 and 2016 failed to make it onto the ballot. Yet, supporters are optimistic because the new proposal is modeled after a 2016 bill that passed in the Illinois House.

The measure would need a three-fifths majority of both chambers of the General Assembly to appear on the ballot. Voters would have the final say in adopting the measure. The coalition hopes to get a vote by May in order to get the question on the November 2018 ballot.