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.

February 7, 2018

Grassroots and advocacy groups in a number of states are busy drafting ballot proposals and launching campaigns that support legislation aimed at curbing gerrymandering – the manipulation of voting districts to favor or disfavor one group of voters over another or to protect incumbents. Since 2000, similar grassroots efforts 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, charging citizens with the responsibility to persuade their legislature to pass reforms.)

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

For more on parallel efforts in state legislatures and Congress to reform redistricting, check out our State Redistricting Bill Tracker and our Congressional Redistricting Bill Tracker.  

Major Citizen-Led Ballot Initiatives

Michigan

A nonpartisan ballot committee called 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 over 425,000 signatures to the Board of State Canvassers in December, overwhelmingly surpassing the amount necessary to place a question before Michigan voters on the ballot in 2018 (315,654).  

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 require a nonpartisan state demographer to draw state legislative lines for approval of the legislature. If approved, 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

In May, Ohio voters will have the chance to change how the state will draw its congressional districts.

The Ohio Legislature passed a bipartisan proposal that would keep the legislature in charge of drawing congressional maps, but, as Sen. Vernon Sykes told Cleveland.com, “. . . provides significant and sufficient checks and balances on the process.” 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. Supporters say the amendment will lead to more competitive and fairer districts.

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 in the spring. The group needs to collect 123,725 signatures within a 90-day period to get a constitutional amendment on 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.

South Dakota

A proposed constitutional amendment put forth by the citizen coalition Citizens for Fair Elections would implement a nine-member independent citizens commission to draw state legislative boundaries beginning in 2021. No more than three of the members could be from the same political party. The amendment specifies that party registration, voting history, and residency of incumbents or candidates may not be considered in the map drawing process. The commission would also be required to publicize draft maps and accept written comments before adopting a final plan.

The coalition submitted over 34,000 signatures last November to the Secretary of State for review – 6,000 more than the required 27,741 valid signatures needed to advance to the 2018 ballot. The Secretary of State will need to examine the petitions and determine if there are enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. 

Utah

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.

In a recent survey of 605 registered voters, a little over half of respondents were somewhat or strongly supportive of the Better Boundaries initiative, though one in five remains unsure about the idea.

The group has collected over half of the nearly 113,000 signatures it needs by April 15 for the petition to be placed on the 2018 ballot.

Colorado

Two citizen coalitions have submitted ballot measures reforming how the state draws its political districts.

Fair Districts Colorado, a coalition of former and current elected officials, plans to run a package of ballot initiatives that would create an independent commission to draw Colorado’s congressional and state legislative lines in an effort to end the partisan battle over redistricting that has often led to disputes in court. The two of the proposals would put redistricting in the hands of a twelve-member citizens commission, half of whom would be appointed by the two largest political parties in the state. A third proposal would include both lawmakers and citizens on an eleven-member commission. Both commissions would include unaffiliated voters, who currently make up roughly 35 percent of the state’s active voters.

An opposing coalition of over twenty civic organizations called People Not Politicians also filed two ballot proposals for an independent commission to draw congressional and state legislative districts. The commission would have an equal number of Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters who are reflective of the state’s gender, geographic, and racial diversity. Half of the commissioners would be chosen at random, while the remaining commissioners would be appointed by the chief justice of the Colorado Court of Appeals. The proposal would require the commission to prioritize communities of interest, consider competitiveness, and prohibits drawing districts to protect incumbents or favor any political party.  

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 ballot.

Notable Reform 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 107 co-sponsors. As of yet, however, legislative leaders have not set a hearing on either bill.

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.