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Analysis

Citizen and Legislative Efforts to Reform Redistricting in 2018

In 2021, voting districts will be redrawn across the country. Advocacy and grassroots groups around the country are working to change the way it’s done.

November 7, 2018

Voters on Novem­ber 6 will have a chance to curb gerry­man­der­ing when they vote on four propos­als to reform the way the redis­trict­ing process works. In other states, like Virginia, voters are work­ing to get propos­als on the ballot before district bound­ar­ies are next redrawn in 2021.

Here’s a round-up of the latest news.

Ballot Initi­at­ives (passed in Novem­ber 2018)

Michigan

A ballot initi­at­ive that would create an inde­pend­ent citizens’ redis­trict­ing commis­sion to draw the state’s polit­ical bound­ar­ies, proposed by Voters Not Politi­cians (VNP), will go before voters on the Novem­ber 2018 ballot. 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).  

At the begin­ning of June, a three-judge panel at the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered for VNP’s meas­ure to be placed on the Novem­ber ballot, unan­im­ously reject­ing a chal­lenge that conten­ded the initi­at­ive is too expans­ive for a consti­tu­tional amend­ment and does not list all to the sections that would be abrog­ated. The chal­lengers appealed the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. Learn more about the lawsuit here.

On June 20, the Board of State Canvass­ers approved putting the proposal on the Novem­ber ballot in a 3–0 vote.

On July 31, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision, allow­ing the proposal to be voted on in Novem­ber. 

The proposal has garnered support from a vari­ety of news­pa­pers, includ­ing the Detroit Free Press and the Lans­ing State Journal

Learn more about the proposal here.

Utah

Organ­izers have gathered enough signa­tures to put a 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.

The lieu­ten­ant governor certi­fied the group’s signa­tures in early June.

The proposal is suppor­ted by several major news­pa­pers, includ­ing the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune.

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 state appor­tion­ment commis­sions. 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 submit­ted almost 347,000 signa­tures in May, exceed­ing the minimum 160,199 signa­tures it needs for the initi­at­ive to appear on the Novem­ber ballot.

On August 2, the Secret­ary of State certi­fied the initi­at­ive to appear on the Novem­ber ballot as Amend­ment 1. 

On Septem­ber 14, the Cole County Circuit Court struck the initi­at­ive from the ballot, citing the state consti­tu­tion’s single-subject rule for consti­tu­tional amend­ments and the initi­at­ive’s proposed changes to more than one branch of govern­ment. On Septem­ber 21, the Court of Appeals for the West­ern District of Missouri reversed that decision, restor­ing the initi­at­ive to the ballot. 

The proposal has been endorsed by 10 state news­pa­pers, includ­ing the Spring­field News-Leader and the Joplin Globe

Learn more about the proposal here.

Ballot Initi­at­ives (poten­tial future)

Arkan­sas

On Octo­ber 26, 2018, Arkan­sas Attor­ney General Leslie Rutledge certi­fied the ballot title for a proposal to revise the state’s redis­trict­ing process, clear­ing the way for the peti­tion­ers to collect signa­tures.

Currently, an appor­tion­ment board consist­ing of the governor, secret­ary of state, and attor­ney general draws Arkansas’ state legis­lat­ive districts while the legis­lature draws congres­sional districts. The proposed consti­tu­tional amend­ment would replace the exist­ing process with a seven-member citizens commis­sion that would draw both congres­sional and state legis­lat­ive districts. The commis­sion would consist of two Demo­crats, two Repub­lic­ans, and three indi­vidu­als unaf­fili­ated with any polit­ical party. The proposal also prohib­its draw­ing districts for partisan advant­age or to harm the voting strength of minor­ity groups.

Support­ers will need to collect signa­tures from at least 15 counties total­ing 10% of the number of votes cast in the next gubernat­orial elec­tion to submit to the secret­ary of state for the initi­at­ive to appear on the 2020 ballot.

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.

The group hopes to imple­ment a new process before the next redis­trict­ing cycle in 2021.

Legis­lat­ive Propos­als (passed in 2018)

Color­ado

In early May, Color­ado lawmakers approved two meas­ures that would create a twelve-member redis­trict­ing commis­sion with an equal number of Demo­crats, Repub­lic­ans, and unaf­fili­ated voters to draw the state’s congres­sional and state legis­lat­ive districts. A super­ma­jor­ity of eight members, includ­ing at least two unaf­fili­ated members, would be required to approve a map. Cospon­sor State Sen. Stephen Fenberg stated, “This makes sure Demo­crats and Repub­lic­ans can’t collude and draw maps that are equally good for the parties but bad for unaf­fili­ated voters.” Both of the bipar­tisan resol­u­tions passed through the legis­lature unan­im­ously.

Two citizen coali­tions – Fair Districts Color­ado and People Not Politi­cians – that previ­ously filed ballot meas­ures imple­ment­ing similar citizens redis­trict­ing commis­sion, are now support­ing and campaign­ing for the new meas­ure, known as Fair Maps Color­ado. The proposal will go before voters on the Novem­ber ballot.  

The propos­als have won support from several news­pa­pers, includ­ing the Denver Post and the Color­ado Springs Gazette.

Learn more about the congres­sional proposal here.

Learn more about the state legis­lat­ive proposal here.

Ohio

In May 2018, Ohio voters over­whelm­ing passed a ballot proposal that requires bipar­tisan cooper­a­tion in the legis­lature’s map draw­ing process for 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. The new process will begin in 2021.

Legis­lat­ive Propos­als (poten­tial future)

Virginia

OneVir­gini­a2021 launched March Forth, a ten-month campaign to build momentum for a consti­tu­tional amend­ment to end gerry­man­der­ing in Virginia before voters in 2020. Advoc­ates plan to organ­ize Virginia resid­ents to urge state legis­lat­ors to enact reform during the 2019 legis­lat­ive session.

To get a consti­tu­tional amend­ment on the ballot before the next round of redis­trict­ing, the General Assembly must pass identical resol­u­tions in consec­ut­ive sessions in 2019 and 2020.

(Photo: Steph­en­Os­man/Getty)