CLC: The Harmful Impact of Partisan Gerrymandering on Voters and Our Democracy

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The Campaign Legal Center, which is litigating the landmark case Whitford v. Gill to end partisan gerrymandering, recently released a report, Make Democracy Count: Ending Partisan Gerrymandering.

The report highlights the impact partisan gerrymandering, or the drawing of electoral district lines to benefit one political party, has on our democracy and suggests a key solution that can be used to ensure fair elections nationwide.

“Partisan gerrymandering is increasingly becoming the political weapon of choice for legislators to maintain power,” said Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. “Currently, politicians are allowed to choose their own voters and draw voting maps that are self-serving, at the expense of American voters and our democracy as a whole. The practice is to blame for Americans’ distrust in our government, and a significant reason for the hyper-partisanship and political gridlock we currently see in state and federal politics.”

Make Democracy Count details how partisan gerrymandering creates an unrepresentative and unfair democracy and encourages self-interested politics. The report also showcases the toll this undemocratic practice has on real voters.

In addition, CLC’s report explains the efficiency gap, a solution for measuring partisan effects put forward in the case, Whitford v. Gill, which went to trial in May before a three-judge Wisconsin district court. In Whitford, 12 Wisconsin voters, represented by CLC and local attorneys, challenged the state’s Assembly map, one of the most extreme partisan gerrymanders in modern American history. A decision in the case is expected soon.

“The Supreme Court has not yet adopted a standard for determining whether a redistricting plan is an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander, leaving voters with little or no recourse through our judicial system,” said Ruth Greenwood, senior redistricting counsel for the Campaign Legal Center. “If our case is appealed to the Supreme Court, and if the high court embraces the efficiency gap as a test for unlawful gerrymandering, it would go a long way to restoring fair elections and ensuring that every voter is entitled to equal protection under the law and to have their voice heard.”

Learn more about Whitford v. Gill

U.S. Census Bureau Should Change How it Counts Incarcerated Individuals in the 2020 Census

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The Campaign Legal Center and the Voting Rights Institute recently filed comments urging the U.S. Census Bureau to change its proposed rule on how it plans to count incarcerated prisoners in the 2020 Census.

This proposed rule allows the bureau to continue counting incarcerated individuals at the particular facility they are located in on Census Day, instead of in the community where they are from. CLC urges the Census Bureau to heed the overwhelming consensus, demonstrated by prior comments to the bureau, to change course and count incarcerated individuals in their home communities for the 2020 Census.

“Census data serves as the basis for the drawing of state and local legislative district lines,” said Gerry Hebert, executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. “If this rule is approved for the 2020 Census, it would diminish the Census as a useful demographic tool, disproportionately harm the voting power of minority communities and compromise the integrity of our democracy.”  

Our comments note that by counting prisoners as residents of their prison cells, the Census displaces a large prison population that is disproportionately male, urban and Black or Latino. This systematically overvalues the votes of those who live in districts that include prisons and diminishes the political power of everyone else. It particularly diminishes the political representation of urban minority communities, shifting that political power to rural white communities.

The Census rule places an undue burden on states seeking to count prisoners in the correct place. While some states and localities have taken steps to count prisoners in their home communities, many are required by state law to abide by the flawed Census data.

Comments on this proposed rule are due to the Census Bureau on September 1. The Campaign Legal Center encourages concerned citizens and organizations to send their own comments noting their disapproval of a rule that continues to distort our democracy.

Want Redistricting Reform in PA? Here’s What You Can Do NOW

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Editor’s Note: Today we are featuring a blog post that originally appeared on the Fair Districts Pa website. Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections is a proud member of the coalition, whose goal is to help reform the way political maps are drawn in the Keystone State. Simply put: The process, as it stands, allows politicians to choose their voters instead of the other way around. Find out more about Fair Districts PA at its website. You can also follow the coalition on Facebook.

Abraham Lincoln said “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

Public concern about our American democracy has never been stronger, with an unprecedented amount of dark money flooding into elections to sway voters and capture the legislative process.

Gerrymandering of electoral districts is an essential part of capturing the process, shutting out competition and shielding legislators from the will of their voters.

In his last public interview before leaving office, President Ronald Reagan called gerrymandering “the greatest single blot on the integrity of our electoral system.” President Jimmy Carter has repeatedly expressed concern about “the excessive gerrymandering of legislative districts.”

Many Pennsylvania citizens who have signed our petition in support of redistricting reform agree. Here are just a few of their comments:

  • The system is broken. The present system allows elected officials to not be concerned about their constituents because the district has been gerrimandered to assure their reelection irrespective of their activity or lack of activity

  • There can be no fair elections until there are fair legislative districts!

  • Stacking the deck in your favor is cheating almost every voter of their vote.

  • Fair districts are essential for democracy.

  • A free and democratic nation (or state) must have fair and equitable voting districts. All districts must be reasonably equal in population, contiguous, and compact, and allow for the fair representation of all points of view. Our democracy is eroded and undermined to the degree in which these principles are subverted.

  • Democracy cannot thrive in an environment of mistrust and injustice.

  • Gerrymandering is THE biggest problem with government today. It has lead to hyperpartisanship and governmental gridlock. It it responsible for reasonable people being primaried out of office and MUST be stopped.

  • Our elections are too important to be left to the cutthroat political players who use data to stack districts that will protect their party and diminish the effect of voters in the opposing party. Better to have a system that works to create fair, compact legislative districts so that our representatives can effectively serve their constituents.

  • Independent redistricting is the only fair way.

  • We want to pick representatives, not have representatives pick their voters.

Moved to take action? Sign the petition and make a small donation to help Fair Districts PA inform and educate voters.

Judicial Watch to Defend Voters Challenging Maryland’s Congressional Redistricting Maps

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A special, three-judge panel is expected to consider a constitutional challenge to Maryland’s gerrymandered congressional district map today, Tuesday, July 12.  Judicial Watch Attorney Robert Popper will appear before the panel on behalf of voters from each of Maryland’s eight congressional districts.

The plaintiffs challenging Maryland’s congressional district plan include Maryland Delegates Neil C. Parrott and Matt Morgan, and former Maryland legislator and gubernatorial candidate Ambassador Ellen Sauerbrey.

Judicial Watch filed the lawsuit on June 24, 2015, in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland against Maryland’s state administrator of elections and the chair of the state board of elections (Parrott, et al., v. Lamone, et al. (No. 1:15-cv-01849)).

The lawsuit argues that the Maryland maps were drawn in a way that violates Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which requires that the “House of Representatives shall be composed of Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States …”  The suit asks the court, among other relief, to declare the Maryland maps unlawful and require Maryland to redraw the maps.

Date: Tuesday, July 12, 2016
Time: 2:30 pm ET
Location: Courtroom 1A
U.S. District Court District of Maryland
101 W. Lombard Street
Baltimore, MD

In December 2015, a unanimous 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court decision overruled the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and affirmed the Three-Judge Court Act, a law requiring three federal judges to be empaneled to try federal lawsuits concerning redistricting, voting rights, and other key constitutional issues (Shapiro et al.  v. McManus, Chairman, Maryland State Board of Elections, et al. (No. 14-990)).  Judicial Watch filed a friend-of-the-court brief in August 2015 supporting the plaintiffs who ultimately prevailed in that case.  The special three-judge panel hearing Judicial Watch’s challenge next week was convened as a result of the Supreme Court decision.

Judicial Watch first entered the Maryland redistricting battle on August 10, 2012, when it represented MDPetitions.com and Delegate Neil Parrott in its successful lawsuit to block a move by the state’s Democrat party to have an Election Day voter referendum on the state’s controversial gerrymandering plan removed from the ballot. Three weeks later, Judicial Watch again represented Delegate Parrott in a challenge the misleading language of the wording of the ballot question.

Robert Popper is director of Judicial Watch’s Election Integrity Project. Popper was formerly deputy chief of the Voting Section of the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

Common Cause Announces Winners of National Contest to End Gerrymandering

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Three academics with fresh ideas to identify and analyze how politicians draw legislative boundaries for political advantage have been declared the winners of Common Cause’s second annual Gerrymander Standard Writing Competition.

First Place: Wendy Tam Cho and Yan Y. Liu of the University of Illinois claimed the competition’s top prize with a paper describing how they can generate millions of simulated redistricting maps with desirable characteristics to provide context and insight into the role of partisanship in devising a disputed plan.

Second Place: Second place went to Sam Wang of Princeton University, whose paper proposes three statistical tests to reliably assess asymmetry, which occurs when the number of seats each party would receive changes in an unequal fashion if the parties switched places in the popular vote.

Third Place: Ted Arrington, professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, took third place with a paper presenting a workable criteria for determining when districting arrangements so distort the process of translating votes into seats in a legislature that the process or the redistricting plan rises to a constitutional violation.

Common Cause sponsored the 2nd Annual Gerrymander Standard Writing Competition to generate measurements for partisan gerrymandering that could be used in court to demonstrate that this undemocratic practice violates Americans’ constitutional rights. In a 2004 U.S. Supreme Court case, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s concurring opinion stated that partisan gerrymanders could be challenged in court but that a judicially manageable standard for measuring them would have to be developed before a court could overturn such maps.

“Americans are growing increasingly frustrated that politicians are drawing districts for political advantage rather than fair representation,” said Kathay Feng, Common Cause’s national redistricting director. “However, recent legal developments in cases out of Maryland, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and other states suggest that courts are ready to do something about it. We congratulate the winners of our Gerrymander Standard Competition for creating a new set of tools that will empower the public to challenge maps that prioritize the needs of politicians over the will of the people.”

The focus of this year’s contest was applying measures of partisan gerrymandering to the legislative maps citizens are challenging in Shapiro v. McManus and Whitford v. Nichol, cases out of Maryland and Wisconsin respectively. The judging panel included Duke Law Professor Guy-Uriel Charles, UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Office of Congressional Ethics Board of Directors memberAllison Hayward, Brennan Center for Justice Senior Counsel Michael Li, and Pepperdine University Law School Professor Derek Muller.

Winners will receive cash prizes and their papers will be published in Election Law Journal.

Fair Districts PA Redistricting Reform Petition Half Way to Goal

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Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections is happy to report that a petition calling for redistricting reform in the Keystone State through the creation of an independent commission to draw political lines is now half-way to its goal.

The petition is hosted by Fair District PA, a coalition of concerned nonprofits and residents who want to see voters choose their politicians, not the other way around.

Right now, we have just more than 2,500 signatures, but our goal is 5,000.

If you haven’t yet signed the petition, we encourage you to do so. If you have (thank you!), we humbly ask that you consider sharing the link on Facebook, Twitter or another other social media network of choice. Email it to your family, mention it to your friends at work.

You get the message.

Help us usher in a new way of political map-drawing in Pennsylvania. Get involved today.

 

Answered: What IS Gerrymandering?

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Gerrymandering. Many have heard the term. Many likely have an idea of what it means—but maybe not so much of an idea of why it’s a problem, and what it’s ramifications are.

While there are myriad white papers and websites devoted to exploration and awareness of the redistricting woe known as gerrymandering, few are able to explain it in simple language.

Until now.

MTV recently published a story titled, “What the Heck is Gerrymandering” and not only is it a great primer, but it’s also an engaging, quick read.

And after your done reading the story, and feeling like, “What can I do to help end the practice of gerrymandering?” please consider signing this petition asking for reform in Pennsylvania.

Gerrymandering Spotlight: Just One in 10 State Wisconsin Legislative Districts are Competitive for the 2016 General Election

The number of Wisconsin Assembly and State Senate legislative districts in 2016 that can be considered even remotely competitive this November is just 10 percent of the total – one of the fewest number of competitive state legislative districts on record – according to election data compiled by Common Cause in Wisconsin (CC/WI). The figures are based on Assembly general election vote percentages in 2014 and on State Senate general election vote percentages in 2012. Assembly elections are every two years, State Senate elections are every four years.

Just ten of 99 State Assembly seats in 2014 and only two of 16 State Senate seats in 2012 experienced general elections in which the margin of victory was ten points or less (55% to 45% or closer – considered by political scientists to be within a “competitive” range). The total number of competitive legislative districts for the Wisconsin Legislature is 12 of 115 (99 Assembly and 16 State Senate seats) or just 10.4 percent for the upcoming November 8th election.

By contrast, during the 2010 elections – which occurred before the 2011 redistricting process that was rammed through the Legislature and signed into law in July 2011 – there were 21 competitive elections (of 99) in the Assembly and 6 of 16 in the State Senate, or 27 of 116 total (23.3 percent) in the November 2010 elections.

The 2011 redistricting process is widely considered to be the most partisan, secretive and expensive (to Wisconsin taxpayers) in Wisconsin’s history. The number of competitive Assembly and State Senate legislative districts in 2016, after that process, compared with the corresponding numbers in the 2010 election (before the gerrymandering) demonstrates that the 2011 redistricting process resulted in far fewer competitive state legislative elections in which voters had a real choice in the general election.

During the 2010 general election less than a quarter (23.3 percent) of all Wisconsin legislative seats were considered competitive, which was disgraceful. But the partisan 2011 redistricting process made it far worse.  In 2012, competitive elections fell to under 15 percent of the total (14.8%) and in 2014 it dropped to just over 10 percent (10.3 percent).

Democracy is in serious trouble when only one in ten Wisconsinites has an opportunity to vote in an election in which they have a serious choice for the Wisconsin Legislature in the general election.

Longtime Common Cause in Wisconsin State Governing Board Member Dave Martin makes a compelling case in the Wisconsin State Journal about why Republicans and Democrats should end hyper-partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin and adopt Iowa’s non-partisan fair voting maps process for 2021. Dave is a former Republican State Representative from Neenah and GOP candidate for Lieutenant Governor of Wisconsin.

This is not a partisan issue.

It is all about making our elected officials responsive to we, the people.

Editorial: Redistricting Reform in PA Can Make More Votes Count

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In the wake of Pennsylvania’s primary election, Philly.com again weighed in on redistricting reform efforts in the state – and why they matter – in a new editorial.

The piece begins:

“The U.S. Supreme Court has noted correctly that  ‘the voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.’ In Pennsylvania, which nominated candidates for Congress and state Legislature in Tuesday’s primaries, that is not how representative government has worked for many years.”

The editorial then sums up what is so wrong with the way the last political boundaries were drawn:

“At the beginning of this decade, Republicans drew legislative and congressional district lines so masterfully – and questionably – that the state’s delegations don’t come close to reflecting the population they’re supposed to represent. Pennsylvania has about 4.1 million registered Democrats and 3.1 million registered Republicans. Yet Democrats have only 19 seats in the state Senate to Republicans’ 30 (with one vacancy). In the lower house, Democrats have just 84 seats to the Republicans’ 119.

 The Washington delegation is even more lopsided: Of Pennsylvania’s 18 House seats, only five are held by Democrats. There are other incongruities: The state’s U.S. representatives include not a single woman and only one member of a minority group.”

 The editorial also references the work of both a bipartisan group of legislators, myriad nonprofits and ordinary citizens who are proposing and advocating for a new, more fair, more transparent way to draw legislative and congressional lines in Pennsylvania through the creation of independent redistricting commissions.

It’s a must-read editorial for sure, one that can be accessed for free online.

Once you read the piece, you’re gonna want to take action – and fortunately, you can.

We invite you to join Fair Districts PA (a coalition to which Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections belongs) in supporting these reform efforts, and to sign our petition calling for independent redistricting commissions.

Redistricting News Roundup: What Happened in April

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We get it: There is a ton of news out there about the subject of redistricting reform.

There’s news from Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin. There are new headlines and seemingly new lawsuits everyday regarding the way political maps are drawn – and it can get a little confusing.

 So before we get too far into the marvelous month of May, we wanted to pass along a link to the Brennan Center’s recently published redistricting roundup for April.

In this month’s edition are updates about court cases including:

  • Evenwel v. Abbott (the “one person, one vote” challenge out of Texas)
  • Harris v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission (out of Arizona)
  • Whitford v. Nichol (a case out of Wisconsin)

 Also included in the Brennan Center report? Additional easy-to-read case recaps and news items about redistricting from across the country.

As you know, Fair Districts PA (of which Pennsylvanians for Fair Elections in Pittsburgh a member) is fighting for redistricting reform here in Pennsylvania – please join us, and sign our petition.