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August 16, 2021
Courtesy Drawn Together SD
Since organizing the Voters Not Politicians 2018 ballot initiative that put citizens in charge of drawing Michigan's legislative maps, Fahey has been the founding executive director of The People, which is forming statewide networks to promote government accountability. She regularly interviews colleagues in the world of democracy reform for our Opinion section.
Amy Scott-Stoltz is the president of the League of Women Voters of South Dakota. Born and raised in Sioux Falls, Amy is a committed and deeply engaged community leader, whose strong civic spirit compelled her to lead the current campaign for redistricting reform in her state.
Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Fahey: How did you become involved with the League of Women Voters SD and this campaign, specifically?
Scott-Stoltz: My mom was a League of Women Voters member starting back in the '70s, so I've been around the organization since birth and grew up with a civic spirit. I officially joined the League when I had my son 18 years ago.
Nationally, the League is focusing on redistricting. I took a deep dive into redistricting in South Dakota, looking at previous gerrymandering and ways the process could be improved.
Fahey: How has gerrymandering impacted previous elections in South Dakota, and why is reform needed?
Scott-Stoltz: The lawsuit Bone Shirt v. Hazeltine alleged that the state legislature's 2001 map packed Native American voters into one district, limiting their electoral impact and violating the Voting Rights Act. The Native Americans won their court case, but there were no lawsuits stemming from the 2010 redistricting cycle — the spotlight had dwindled, while gerrymandering had gotten worse.
Over the past three decades, the number of registered Republicans in South Dakota has remained steady at around 49 percent, while the number of Republican state legislators has increased from 65 percent to 90 percent. Currently, 86 percent of our legislative districts have more Republicans than Democrats.
A question I often get is, 'Why wasn't this an issue earlier?' Gerrymandering has always been an issue, but the advent of advanced technology has made it easier to gerrymander down to the census block.
Fahey: Please explain the reform that Drawn Together SD is promoting. How would it change redistricting in your state?
Scott-Stoltz: Our petition is bringing forward an independent commission that allows citizens, not politicians, to create South Dakota's legislative maps. To ensure true bipartisanship, no more than three out of nine commissioners may be affiliated with the same political party, and each must have been continuously registered with their party for three years. During the three years before and after the redistricting cycle, commissioners cannot be appointed or elected to public office. In drawing maps, the commission cannot use voter registration data or other data that reveals voting trends — it must preserve communities of interest, and partisan gerrymandering is finally made illegal.
Fahey: Republican overrepresentation is the evidence of gerrymandering in South Dakota, but this is a nonpartisan petition. How do you pitch this reform to voters across the political spectrum?
Scott-Stoltz: The idea of free and fair elections is our focus, and it all starts with how the lines are drawn. Getting to the polls and voting is the second step. Democracy really does take precedence over partisanship for most people in the United States.
Fahey: How can people support your effort to end gerrymandering in South Dakota?
Scott-Stoltz: Our website has information on signing our petition and volunteer opportunities, as well as making a donation — it is very expensive to run a petition campaign. We can also be contacted via email at info@drawntogetherSD.com.
Fahey: How is the redistricting process playing out right now in South Dakota?
Scott-Stoltz: A legislative committee is working on redistricting, and it plans to approve its map in a special session on Nov. 8. The census data release was delayed from April to this month, so the timeline is compressed. The redistricting committee has 15 legislators and 13 are from the same party, so the opportunity for gerrymandering is there.
The committee will hold public hearings in October. About a month before that, the League will hold in-person and online meetings to educate voters on redistricting and ways they can get involved.
Fahey: What previous attempts have there been to pass redistricting reform in South Dakota?
Scott-Stoltz: A similar ballot question, which would have created an independent commission, appeared in 2016. It failed to pass, but still received 43 percent of the vote. In 2020, our coalition formed to support a resolution in the state legislature which would have established an independent redistricting commission. The motion failed in a committee with nine out of 11 members from the same party. We have not given up. Since starting our petition drive, our coalition has expanded. We have members across the state in rural and urban communities, including Native American communities.
Fahey: Beyond Bone Shirt v. Hazeltine, could you explain how South Dakota voting laws have impacted the Native American population?
Scott-Stoltz: The Native American community in South Dakota did not have full participation in state government until 1980. Before then, residents of unincorporated counties — mainly containing reservations — could not hold public office. As recently as 2012, the secretary of state removed early voting satellite offices from a reservation. Instead of having 46 days to vote early like the rest of the state, Native American residents had only 6 days to vote locally — some had to travel for hours to reach an early voting site over the preceding 40 days. In response, the Native American population successfully sued the state.
The poorest county in America is a Native American reservation in South Dakota. With so many other pressing needs, the Native American population in the state has historically struggled to focus on voting rights and fair representation. In recent years, they've become strong advocates for themselves and important partners of Drawn Together SD.
Fahey: What will it take for your proposed amendment to be implemented?
Scott-Stoltz: For our proposed amendment to appear on the 2022 ballot, our petition needs nearly 34,000 signatures by Nov. 8. It will take a huge push to get it through, and we could use all the help we can get.
Fahey: What has been the biggest obstacle of your campaign?
Scott-Stoltz: The biggest obstacles are the things we can't control, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and weather — we've had heat waves recently — that make it hard to get out in places where people gather. We have a good response when we are able to collect signatures, as most people are willing to sign.
Fahey: If you were speaking with a high school student or a new immigrant to the country, how would you describe what being an American means to you?
Scott-Stoltz: Being American is both a freedom and a responsibility. All of our freedoms come with a responsibility to not only fight to maintain them, but to make sure that we are fighting for the freedoms of others.
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August 13, 2021
David L. Ryan/Getty Images
Data released by the Census Bureau on Thursday showed America's population is more diverse than ever. For the first time since 1790, the number of people in the country who identify as white declined.
The detailed look into the nation's population changes over the past decade will be key as states can now begin redrawing election maps for the 2020s. But due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, states face a compressed timeline to complete their redistricting plans.
Concerns about the accuracy of the census count also remain. Communities of color have historically been undercounted, but this cycle could see larger disparities due to Covid-19 and efforts by the Trump administration to change the census questionnaire in ways that might have intimidated respondents.
Here are five stories to catch you up on the latest redistricting developments.
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Sarah L. Voisin/Getty Images
To the casual observer, gerrymandering can be difficult to spot, especially with recent technological advancements. But two new tools make it much easier to uncover partisan map manipulation.
And it's no coincidence that "good government" groups are unveiling these free tools now. On Thursday, the Census Bureau will release the updated population data states need to start redrawing congressional and state legislative maps for the new decade.
RepresentUs and the Princeton Gerrymandering Project collaborated to produce the Redistricting Report Card. And the Campaign Legal Center relaunched PlanScore. Both tools will analyze each state's newly drawn election maps for partisan impact.
Because the entire process of collecting and processing census data has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, states are facing a compressed timeline for redistricting this year. The data being released this week normally comes out in the spring, and the final set of redistricting data won't be available until late September.
In most of the country, the two major parties remain in control of the mapmaking process. Republicans will have the advantage over redistricting in 21 states, while Democrats have it in nine. Another nine states have a divided government and the remaining 11 states have given mapmaking authority over to a redistricting commission.
Fair maps advocates hope to use these online tools to hold mapmakers, partisan or independent, accountable as well as raise public awareness about gerrymandering and the redistricting process.
The Redistricting Report Card uses an algorithm that generates one million potential maps for each state to provide a baseline of possibilities, both good and bad. Then, the tool will use these one million possibilities to compare and evaluate map proposals from state legislatures, redistricting commissions and even reform groups.
It will grade proposals based on competitiveness, geography and, most importantly, partisan fairness. Grades will be posted as state maps are produced later this year.
"It is critical that we deliver to citizens ways to evaluate and correct attempts to skew representation," said Sam Wang, director of the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and its extension, the Electoral Innovation Lab. "Our democracy depends on a transparent representation model that is responsive to citizens. We want citizens and map experts nationwide to use tools like this to reclaim their power in the democratic process."
In April, RepresentUs released a Gerrymandering Threat Index warning that 35 states are at extreme or high risk of gerrymandering this cycle. The Redistricting Report Card will confirm whether those states do end up manipulating maps for partisan advantage.
"Gerrymandering disenfranchises voters and makes it harder to hold politicians accountable. This important new grading tool will sound the alarm about gerrymandered maps around the country, empowering voters to demand their representatives draw fair maps," said RepresentUs CEO Josh Silver.
While the report card is a new tool, PlanScore was created in 2018 and has been updated and relaunched by the Campaign Legal Center.
As state redistricting plans progress, PlanScore will collect and analyze new maps to determine how severely they are skewed in favor of one major party over the other. The three main metrics for analysis are:
- Efficiency gap (the extent to which district lines crack and pack one party's voters more than the other).
- Partisan bias (the difference between each party's seat share and 50 percent in a hypothetically tied election).
- Mean-median difference (whether and how much a district's vote distribution is skewed in favor of one party over the other).
The website also contextualizes this year's redistricting process by allowing users to compare current and upcoming maps for Congress and the state legislature to historical plans dating back to the 1970s.
Additionally, policymakers and fair maps advocates can upload their own redistricting concepts to PlanScore, which will instantly evaluate them for partisan fairness.
PlanScore Casey Atkins, Campaign Legal Center
"The voting districts that will be finalized in the coming weeks will be cemented for the next 10 years," said Mark Gaber, director of redistricting at the Campaign Legal Center. "PlanScore.org empowers voters to hold map drawers accountable and demand fair maps during this critical map drawing year."
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August 06, 2021
With redistricting season about to kick off and more states engaging everyday citizens in the process, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project staged its own effort to broaden the role of citizen mapmakers. This week, the group celebrated the winners of the Great American Map-Off.
The competition sought to raise awareness about partisan gerrymandering ahead of states redrawing election maps later this year, following the release of updated population data from the Census Bureau.
The contest challenged members of the public to create congressional maps for any of seven key states: Colorado, Florida, Illinois, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin. Participants used free online mapping tools to submit maps in one or all of the following categories: partisan fairness, stealth gerrymander, competition and communities of interest.
"In some cases, entrants had only rudimentary mapping experience, but had substantial familiarity with local communities, underscoring the importance of public engagement within the mapping process and any public input periods following the upcoming release of redistricting maps," said Hannah Wheelen, data and technology lead for the Princeton Gerrymandering Project.
After considering more than a hundred entries, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project chose the following seven winners.
Nathaniel Fischer of Durham, N.C., was named the overall winner for the map of his home state that skillfully incorporated communities of interest. As the first place winner, Fischer took home the grand prize: an iPad.
Peter Haywood, a recent high school graduate from New York City, was awarded the best communities of interest map for his "impressively compact map of New York state districts incorporating his detailed knowledge of regions and communities."
A student team taking Josina Dunkel's AP Human Geography course at Stuyvesant High School in New York City won the best stealth gerrymandering category for their map of Ohio. This category was designed to test how maps could be gerrymandered in a way that was not visible to casual observers. The students' map managed to achieve majority representation for a minority party, while still maintaining compactness and adhering to county boundaries.
Two winners were named for the best competitiveness category: Kenneth Kellett, a recent graduate of the University of Central Florida, and Silas Domy, who works as a research and development coordinator for the Elder Abuse Institute of Maine. Both winners created two maps of Florida each focused on competitiveness and incumbency.
Two winners were also named for the best partisan fairness category: Isak Dai, a first-year student at Georgetown University, and Dinos Gonatas, a Princeton alumnus who consults in the energy sector and works on redistricting algorithms in his free time. Dai created a map of Colorado and Gonatas designed one for Wisconsin.
In addition to these winners, 75 participants' maps were considered of high enough technical caliber to be admitted into the Princeton Gerrymandering Project's MapCorps. These new members will consult and design maps with the team at Princeton.
Of the seven states highlighted in the competition, Colorado is the only one that will use an independent redistricting commission to redraw its maps this year.
Republicans will be in control of the mapmaking process in Florida and North Carolina. (North Carolina's Democratic governor does not have the power to veto maps.)
Although New York has an advisory commission to propose redistricting maps, the Democratic-majority Legislature can make changes if it first vetoes two drafts. Democrats will also have the advantage over redistricting in Illinois.
The GOP-majority Legislature in Ohio must pass a plan with bipartisan support. If it fails to do so, a commission consisting of the governor, secretary of state, state auditor and four appointees will take over.
If Wisconsin's Democratic governor and GOP-led Legislature fail to strike a bipartisan agreement, the state's maps will likely be drawn by the courts.
Next week, the Census Bureau is expected to release the population data states need to begin the redistricting process. The final set of data will become available in late September — much later than usual due to delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
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Olivier Douliery/Getty Photos
Gorrell is an advocate for the deaf, a former Republican Party election statistician, and a longtime congressional aide. He has been advocating against partisan gerrymandering for four decades.
"It's always encouraging to see great people like Eric Holder fighting to end Republican gerrymandering." — Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, Aug. 2, 2019.
For the past year, Holder's National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors Association, the National Democratic Redistricting PAC, EMILY's List, America Votes and All On The Line have persuaded their supporters to write thousands of email messages, letters to the editor and opinion pieces claiming the creation of independent redistricting commissions in their states could end Republican gerrymandering by the end of 2022.
But that's just not true.
As Bryan H. Wildenthal wrote for the legal news site Jurist: "A fact shockingly ignored in most news coverage is that some key provisions on gerrymandering would not even take effect until a decade from now — after the 2030 census!"
And, as New York Times columnist Ezra Klein explained, "It would also ban partisan redistricting and force states to use independent commissions to draw congressional lines (although this would not, sadly, take effect until after the 2030 census)."
CNN's Chris Cillizza echoed that analysis when he wrote: "And, even if the legislation did make it through the Senate — and Biden signed it — the redistricting reforms wouldn't kick in until the 2030 Census. Which is a very good thing for Republicans."
Let us check the effective date in the Senate's version of the For the People Act. It states, "This subtitle and the amendments made by this subtitle shall apply with respect to redistricting carried out pursuant to the decennial census conducted during 2030 or any succeeding decennial census."
In an email to me, Wildenthal wrote, "The result will be that Republicans will gerrymander to their heart's content in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and Georgia (where they have far more seats to play with), and leave Democrats in the dust. They will lock in control of the House for the next decade even though Democrats may well win the House popular vote (as they did in 2012)."
Interestingly, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgreen of California has not yet reintroduced her redistricting reform bill in the current Congress session (for her ninth attempt since 2005). Each time it has been submitted, it has died in committee because it has lacked adequate support among leadership to advance. The public might not know that her last bill, the Redistricting Reform Act of 2019, is identical to the redistricting provisions of the House version of the For the People Act. The exception is the change of the effective date, replacing 2020 with 2030.
These Democratic-related organizations have not informed their supporters about the new change of the effective date.
Should all 50 states adopt independent redistricting commissions by the time of the 2022 elections? Definitely yes. Look at the Maryland example.
Maryland has two dueling redistricting commissions. In his executive order, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan established the Governor's Citizen Redistricting Commission. Meanwhile, the top Democratic leaders in the General Assembly launched the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission to draw new congressional and legislative district maps.
In his Duckpin blog, Brian Griffiths wrote, "While the Governor's Redistricting Advisory Commission is designed to help the people, the Legislative Redistricting Advisory Commission is designed to help politicians. The difference could not be more clear." He showed the credibility difference between the two:
- The governor's commission has three Democrats, three Republicans and three independents. None of the nine members are elected officials.
- The legislative commission has five Democrats and two Republicans. Six of the seven members are elected officials.
Notably, President Biden did not mention redistricting reform while delivering a major speech on voting rights in Philadelphia on Tuesday, but he must know about the effective date.
Oddly, President Barack Obama did not push the Lofgren bill during his first two years in the White House, when fellow Democrats controlled the House and Senate. At the time, it seemed his party would do well enough in the 2010 midterms to dominate redistricting for the decade now coming to an end.
It turned out the opposite way. A Republican wave that year (fueled partly by fundraising for the Republican State Leadership Committee's Redistricting Majority Project) resulted in all GOP state governments getting to draw almost half the 435 congressional districts the next year while all Democratic governments drew about 50. This action is one of Obama's most embarrassing moments.
Wildenthal wrote, "I could not agree more strongly that it was a tragically missed historic opportunity for Obama and the Democrats to enact lasting reform to ban gerrymandering in 2009-10. I suppose they stupidly assumed they would have the upper hand after the 2010 election. We know how that worked out."
I believe his one-page legislative proposal, the "Defend Elections and National Democracy (DEFEND) Act," could be an excellent solution. It would:
- Block all state restrictions on voting rights or other state laws affecting federal elections, enacted after Jan. 6, 2021, unless such laws were passed with bipartisan support.
- Invalidate all partisan and abusive state legislation (whether Republican-sponsored or Democratic-sponsored) attacking voting rights or threatening election integrity.
- Block any state map seeking to gerrymander districts for the U.S. House of Representatives on a partisan basis, and encourage other states to adopt independent or bipartisan commissions.
I ask advocates of redistricting reform to spread the word on the correct effective date and to consider the DEFEND Act.
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July 14, 2021
For years, the Harvard Business School Competitiveness Report has found that political dysfunction is the #1 barrier to economic competitiveness. Political polarization is a root cause of that dysfunction. But how do we fix it?
Business for America, a coalition of businesses promoting a stronger democracy, and the Niskanen Center collaborated to create a four-part series, Divided We Fall.
The fourth and final part explores public policy approaches to addressing the polarization at the root of America's political dysfunction, including anti-gerrymandering, nonpartisan primaries, and ranked-choice voting. The discussion also explores how introducing more choice and competition into politics helps increase voter participation, increase diversity among winning candidates, reduces toxicity during elections, and increases bipartisan collaboration while in office.
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Utamaru Kido/Getty Images
A lawsuit filed this week over Illinois' new legislative district lines is a preview of what's sure to be a litigious and tense second half of the year for mapmakers.
While Illinois has made more progress than most states, the redistricting process in the Prairie State is far from over. Full census data has not yet been released due to delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. As a result, many states are facing impossible redistricting deadlines — some of them constitutionally mandated. If adjustments aren't made soon, courts will have to step in and draw temporary maps for upcoming elections.
Late last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation to establish new lines for the legislative districts in Illinois, a process the state Constitution requires to be completed by the end of this month. (The state still needs to draw new congressional maps.) Because Democrats have a 73-45 majority in the House and a 41-18 majority in the Senate, they were able to quickly draw districts and get Pritzker's approval without any input from Republicans.
A few days after the new maps were finalized, the state's top Republican officials, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, filed a federal lawsuit. They argue the redistricting plan approved by Democrats was inaccurate, "arbitrary" and discriminatory toward minority voters.
By forgoing the official Census Bureau counts in favor of population estimates, "the Plan ensures that historically undercounted minority communities will continue to be underrepresented and lose their right to an equal vote in the legislature," the lawsuit states.
The GOP leaders want a judge to declare the redistricting plan unconstitutional and to require the Legislature to establish a bipartisan commission to draw new maps.
Redistricting has historically been a heavily litigated issue due to partisan disputes like this. But there will likely be even more challenges this time around thanks to the Supreme Court's recent landmark decision. In 2019, the five conservative justices ruled that determining whether there is a constitutional limit to partisan gerrymandering fell outside the purview of federal judges. As a result, many election maps are expected to be battled out in state courts this year.
The added time constraints this year won't help matters either. If states fail to meet certain mapmaking deadlines, the line-drawing will be left to the courts. The Census Bureau intends to begin releasing the data that states need to kick off the redistricting process on Aug. 16. Then the final set of data will be made available at the end of September — much later than a typical redistricting year.
The Census Bureau released its first set of data at the end of April, providing population estimates for congressional apportionment. Due to population growth, Texas gained two House seats, and another five states gained one seat each: Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina and Oregon. Seven states saw population declines resulting in the loss of one House seat each: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The remaining states did not see a change in their number of seats, but all states with more than one district can redraw the lines.
While Illinois opted to use the population estimates already available to draw its legislative maps, most states will have to wait until more detailed data is released later this year. A delayed start could conflict with statutory deadlines set by state constitutions.
The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal public policy institute at New York University Law School, released a report in April analyzing how census delays could impact states' redistricting plans. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project also created a tool to track how the delays are affecting states and where urgent intervention is needed most.
Hawaii and Michigan, two states with redistricting commissions, are among the most severe cases identified by both the Brennan Center and the Princeton Gerrymandering Project because they have fixed dates for redistricting.
Hawaii's constitution states that its redistricting commission has 150 days from its first meeting — which this year was April 13 — to finalize election maps. However, that deadline will be impossible to meet given the data delays. State lawmakers have asked the attorney general to petition the Hawaii Supreme Court, requesting forgiveness for missed deadlines.
Similarly, Michigan's inaugural independent redistricting commission and Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson have asked the state Supreme Court to extend the deadline by which election maps need to be finalized.
Most states have relatively flexible redistricting timelines, though, because either the dates are tied to the release of census data, the deadlines are in 2022 or they have no set deadlines. However, these states will still most likely need to hold special sessions to finalize election maps in a timely manner.
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Now that the Census Bureau has finally announced which states have gained or lost congressional seats, attention turns to the legislative bodies and commissions that will be drawing new maps for the next round of elections.
We already know the delayed data release is having an impact on states' abilities to meet their own deadlines for drawing new maps. It's only going to get more complicated as lawsuits are filed and more data becomes available.
Here are five stories you should read (or watch) to get up to speed (besides The Fulcrum's own reporting, of course).
Explainer: The proposals to keep Ohio's redistricting process on track (News 5 Cleveland)
New York Faces Likely Congressional Redistricting Fight After Latest U.S. Census (Wall Street Journal, subscription required)
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