This story was updated Nov. 19 with additional information.
Democratic candidates should get a shot at the most prominent spot on the ballot even in reliably red states, a federal judge has ruled in a setback for Republican efforts to hold on to that advantage in bellwether states across the country next year.
The decision came in a challenge to a Florida law mandating that candidates of the same party as the governor get listed first on the ballot.
That suit was among the first filed by Democrats as part of a campaign to challenge proposed 2020 election procedures in red states that have been trending toward purplish blue. Two weeks ago the party's national campaign organizations filed suits against similar ballot-primacy laws in Arizona, Georgia and Texas.
Those cases could be influenced by the precedent set down by federal Judge Mark Walker of Tallahassee, who held Florida's law unconstitutional on Friday.
A federal appeals court has blocked a lower court ruling that had opened the door to online voter registration in Texas.
The decision is a setback for advocates of easing access to the ballot box. They contend the nation's second-most-populous (and increasingly purple) state is being improperly strict in its interpretation of a federal law requiring states to give residents an opportunity to register when they apply for or renew driver's licenses.
But the ruling is not necessarily the final word on easing voter registration in Texas.
How do you know when you've seen a gerrymandered district? Maybe it looks like a duck or a snake, or a pair of earmuffs. Or maybe there's no obvious sign that the mapmakers played games with the contours in order to ensure a particular electoral outcome inside those boundaries.
The last contests using the current set of congressional maps are a year away. After that, the results of the 2020 census will be used for the redistricting of the entire country — assuring a fresh burst of gerrymandering by politicians with the power to draw maps designed for keeping themselves in power. (The North Carolina districts mentioned below are very likely to get altered before the next election, however, to settle a lawsuit alleging the current map favors Republicans so much as to violate the state Constitution's "fair elections" clause.)
We asked half a dozen people who have studied the way American political maps are drawn to reveal their best examples of the most flagrant current gerrymandering. Of course there are plenty of ways to approach that task. In some cases, the really odd shapes make it easier. In others, experts need to dive deep into demographic data to discover the most egregious examples of packing and cracking.
Republicans have been listed first on the ballot in every election in Arizona for almost a decade, in Georgia for more than a decade and in Texas for two decades. The Democrats have launched a coordinated campaign asserting that practice is unconstitutional and that they deserve a shot at poll position in all three potential 2020 battlegrounds.
The three state parties, along with the Democrats' national campaign committees, filed federal lawsuits Friday challenging the laws governing the construction of the ballots in all three states.
Perpetuating the current ballot order gives the GOP a "significant, state-mandated advantage," says the filing in Arizona. The Georgia suit argues state law violates voters' equal protection rights under the Constitution and creates an "undue burden" on voting rights. The "position bias" of the Texas law, that claim says, perpetuates a Republican dominance in Texas under which no Democrat has won a statewide race since 1994.