When voters in some states created new commissions to handle the politically thorny process of redistribution, there was hope that bipartisan panelists could work together to attract new voting districts free of partisan gerrymandering.
Instead, the collaboration has proved elusive.
The Ohio and Virginia Commissions meeting in New York for the first time this year has split into partisan camps to create a competitive redistribution map based on 2020 Census data. The divisions have disappointed some activists who supported the reforms and highlighted how difficult it can be to purge politics from a decade-long process of realigning borders for US House and state legislative seats. .
As a result, the new State House and Senate districts in Republican-led Ohio would still be on the side of the GOP. The Democrats who control New York can still draw maps as they wish. And a potential impasse in Virginia could eventually bring the process to the courts.
“It can probably be inferred that this is because of how it is banned,” said Alex Keena, a political scientist at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Redistribution can lead to significant consequences. Subtle changes in district lines can strengthen the majority of voters for a particular party or divide their opponents into multiple districts to reduce their influence. Republicans need just five seats to retake the US House in the 2022 elections, which could determine the fate of President Joe Biden’s remaining agenda.
For most of American history, redistribution has been controlled by state lawmakers and governors, who have incentives to draw the line in favor of their parties. But as public attention to gerrymandering has increased in recent decades, voters in an increasing number of states have transferred the task to special commissions.
Some commissions – such as those in Arizona, California, Colorado and Michigan – are the only citizens who have the final say on which maps to apply. But others, such as in Ohio and Virginia, include politicians in their members or require their maps to be submitted to the legislature for final approval, as in New York, Virginia and Utah.
If New York’s Democratic-led legislature rejects the new commission’s work (which includes four Democrats, four Republicans and two independents), lawmakers can draft and pass their redeployment plans.
Its prospects increased last week, when the Democrats and Republicans in the commission failed to agree and instead released competing versions of the new maps for the US House, state Senate and state legislature.
State Republican Party chairman Nick Langworthy blasted Democratic maps as “wildly besieged” and accused Democratic commissioners of refusing to compromise.
State Democratic Party chairman Jay Jacobs said there was no reason to “lean back” to try to grab as many Republican seats as possible. He added: “We will be fair, but to a point.”
The commission’s split disappointed Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of New York. The organization backed the 2014 ballot measure that created the commission and encouraged people to testify at the panel’s public hearings this year.
“It almost feels like a slap in the face to us and everyone else who spent the time to go and submit comments – taking time out of their daily lives to do so – when it was very clear that there was something to anyone. There was no respect for those comments,” Wilson said.
Frustration is also mounting in Ohio, where a commission dominated by Republican elected officials voted last week to adopt a state legislative redistribution plan they backed. Because the plan had no Democratic support, the state constitution limited it to four years.
Democrats on the panel called the maps inappropriate. But Republican Senate President Matt Huffman insisted that special interests pressured Democrats not to support a redistribution plan that could last the entire next decade.
Huffman said the new map will likely yield 62 Republican seats in the Ohio House and 23 seats in the Senate — just a couple below the current GOP supermajority in each chamber. Experts estimate that the state’s voters are more evenly divided, with roughly 54% Republican to 46% Democratic.
The partisan map came despite more than a dozen public hearings, dominated by testimony from Ohio residents, who said the current Gerrymandered maps have left them out in the cold.
Arige Hammad of CAIR-Ohio, a civil rights organization for Muslims, testified, “Many of us have no say in who represents us and watch helplessly as laws are passed that hurt our families.” and ignore our needs.”
She said the area around the Islamic Center of Cleveland, one of the region’s largest Muslim populations, is divided into several congressional and state districts.
“The way districts are drawn, our elected officials have no incentive to be receptive, responsive or accessible to us or our concerns,” she said.
Michigan’s Citizens Redistribution Commission released its first draft of a new state Senate and US House map last week and is still working on a state House map. It plans to seek more public comment on its proposals, with the goal of finalizing the maps by the end of the year – surpassing the November 1 deadline set in a constitutional amendment approved by voters.
But the Michigan panel of four Democrats, four Republicans and five independents has so far avoided moving into the partisan camp. One reason may be that Michigan’s commission involves no politicians and has no ability for the Republican-led Legislature to override its work, Keena said.
In Virginia, two different cartographers hired for Democrats and Republicans are to submit rival plans this coming week for consideration by a 16-member commission, which has four lawmakers and four citizens from each major party. If the commission cannot agree – or …
Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Democrats