LWV in the Lobby

With 100 years of advocacy under our belts, members representing almost every local league in SC gathered at the State House on February 12 to ask our legislators for redistricting reform. 

Our morning began with a training session on the State House grounds, where Rep. Gary Clary (a sponsor of our preferred redistricting bill) presented us with a resolution recognizing our Centennial. He also spoke candidly about the difficulties presented by a legislature that is increasingly divided, both from a personal perspective and a policy perspective. He is retiring at the end of this session; his presence will be missed.

From left to right: LWVSC VP of Issues and Action, Lynn Teague; Co-Chair, LWVSC Redistricting Workgroup, Shayna Howell; Representative Gary Clary

We then made our way into a packed lobby; advocates for issues from animal rights legislation to education reform were jostling and vying for a few minutes with their legislators. A line waited to reach staff members in charge of sending “Please come out to the lobby” notes from constituents to their legislators. It was chaotic but also informative and a bit exhilarating. Lobbyists making hundreds of dollars an hour were there alongside advocates who were setting foot inside the lobby for the first time, and legislators were coming out of their chambers to meet with both.

In an unfortunate turn, the House adjourned early, shortly after LWV members made it into the lobby. This was disappointing because the bill we want (H. 3054) is in the House Judiciary Committee. LWVSC VP Lynn Teague, who helped organize the day, had warned us that their schedules were fickle. With a shortened session (January-May) and a three-day work-week, there are a multitude of commitments they must pack in, and the nature of those commitments can change on short notice.

League members, ever resourceful and tenacious, quickly pivoted. They tracked down their representatives, left notes in their offices, and hustled to the opposite end of the lobby to meet with their Senators. To their credit, many were successful. 

League members wait outside of the Senate Chamber to meet with their Senators.

After a little over an hour, almost half of the group migrated to a nearby lunch spot to discuss redistricting reform strategy, offer feedback for future Lobby Days, and enjoy the company of League members they don’t often get to see. It was a great way to end our Centennial Day of Action.

The path to redistricting reform in 2020, which was always an uphill climb, has gotten steeper. Time is very short. House Judiciary Committee Chair Peter McCoy has called few meetings of this crucial committee and its subcommittees this year, and our preferred bill has never received a subcommittee hearing. We do not expect that to change in the final weeks before the “crossover” date of April 10, when all bills must have passed their house of origin in order to survive.

However, our goal remains the same. Whoever draws the district lines in 2021 – legislators themselves or an independent redistricting commission – should have a transparent process that accommodates meaningful public input and does not use partisan or incumbent protection as criteria. The incredible work put forth by local leagues this year to educate their communities on the need for this outcome has meant that this issue has gotten much-deserved attention – if not in the legislature, among the citizens. The result is that an extensive group of people understand the negative impact of gerrymandering and are willing to hold 2021 map-drawers accountable for drawing fair maps that serve the voters, not elected officials, and we must remain vigilant.

Shayna Howell

Co-Chair, LWVSC Redistricting Workgroup

LWVSC Lobby Day: LWV Centennial and Redistricting Reform, February 12, 2020

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the League of Women Voters. To commemorate the League’s creation, members of the South Carolina League will meet at the SC State House in Columbia on Wednesday, February 12 to lobby our senators and representatives in support of redistricting reform. Space is limited due to restrictions on the size of our organizing room, but there are still a few spaces left. Because of the space limitations, we do ask that you get tickets if you plan to attend. Details of the event and tickets are available here.

Below is a summary of our position.

Redistricting Reform Needed in South Carolina

  • Legislative and Congressional district lines will be redrawn in 2021following the census, so that districts once again have equal numbers of people. Those maps will be in place until 2031.
  • Legislators draw their own district lines in South Carolina. In states where parties and incumbents are allowed to draw district lines to their own advantage, the result can be uncompetitive elections and a polarized, more partisan legislature.
  • 95% of 2018 legislative races in SC were either uncontested or were won by more than a 10% margin of victory! This is in part the result of where people live in our state, but district lines have made the problem of noncompetitive districts worse.
  • Successful policy-making on important issues like public education funding and healthcare is hampered by gerrymandering. After districts have been drawn to favor an incumbent or particular political party, there is little incentive for legislators to listen to voters or compromise with their fellow legislators, because they have their next election sewn up!
  • SC voters deserve an independent redistricting commission. House Bill 3054 (which has bipartisan support in the State House) would create this commission, which wouldn’t be able to use partisan or incumbent criteria when drawing maps..
  • According to a 2018 Winthrop Poll, the majority of South Carolinians, regardless of party, want to end legislators drawing their own district lines.
  • On Wednesday, we will be at the State House telling our legislators that elections should be decided in the voting booths, not the map room.We hope other concerned citizens will join in this Day of Action asking for H. 3054 to get a committee hearing. 

So come on out on Wednesday and support us if you can, and contact your state senators and representatives to support the cause. We need your voice!

LWV Taking Action on Gerrymandering

[The following post is adapted from an article in the South Carolina Voter by Shayna Howell, Co-chair of the LWVSC Redistricting Working Group.]

Waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision on gerrymandering in Rucho v Common Cause (a case in which LWV was a co-plaintiff), many of us were crossing our fingers, but we were not holding our breath. While we waited, we planned. And when the disappointing ruling came down, LWVSC was prepared to double down on our efforts to ensure that voters choose their representatives, not the other way around.

In October, I traveled to Washington, DC for an LWVUS training for the nationwide People Powered Fair Maps initiative. All 50 state Leagues had a delegate in attendance, everyone with a different story to tell about gerrymandering in their state. Several state Leagues have successfully advocated for independent redistricting commissions already, and although we have an uphill battle, LWVSC is well-positioned to lead the charge for such a commission in SC.

At our annual convention in May, local Leagues voted to prioritize action on redistricting reform, and a Redistricting Workgroup was established. Matthew Saltzman and I, with the guidance of Lynn Teague, are leading this workgroup. Most of your local Leagues have already designated at least one liaison for the group; we are so appreciative of their time and energy and are excited to get to work!

We are also pleased to have new resources – including a grant and communications tools – to jumpstart our work.

We have an ambitious plan, and will need the help of every one of you to see it through. Every league will have access to tools and resources that will show their communities that:

  • Gerrymandering makes our political system more polarized and hyperpartisan
  • We need maps that benefit the voters, not political parties or incumbents
  • Without redistricting reform, voters will continue to have less choices in the voting booth. Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.
  • Having a gerrymandered legislature makes it hard to make progress on other issues we care about, such as a high quality public education system and protecting our natural resources (see above: hyperpartisanship and lack of choice in the voting booth.) We have to fix gerrymandering first!

Our plan includes more exciting news… For the first time in years, we are bringing back LWV Lobby Day! Members, mark your calendars for February 12. If you can be in Columbia then, contact shaynahowell@gmail.com for more information. We want to show up in large groups from across the state (on the week of our centennial anniversary!) to continue doing what we’ve been doing for 100 years – Making Democracy Work.

While there are several bills out there that would lead to improvements in the current process, we are lobbying for H. 3054 (establishing an independent redistricting commission and solid map-drawing criteria), which has bipartisan support and does not require a constitutional amendment. The bill did not make it out of subcommittee last year, so that will be our first task.

Although there is support for the bill in the legislature, there is also significant opposition, and they need to hear from the majority of South Carolinians who support redistricting reform.

We need you at Lobby Day, but we want to lay some groundwork first. There are many opportunities in coming days to have your voice heard leading up to LWV Lobby Day. They will include: testifying at legislative delegation meetings, writing letters to the editor, hosting or attending a People Powered Fair Maps Postcard Party (five times fast, anyone?) and reaching out to businesses and allied non-profits for their support. Look for these advocacy opportunities through your local League.

So… It’s All Hands On Deck! Gerrymandering has plagued South Carolina for decades, under both Democrat and Republican majorities. We are now looking ahead to the 2021 map drawing, and are concerned, since it will be the first since the Voting Rights Act in which South Carolina is no longer required to receive preclearance for their maps. This could leave the door open for substantial incumbent or partisan gerrymandering.

LWVUS has suggested this is our biggest fight since women’s suffrage. This time, we have the right to vote, now we want to make sure it counts.

By Shayna Howell
Co-Chair, LWVSC Redistricting Workgroup

shaynahowell@gmail.com

Gerrymandering: State Court Review?

When the Supreme Court ruled last summer that political gerrymandering was not justiciable in federal court, Chief Justice Roberts proposed four alternative routes for pursuing fair maps:

  • Voter initiatives
  • State legislatures
  • Congress
  • State courts

The state court route was pursued in 2018 in Pennsylvania and, more recently, this past summer in North Carolina. In Pennsylvania, the state supreme court declared that the state’s Congressional district maps violated the state constitution’s requirement that elections be “free and fair.” New maps, drawn by a “special master” appointed by the courts and implemented in time for the 2018 elections resulted in nine Republican seats (44.75% of votes) and nine Democratic seats 55.03% of votes), compared to 13 Republican (53.91%) and five Democratic seats (45.70%) in the 2016 election.

The North Carolina case is still being pursued, but here’s a brief recap of developments from this past summer and fall. A state district court concluded that partisan gerrymandering violates the North Carolina’s constitution’s requirement that “[a]ll elections shall be free.” In September, the court found the state legislative and senate maps (drawn by the Republican-dominated legislature) unconstitutional and required the legislature and senate to redraw their maps in a manner that was open to public scrutiny. Those maps were redrawn in open sessions of the two houses and submitted for review in mid-September. At the end of October, the court finally accepted the revised legislative and senate maps but demanded new Congressional maps.

In North Carolina’s 2018 Congressional election, Republicans won 10 seats with 50.39% of the vote and Democrats won three with 48.35% of the vote. One Republican legislator famously opined that his proposed map produced 10 Republican and three Democratic seats because he did “not believe it’s possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and two Democrats.”

In November, the legislature passed a set of revised maps and submitted them for review by the court, but opponents expect to oppose the maps, claiming they still represent a Republican partisan gerrymander. A ruling is due December 2, and if the revised maps are not approved, the March primary election could be postponed.

In South Carolina, efforts are underway to get a legislative solution to the problem of partisan gerrymandering. There are now multiple bills that would implement some form of independent redistricting commission and/or set standards for fair maps. But the 2020 legislative session represents the last opportunity to implement a legislative solution before the 2020 Census results are published and new maps are drawn in 2021 that will stand for another decade. If the legislative effort fails, does South Carolina have a judicial recourse?

Article I, Section 5 of South Carolina’s constitution states

Elections, Free and Open

All elections shall be free and open, and every inhabitant of this State possessing the qualifications provided for in this Constitution shall have an equal right to elect officers and be elected to fill public office.

South Carolina Constitution, Article I, Section 5

That language is similar to the language in other states that state courts have relied on in declaring partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional. Interpretation of the constitution is up to judges in each state, however. There is no certainty that South Carolina judges would follow other state courts’ precedents, although having multiple state courts in agreement would add weight to that interpretation. Even if the court agreed on the principle, it would then have to find that the actual maps were, in fact, gerrymandered. South Carolina’s current maps, drawn in 2010, were subject to “pre-clearance” under a provision of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court voided in 2013. Because racial and partisan gerrymandering are often correlated, it is possible that the current maps would not appear to be as extreme as those in other states. The new maps will not be pre-cleared, so there’s no telling how they will turn out until the process runs its course.

LWVSC hopes to avoid the need to pursue this path. We will be looking to all of you to help out. Watch this space.

North Carolina Is an Endless Source of Entertainment for Redistricting Mavens

When the Supreme Court decided that partisan gerrymandering was non-justiciable in federal courts, Chief Justice Roberts proposed state courts as a possible remedy in some circumstances. The North Carolina judiciary is proving to be a model for implementing this remedy. We’ve been following the state court’s interventions regarding state legislative maps, and this week, the court weighed in on Congressional district maps.

It is North Carolina’s Congressional maps that we outside of North Carolina are most familiar with, from famously noncompact boundaries, the obvious cracking of Democratic-leaning Asheville (and the Gerrymandering 5k), and the recent special election in NC9 in response to the Republican campaign’s election fraud.

In our previous posts, we described the state court findings regarding state legislative districts. Last week, the court weighed in decisively on the state’s Congressional district map. The 2018 Congressional election in North Carolina resulted in Democrats winning three seats with over 70% of the vote and Republicans won the remaining ten with only one (unopposed) Republican winning more than 60%. Last week, a three-judge panel in Wake County Superior Court approved the revised legislative maps and threw out the current Congressional maps. The ruling includes a provision to postpone the 2020 primaries if fair maps are not submitted in timely fashion.

The plaintiff in this case is the National Redistricting Foundation, led by former Attorney General Eric Holder. As with other state judicial anti-gerrymandering efforts, this case relied on finding that gerrymandered maps violated the state constitution. The key in North Carolina’s 1868 constitution is a provision that “[a]ll elections shall be free.”

BREAKING: The Wake County Superior Court has lifted the confidentiality designation on over 100,000 documents from the Hofeller gerrymandering files pertaining to Arizona, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Nassau County, Nueces County and Galveston in Texas. Additional files are still being reviewed.

Latest from North Carolina

In our last epsiode, the North Carolina legislature had been ordered by state courts to redraw their district maps by September 18. While new maps have been filed, and while the mapping process has been open to public scrutiny, the process has not been without controversy. According to the Rock Hill Herald Examiner, it appeared that lawmakers on the House redistricting committee received inappropriate information regarding analysis of a collection of maps created by redistricting researcher and analyst Jowei Chen that Republican lawmakers had adopted as a starting point for the redrawing process. Meanwhile, the state Senate brought a lottery machine to their redistricitng conference room to carry out a random selection of maps from among the ones Chen had created for Senate districts.

Although the process was carried out with unprecedented public scrutiny, concerns persist about both the process and the outcome. A new lawsuit has been filed over the revised maps and there have been new developments in the original case, Common Cause v. Lewis, including the entry of the League of Women Voters of Texas and the Texas Civil Rights Project, demanding public release of the files of the late Republican redistricting strategist Thomas Hofeller.

Stay tuned…

North Carolina!

Earlier this month, the North Carolina state supreme court showed exactly how the National League of Women Voter’s strategy of suing over partisan gerrymanders in state court could work. The court revisited the maps drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature and concluded thus:

In outlawing the partisan maps, the judges relied heavily on a broad reading of Section 10 of the State Constitution, which states in its entirety that “All elections shall be free.” While higher state courts have said little about the clause, they wrote, other rulings have made it clear that citizens express their will at the ballot box and that the state has a compelling interest in keeping the vote fair.

“The free elections clause of the North Carolina constitution guarantees that all elections must be conducted freely and honestly to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people,” the judges wrote. But “it is not the free will of the people that is fairly ascertained through extreme partisan gerrymandering. Rather, it is the carefully crafted will of the map drawer that predominates.”

Republicans in the legislature announced that they would not pursue an appeal. The court directed that new maps be drawn in public hearings to be completed by today (September 18). More to come on this as the story continues to develop.

Breaking News! LWVUS Launches Million Dollar Campaign to Ensure Fair Representation for All

With their first ever tele-town hall, The League of Women Voters of the United States announced the launching of a million dollar campaign to address redistricting challenges and to ensure fair representation for all. Called “People Powered Fair Maps,” it is a nationwide effort that will involve every state League. Each state’s situation has been analyzed and will be addressed appropriately. LWVUS will educate and organize to fight gerrymandering by holding leaders accountable.

Strategies will include education and advocacy, organizing and mobilizing, partnership building, ballot initiatives and referendums, state constitutional options, litigation and both state and federal legislative fixes.

At the federal level, the League will be working to restore the federal Voting Rights Act prior to the redistricting cycle in 2021. At the state level, some states will work with their legislatures to bring about changes. Where allowed, states will seek ballot initiatives and referendums.

In South Carolina, we expect to seek a legislative fix. We will be sending action alerts, letters to the editor, op-ed columns for newspapers, training our members in testifying and lobbying, power mapping and supporting legislative drafting. There are 22 states who, like South Carolina, will be seeking legislative fixes.

Some states will work on constitutional initiatives following Pennsylvania’s success with their “free and fair” constitutional wording suggesting that other states may be able to act with a similar state constitutional option.

The League of Women Voters, founded when women got the vote, will celebrate their 100th birthday in 2020. Clearly, they will mark that momentous occasion with another campaign to be hard fought — making sure every vote counts by assuring that redistricting maps are fair and drawn to give people the power to exercise their votes in a meaningful way.

Linda Powers Bilanchone, LWVSC

The Ongoing War Over Who Counts

The one thing we know for sure about the upcoming decennial census is that there will not be a question about the respondent’s citizenship status in 2020. We also know that the Census Bureau had predicted that including the question would have suppressed responses from Latinx residents. Advocates for the question have denied that that was the point of the question, but have argued that information gained would have been worth that cost. Opponents have argued that the question was indeed intended to suppress Latinx responses, thus weakening the voting power of residents of more heavily Latinx districts and favoring whiter, more conservative districts.

But there is strong evidence from documents uncovered last May and June of another motivation for the citizenship question: to change the nature of the populations used to draw Congressional district lines. Currently, Congressional districts are drawn so that district populations are nearly equal, where the population counted is “the whole number of persons in each State” (from the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which superseded original language that counted slaves as 3/5 of a person). In the 2016 case from Texas, Evenwel v. Abbott, plaintiffs argued that using total population violated the Equal Protection Clause by reducing the voting power of voters in districts with low immigrant populations, compared to voters in districts with higher immigrant populations. The Supreme Court held that states may use total population to draw districts, but did not rule out other options.

The argument made in documents belonging to recently deceased Republican “gerrymandering guru” Thomas Hofeller for the citizenship question is that it would lay the groundwork for a national change to using citizens of voting age as the population for drawing districts, instead of counting everyone. Hofeller argued that such a change would benefit “Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.” He also proposed as a cover story that the question would provide data to aid enforcement of the Voting Rights Act, the excuse provided by the government that was rejected by the Supreme Court in June.

Now comes Alabama and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), suing the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau last year to block counting of undocumented immigrants for apportionment of Congressional representatives to the states, as well as for allocating federal funds. Alabama is projected to lose a seat when representatives are apportioned after the 2020 census. The plaintiffs argue that the wording “persons in each State” was not intended to refer to undocumented immigrants, that the phrase was “understood at both the Founding and in the Reconstruction era to be restricted to aliens who have been lawfully admitted to the body politic,” and thus a “proper” interpretation of the laws governing the census and apportionment would mean counting only “the total of legally present resident population of the United States.” A number of experts have offered contrary understandings of history and judicial precedent.

The district judge hearing the case has expressed concerns that the federal government may not wholeheartedly defend the suit, so has allowed Hispanic and civil rights groups to join the defense, along with 16 other states that stand to lose representatives under the Alabama plan, nine cities and counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He also denied the government’s motion to dismiss the suit, however. A hearing is scheduled for September 6.

More details here.

Object Lessons in How the Battle for Fair Elections Will Never End

Just when I was beginning to think that the pace of redistricting news would slow enough to start talking about the nuts and bolts of analyzing and developing district maps, these stories broke. As you read, bear in mind Chief Justice Roberts’s opinion in the recent gerrymandering case that one alternative remedy to the federal courts for gerrymandering is to “plac[e] power to draw electoral districts in the hands of independent commissions.”

Michigan’s Independent Commission Under Attack

In the 2018 election, Michigan voters approved an amendment to the Michigan constitution creating a nonpartisan redistricting commission. The Detroit News reports on a new federal court case filed by state Republicans, alleging that restrictions on commission membership in the amendment are “blatantly unconstitutional.” The membership rules prohibit anyone from serving who has been a partisan candidate for office, elected official, political appointee, lobbyist, campaign consultant or officer, or political party officer in the previous six years as well as immediate family members of such. The suit seeks to invalidate the amendment and block its implementation and to revert to the previous method, in which the majority party in the legislature (currently Republican) draws maps, subject to approval of the governor (currently Democratic).

Plaintiffs argue that that the membership requirements unconstitutionally discriminate against affected people based on partisan affiliation. They further assert that, even though the ballot proposal includes a severability clause (which means that the rest of the law should survive even if a portion is overturned in court), the entire law should be overturned because supporters may have believed that the membership requirements were a “vital part” of the proposal.

The lawsuit follows earlier action last May by Republicans in the Michigan Legislature to cut funding for the redistricting commission by 30% and shift the funds from the Department of State to the Legislature.

Wisconsin Republicans Say They Plan to Seek Democratic Governor’s Approval for New Maps

The Wisconsin Examiner reported recently on indications that the Republican-controlled legislature could attempt to implement 2021 district maps without the approval of the state’s Democratic governor. This would be accomplished by implementing the maps via a joint resolution of the Assembly and the Senate. Joint resolutions do not require the governor’s signature. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has already ruled that implementing districts via resolution is unconstitutional, but the court is now controlled by conservative justices who could consider overturning that precedent. The Examiner article cites sources form both sides of the redistricting dispute. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports in a follow-up article that Republican lawmakers dispute the Examiner story and claim that they are not planning to avoid gubernatorial review.