Grassroots and advocacy groups around the country are working to curb gerrymandering – the manipulation of voting districts to favor or disfavor one group of voters over another or to protect incumbents. Similar grassroots efforts in recent years led to the successful implementation of independent commissions in Arizona and California.
24 states have a ballot initiative process that allows citizens to propose a law or constitutional amendment, either to the legislature or directly to voters. Other states only allow the legislature to amend the constitution or pass laws, meaning, in these states, that citizens must persuade their legislature to pass reforms.
A round-up of the latest news on key citizen-driven and legislative efforts to reform the redistricting process.
A ballot initiative that would create an independent citizens’ redistricting commission to draw the state’s political boundaries, proposed by Voters Not Politicians (VNP), will go before voters on the November 2018 ballot. Voters Not Politicians founder Katie Fahey hopes a nonpartisan commission will remove politics from the redistricting process, and create a system that “represents voters instead of politicians.”
The group submitted nearly 450,000 signatures to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers in December 2017, overwhelmingly surpassing the amount necessary to place a question before Michigan voters on the ballot in 2018 (315,654).
At the beginning of June, a three-judge panel at the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered for VNP’s measure to be placed on the November ballot, unanimously rejecting a challenge that contended the initiative is too expansive for a constitutional amendment and does not list all to the sections that would be abrogated. The challengers appealed the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. Learn more about the lawsuit here.
On June 20, the Board of State Canvassers approved putting the proposal on the November ballot in a 3-0 vote.
On July 31, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision, allowing the proposal to be voted on in November.
Learn more about the proposal here.
Organizers have gathered enough signatures to put a proposal that would change Utah’s redistricting process before voters in November.
Better Boundaries, the ballot proposal organized by the bipartisan group, Utahns for Responsive Government, would create a seven-member advisory redistricting commission to advise Utah lawmakers on the redistricting process beginning in 2021. The commissioners, who would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, would be required to follow ranked-order criteria to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts, which would include preserving communities of interest and neighborhoods together. The proposal would also prohibit the commission and the legislature from considering partisan political data unless necessary to comply with other redistricting criteria.
The lieutenant governor certified the group’s signatures in early June.
Learn more about the proposal here.
Clean Missouri is campaigning for a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would mandate the use of a new statistical model for redistricting. The amendment also would give a nonpartisan state demographer responsibility for drawing state legislative lines for state apportionment commissions. If voters approve the measure, Missouri would be one of the first states in the nation to require a statistical test to measure partisan fairness in the redistricting process.
On August 2, the Secretary of State certified the initiative to appear on the November ballot as Amendment 1.
On September 14, the Cole County Circuit Court struck the initiative from the ballot, citing the state constitution’s single-subject rule for constitutional amendments and the initiative’s proposed changes to more than one branch of government. On September 21, the Court of Appeals for the Western District of Missouri reversed that decision, restoring the initiative to the ballot.
Learn more about the proposal here.
In late May, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge certified the ballot title for a proposal to revise the state’s redistricting process, clearing the way for the petitioners to collect signatures.
Currently, an apportionment board consisting of the governor, secretary of state, and attorney general draws Arkansas’ state legislative districts while the legislature draws congressional districts. The proposed constitutional amendment would replace the existing process with a seven-member citizens commission that would draw both congressional and state legislative districts. The commission would consist of two Democrats, two Republicans, and three individuals unaffiliated with any political party. The proposal also prohibits drawing districts for partisan advantage or to harm the voting strength of minority groups.
Supporters will need to collect 84,859 signatures to submit to the secretary of state by July 6 for the initiative to appear on the November ballot. The secretary of state must certify the ballot issues for the election by August 23.
Represent Oklahoma, a nonpartisan citizens group, is seeking a state constitutional change that would transfer redistricting duties from the legislature to an independent, nonpartisan commission. According to the group’s website, the proposal would provide clear criteria such as ensuring common communities are intact and prohibits drawing districts with partisan motivations. It would also require consensus from each party represented for a plan to pass.
The group hopes to implement a new process before the next redistricting cycle in 2021.
In early May, Colorado lawmakers approved two measures that would create a twelve-member redistricting commission with an equal number of Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters to draw the state’s congressional and state legislative districts. A supermajority of eight members, including at least two unaffiliated members, would be required to approve a map. Cosponsor State Sen. Stephen Fenberg stated, “This makes sure Democrats and Republicans can’t collude and draw maps that are equally good for the parties but bad for unaffiliated voters.” Both of the bipartisan resolutions passed through the legislature unanimously.
Two citizen coalitions – Fair Districts Colorado and People Not Politicians – that previously filed ballot measures implementing similar citizens redistricting commission, are now supporting and campaigning for the new measure, known as Fair Maps Colorado. The proposal will go before voters on the November ballot.
Learn more about the congressional proposal here.
Learn more about the state legislative proposal here.
In May 2018, Ohio voters overwhelming passed a ballot proposal that requires bipartisan cooperation in the legislature’s map drawing process for congressional districts.
State Issue 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would keep the legislature in charge of drawing congressional maps, but, will restrict politicians’ ability to manipulate district lines for partisan advantage. The proposal would require support from both parties to ensure a map has bipartisan approval and sets new rules for map drawing that were previously absent, such as ensuring districts are compact and rules for preserving cities, townships and municipal corporations in the same district. If the legislature fails to pass a map with bipartisan support, the state’s seven-member redistricting commission would have the opportunity to draw a map. If the commission fails to pass a map with bipartisan approval, the legislature would have a second chance to pass a map, but would be subject to strict rules if it cannot garner significant bipartisan support.
The final amendment was a compromise between Democrats, Republicans, and Fair Districts = Fair Elections, a nonpartisan coalition who prepared a ballot proposal that would have added congressional maps to the state redistricting commission’s duties. The new process will begin in 2021.
Fair Districts PA, a coalition seeking to reform redistricting in Pennsylvania, is working to amend the state constitution to give an independent redistricting commission responsibility for drawing congressional and state legislative boundaries. The organization supports HB 2402 which would create an eleven-member commission composed of members of the two largest political parties and third-party or unaffiliated voters. The bill would also require the commission to hold at least six public hearings and would mandate that at least seven members – including commissioners from each political caucus – vote to approve a final plan.
To be enacted, this constitutional amendment must pass the state legislature in both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 legislative sessions and the voters must vote to approve it in 2020. While the Pennsylvania General Assembly is out of session until September, citizens have called on Governor Tom Wolf to convene a special session on redistricting reform this summer.
OneVirginia2021 launched March Forth, a ten-month campaign to build momentum for a constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering in Virginia before voters in 2020. Advocates plan to organize Virginia residents to urge state legislators to enact reform during the 2019 legislative session.
To get a constitutional amendment on the ballot before the next round of redistricting, the General Assembly must pass identical resolutions in consecutive sessions in 2019 and 2020.