Taking the Swing Out of Swing Districts: Ballots & Boundaries

Politicians will be able to make sure that some of the purplest congressional districts in the U.S. don’t stay that way.

Bloomberg Government’s Greg Giroux examined district-by-district 2020 presidential election results and identified where the outcomes were the tightest.

As you’ll see in his chart, nonpartisan commissions will be the primary decision-makers on revisingonly three of the 10 congressional districts with the tightest top-of-the-ticket results.

For the rest, including a district in Missouri where only about 100 votes divided the major-party presidential candidates, either legislatures will handle redistricting start to finish or the lawmakers have the power to ignore whatever’s recommended by independent commissions.

COLORADO: COMMISSION DEFENDS ITS TURF

Redistricting commissions in Colorado have a message for state lawmakers: Back off.

The state General Assembly wants the independent congressional and legislative redistricting commissions to begin their work using demographic data they have on hand, and they’ve asked the Colorado Supreme Court if that’s OK.

In their briefs, the commissions said their work is supposed to be “insulated from partisan politics” and the General Assembly is “attempting to impose upon the Commission policy decisions that will directly affect the outcome of redistricting.” — Tripp Baltz

MONTANA: SHAPE-SHIFTING

An otherwise ho-hum election bill (H.B. 506) was amended in the final days of Montana’s legislative session to impose very precise limits on congressional district lines.

Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) has signed into law the mandate that new districts not have “an average length greater than three times the average width.”

The goal is to achieve “compactness” and prevent gerrymandering by Montana’s independent redistricting and apportionment commission, said the restriction’s author, state Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick (R).

Sen. Bryce Bennett (D) predicted the new law will be struck down as unconstitutional. “This legislature is trying to tell the redistricting commission—which we cannot do—how to draw these districts in a way that will benefit one party over the other,” he said during debate.

Montana is getting back the seat it lost after the 1990 census. After next year, it’ll have two. — Tripp Baltz

MINNESOTA: 10,000 REDISTRICTING OBSTACLES

Compactness is a redistricting concept with a state-specific meaning in Minnesota.

Legislation (S.F. 1715) outlining principles for redrawing state legislative districts describes contiguous territory this way: “Contiguity by water is sufficient if the body of water does not pose a serious obstacle to travel within the district.”

The bill doesn’t say what a “serious obstacle” would be.

“We are a state with over 10,000 lakes. So it’s likely that redistricting might be affected by a body of water,” said the bill’s author, state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R). — Stephen Joyce

WISCONSIN: SEND NO MONEY

Wisconsin lawmakers passed legislation intended to block democracy do-gooders from donating money for communities to buy election equipment.

“This bill is about fairness and transparency, and outside groups shouldn’t get to provide funding only to areas that align with their politics,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R) said in a statement.

The party-line House vote sent the bill (A.B. 173) to the state Senate. Republicans control both chambers, but lack the two-thirds majorities they’d need to override a veto by Gov. Tony Evers (D). — Stephen Joyce

WISCONSIN: NOPE THAT’S PREMATURE

Former Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen asked the state Supreme Court to require any redistricting cases to originate in the high court, a request the justices rejected.

It’s up to the court and not a partisan complainant to make that decision, justices ruled. — Stephen Joyce

CONNECTICUT: PRISON GERRYMANDERING

A Connecticut bill (S.B. 753) to end so-called prison gerrymandering has been sent to the desk of Gov. Ned Lamont.

All inmates, except those serving life sentences, would be counted as residents of the communities they lived in before incarceration.

Lamont (D) told reporters the change “makes sense to me.” — Adrianne Appel

OHIO: ‘REALLY DO NEED THIS DATA’

Federal judges in Ohio said they see merit in how the U.S. Census Bureau is handling post-pandemic redistricting data. Sticking with the Census Bureau’s belated timeline “seems perfectly reasonable,” Judge Amul Thapar said during oral arguments last Wednesday in the state’s bid to expedite the release of map-making data.

“We brought suit because we really do need this data for our redistricting process to go smoothly,” countered Ohio Solicitor General Benjamin Flowers.

No matter what the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit panel decides, there’s still another federal court challenge, brought by Alabama and backed by 16 other states. — Alex Ebert

Quotable

There are no saints in redistricting. Everyone is a sinner.” Former Gov. Roy Barnes (D-Ga.) in an interview with WXIA-TV.

Resources

PODCAST: Redistricting Will Pit Incumbent Against Incumbent
VIDEO: Watch HERE or READ the transcript
BGOV CHEAT SHEET:Increasing the Size of the U.S. House
HOW WE GOT HERE: GOP’s Voting Curbs Show Long Reach of 2013 Supreme Court Ruling
REDISTRICTING WEBSITES compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures

Ballots & Boundaries is your weekly check-in on what states are doing to change voting laws and reconfigure political boundaries in once-a-decade redistricting. SUBSCRIBE

To contact the reporters on this story: Greg Giroux in Washington at ggiroux@bgov.com; Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com; Tripp Baltz in Denver at abaltz@bloomberglaw.com; Stephen Joyce in Chicago at sjoyce@bloomberglaw.com; Adrianne Appel in Boston at aappel@bloomberglaw.com; Jennifer Kay in Miami at jkay@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com

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