This Lawsuit Is a Big Deal for All States: Ballots & Boundaries

  • Alabama GOP litigation could have far-reaching impact
  • Some who ticked off Trump have more to worry about

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Alabama’s legal challenge against fuzzing-up the data that states will get from the Census Bureau could have wide-ranging ramifications—and either privacy or accuracy will end up losing.

Without the extra layer of database noise, called “differential privacy,” that the bureau wants to overlay, “you could see a federal agency, like ICE, do a ‘re-identification’ attack, find pockets where you have non-citizens and go in and do raids and deport people,” said University of Florida professor Michael McDonald, who specializes in elections. “That would be antithetical to the Census Bureau’s mission.”

Alabama is suing to try to force the bureau to turn over the traditional data set and not take the extra months it says it needs.

If protecting privacy is the upside to the Census Bureau’s plan, the downside is that “it can start producing nonsensical results,” McDonald said. It could even be possible to pull the data for a Census block and get a “negative number” of a certain race, age, or gender. READ ABOUT THE LAWSUIT from Bloomberg Government’s Alex Ebert.

UMMM, ABOUT YOUR CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT …

Six of the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump are from states that probably will lose a congressional seat based on state-level population data from the Census Bureau coming in April.

And at least three of them live so close to the edges of their current districts that the next boundary-line changes could easily place them with a mostly new set of constituents or into a contest against another incumbent on their colleague’s home turf. (H/T Bloomberg’s Gregory Korte and Mark Niquette.)

WHERE TO FIND A FIGHT

Democrats today released their 2021 and 2022 state legislative battleground targets in a memo that highlights both their 2020 successes and where they fell short in a pre-redistricting push.

While district lines aren’t even being drawn yet, the early focus includes holding slim chamber majorities in Virginia, Colorado, Maine, Minnesota, and Nevada, along with a few offensive opportunities in Arizona, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. — Kyle Trygstad

ARE THOSE BIG BLUE MAILBOXES RISKY TOO?

Florida’s elections supervisors wanted lawmakers to address voter complaints about “unscrupulous solicitors” accessing personal information in county voter rolls. Instead, they’re getting a bill (SB 90) that would cancel many vote-by-mail requests and ban the ballot drop boxes used by 1.5 million Florida voters in November. (Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has called drop boxes “a big problem.”)

“We are against this bill vehemently,” said Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley, who’s also vice president of the state association of election supervisors.

“There’s a dichotomy here that I personally cannot deal with,” said Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays. “You’re not going to pay for a cop to stand at the post office box, are you?” — Jennifer Kay

EVERYONE CAN DO IT

We anticipate hearing a lot in the months ahead about DistrictR, a free redistricting line-drawing tool. Moon Duchin, a Tufts University mathematics professor who developed it, said the technology can be used to show how to draw district lines that keep communities intact and politically competitive.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because similar applications were used in the last round of redistricting a decade ago, but mostly affordable by political parties and consultants. — Kenneth P. Doyle

DRAW NOW FIX LATER?

All six state General Assembly leaders in Colorado, Democrats and Republicans alike, sent a letter Monday urging the Congressional Redistricting Commission not to wait for up-to-date population data and to start drawing new district lines based on what’s known right now.

Their reasoning? Starting now could “increase the likelihood of meeting constitutional deadlines for final approval.”

Colorado probably will go up one House seat, to eight. This is the first redistricting cycle for the state’s congressional and statehouse commissions — Tripp Baltz

IOWA GRIDLOCK

Iowa political appointees will try again on Monday to elect a fifth member to the state’s Temporary Redistricting Advisory Commission. The four sitting members, all named by the state House and state Senate, couldn’t agree on who should be No. 5 when they last tried in February.

“I think it’s some partisan gridlock and the lack of urgency,” said Ron Parker, staff director of the Iowa Senate Democratic caucus.

States will find out whether they’re gaining, losing, or keeping the same number of congressional seats at the end of April. The Census Bureau will deliver the detailed data they need to configure political boundaries at the end of September. — Stephen Joyce

Must Reads

WHERE TO WATCH: Pay attention to Georgia, Florida and Texas during the upcoming round of redistricting. Republicans will have a chance to draw congressional boundaries in a way that tempers the voting clout of Democratic-leaning newcomers. — AP

HARDER TO GERRYMANDER? If Ohio’s next round of redistricting abides by the law with maps that “correspond closely to the statewide preference of the voters,” new statehouse boundaries probably won’t produce statehouse GOP supermajorities, concludes data-in-politics wiz Rich Exner. — Cleveland.com

SIGNATURES: A bill (HB 136) that passed on the final day of Utah’s legislative session would forbid signature-gathering companies from paying their employees by the number of names they collect and instruct them to use hourly rates instead. “It’s the difference between a person who’s hustling and running between doors because they want to get to as many doors as possible and a person who saunters up to the door,” said Spencer Stokes, a Utah lobbyist and the co-owner of a signature-gathering firm. — Salt Lake Tribune

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

To contact the reporters on this story: Tripp Baltz in Denver at abaltz@bloomberglaw.com; Kenneth P. Doyle in Washington at kdoyle@bgov.com; Alex Ebert in Columbus, Ohio at aebert@bloomberglaw.com; Jennifer Kay in Miami at jkay@bloomberglaw.com; Stephen Joyce in Chicago at sjoyce@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at krizzo@bgov.com; Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com

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