Supreme Court puts North Carolina redistricting and special elections on hold


NC State House, State Senate: On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Republican legislators in North Carolina their request for a stay of a lower court decision that had instructed lawmakers to draw new legislative maps and hold special elections using the revised lines this fall. Last year, a three-judge district court panel found that the state’s legislative districts violated the constitution by packing black voters into as few seats as possible, thus undermining their political influence, and ordered special elections under new maps as a remedy. Republicans quickly appealed that ruling to the Supreme Court, which has now put it on hold while it decides whether to take up the appeal.

These gerrymandered districts—and the lawmakers they helped elect—will now remain in place, at least until the Supreme Court determines if it will hear the GOP’s appeal. (The justices will consider the question on Jan. 19.) It’s important to note, though, that this ruling doesn’t automatically mean the court will take the case, and if it declines, the lower court’s decision will go back into effect. But if the court does take the case and rule in favor of Republicans, that would be a devastating blow both to voting rights and to Democrats, who are trying to unlock Republicans’ veto-proof majorities in the legislature. For more details on this story, Stephen Wolf has a complete run-down.

SENATE

AZ-Sen: While state Treasurer Jeff DeWit hasn’t breathed a word about a potential challenge to Sen. Jeff Flake in next year’s Republican primary, Roll Call‘s Alex Roarty reports that Flake’s allies are indeed concerned about the possibility. Flake spent 2016 serving as one of Donald Trump’s top critics in the GOP; DeWit, on the other hand, was one of Trump’s most vocal supporters in Arizona, and if the Trumpkins are looking for revenge, he’d be their natural horse.

Worryingly for Flake, in a hypothetical Republican poll taken in November, DeWit led him 42-33. And as Roarty notes, the senator’s fundraising has been poor, leaving him with just $594,000 on-hand. (By contrast, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman had almost 10 times as much in the bank at the start of 2015.) In fact, says Roarty, the NRSC has sent staffers to help Flake kick his fundraising into gear—not something a party committee enjoys having to do with incumbents.

And with Senate Republicans playing offense in 2018, they may not have much interest in aiding Flake, especially since Arizona’s primaries are typically so late. For Democrats, a DeWit run would be a boon, but even if he unseated Flake, Republicans would still be favored to hold this seat.

GUBERNATORIAL

OH-Gov: Hamilton County Commissioner Todd Portune, who ran a very brief and unserious campaign governor three years ago but ultimately dropped out long before the Democratic primary, says he hasn’t ruled out a 2018 bid. Back in 2014, Portune floated his name as a possible alternative to Ed FitzGerald, who made an early stumble by picking a badly flawed running-mate who was quickly dropped from the ticket. But party leaders were unperturbed by FitzGerald’s mistake and Portune never caught any traction. Given how badly FitzGerald’s campaign ultimately wound up imploding that year, almost any alternative would have been preferred in hindsight, but that’s not to say Portune is any more credible a contender this time. So far, no Democrats have announced for this race, but plenty are considering.

TN-Gov: Businessman Randy Boyd, a Republican who has reportedly been considering a bid for Tennessee’s open governorship, has stepped down from his post as commissioner of the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development. The move is a possible prelude to a gubernatorial run, which the Chattanooga Times Free Press says Boyd is “widely expected” to make. In a statement announcing Boyd’s departure, term-limited Gov. Bill Haslam lavished praise on his appointee, though neither man addressed the election.

VA-Gov: On Monday, businessman Denver Riggleman, a former Air Force intelligence officer who now runs a craft distillery, made a late entrance into the GOP race for governor. Riggleman is running as an aggrieved outsider, so he doesn’t have much in the way of political connections, nor would he appear to have personal wealth he can tap. It’ll therefore be hard for him to make an impact against the trio of more experienced candidates who are already running in the Republican primary: former RNC chair Ed Gillespie, state Sen. Frank Wagner, and Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart.

HOUSE

MT-AL: State District Court Judge Russell Fagg had been considering running in the expected special election for Montana’s at-large congressional seat as a Republican, but on Tuesday, he decided against a bid. (He would have had to resign from the bench in order to run.) Not to worry: Tons of other Republicans are interested.

TX-03: Not long after GOP Rep. Sam Johnson announced his retirement last week, state Sen. Van Taylor issued a statement in which he didn’t rule out a congressional run. Now, reports the National Journal‘s Kyle Trygstad, an unnamed “source close to Taylor” says the state senator will kick off a bid after the legislative session ends on May 29. Taylor is also very wealthy (he works in finance), and according to the same source, he plans to spend at least $1 million of his own money on the contest. That’s a believable pledge, since Taylor has shelled out similar sums in prior races. So far, no one has declared yet for this conservative seat in the Dallas suburbs.

GRAB BAG

Pres-by-CD: We hit Maryland for our project to calculate the 2016 presidential results for all 435 congressional districts nationwide. You can find our complete data set here, which we’re updating continuously as the precinct-level election returns we need for our calculations become available.

Maryland’s was one of the few congressional maps drawn exclusively by Democrats. Hillary Clinton handily carried the same seven congressional districts that Barack Obama took in 2012, while Donald Trump easily won the conservative 1st District along the Eastern Shore. The suburban D.C. 6th District was the closest seat, but it still backed Clinton by a 56-40 margin, an improvement on Obama’s 55-43 win here. Democratic Rep. John Delaney had a close call during the 2014 GOP wave and only won 50-48; however, Delaney won 56-40 last year, matching the top of the ticket. Clinton took at least 60 percent of the vote in the other six Democratic-held seats.

While Maryland’s results may not be the most interesting we’ve calculated, there’s one big issue with the state’s data we want to address, and it’s one that applies to other states as well. Maryland, like many states, allows residents to cast ballots before Election Day, both at early voting locations and by traditional absentee voting (we’ll collectively call these both “early votes” for ease). However, in the results they provide to the public, Maryland counties do not assign these early votes to any particular precinct, meaning we don’t know which congressional districts they belong to.

Unfortunately, Maryland is not the only state that refuses to break out early votes by precinct. But what makes the Old Line State particularly problematic is that its proportion of unassigned early votes is far higher than in any other state where we’ve calculated these results (the same was true in 2012). The Baltimore Sun‘s John Fritze explains that Maryland law prevents the state from breaking down early voting numbers by precinct. The law is intended to protect voter privacy in small precincts, but there are far better ways to go about that.

So what do we do? We have a formula we use in every state that has unassigned early votes; it allocates those votes between districts based on the how much of each county is in each district, and how the portion of each county in a given district voted on Election Day (where we do have breakdowns by precinct). This is an imperfect and imprecise method, and we wish we didn’t have to use it, but we often just don’t have a choice. Luckily, in this case, none of Maryland’s eight congressional districts were at all close in the presidential race, so we’re confident that our results have correctly identified the winner in each district.

P.S. Confusingly, Maryland does have data files that break down just the Election Day vote by congressional and state legislative district, while ignoring the many early and absentee votes. However, since those files leave out over 40 percent of the vote, they aren’t very useful.

The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.

To advertise in the Morning Digest, please contact advertise@dailykos.com.

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