Supreme Court strikes down North Carolina GOP’s legislative gerrymanders


North Carolina: In a major victory for voting rights on Monday, the Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling issued last year that had struck down 28 of North Carolina’s 170 state legislative districts on the grounds that Republicans had unconstitutionally relied too heavily on race when drawing them in 2011. These lines will now have to be redrawn, and new elections will be held using these new maps, but it’s a big open question when those elections will occur. When they do, Democrats could finally break the GOP’s years-long veto-proof supermajorities in the legislature, which Republicans have used to run roughshod over democratic norms and impose a radical conservative agenda on an evenly divided swing state.

So why did the courts determine these lines were invalid? Republicans had taken seats like the 21st State Senate District in Fayetteville—the tentacular monstrosity shown in the map at the top of this post—that had pluralities of African-American voters and made them majority-black by slicing and dicing cities and even precincts themselves to scoop out black voters. Republicans claimed that they were required to do so under the Voting Rights Act so that black voters could elect their candidates of choice, but that argument was entirely pretextual.

That’s because black voters, even in plurality-black districts, were already able to elect their preferred candidates—typically, black Democrats. Republicans merely sought to pack as many black voters into as few seats as possible in order to make surrounding seats whiter. In the South in particular, black voters tend to overwhelmingly back Democrats while whites vote heavily for Republicans, so reducing the black population in these neighboring seats quite simply made it easier for the GOP to win them.

So while the invalidation of these GOP-drawn districts is good news for Democrats, there’s still one big hitch: The very same Republicans who benefited from the gerrymanders that were just struck down will get to draw up new lines to replace the old ones. And whatever new districts they produce, Republicans will now likely claim that they’re only taking partisanship (and not race) into account. We know this because the exact same thing happened with the state’s congressional map, which was also struck down as an illegal racial gerrymander but reconstituted (so Republicans said) as a purely partisan construct—something the Supreme Court still tolerates.

But the GOP will still face new constraints on how it can use race when it goes back to the literal drawing board, and that could make all the difference.

The now-invalidated maps were so brutally effective that Republicans managed to win veto-proof supermajorities every election since the lines were first put in place following the 2010 census. To illustrate just how durable these gerrymanders have been, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Donald Trump all also won a supermajority of seats despite running very close races statewide. (McCain even lost!) And last year, North Carolina even elected Roy Cooper—a Democrat—as governor, yet the GOP’s supermajority persisted.

But while they’ll try their damnedest to cling to power, it’ll nevertheless be harder for Republicans to retain that hammerlock going forward. Democrats only need to gain four seats in the 120-member state House to break the Republicans’ 74-46 supermajority (one nominally Democratic member in a heavily Trump district frequently sides with Republicans).

Exactly when the GOP will face its moment of truth remains to be seen, though. The lower court had originally called for special elections to take place this year, but the Supreme Court vacated that part of the ruling and told the district court to issue new findings in regard to timing. That means we could still see 2017 special elections under new maps, though given how far we are into the year, 2018 (when the legislature would normally be up) seems more likely.

Cooper quickly called a special legislative session to begin on Thursday for the legislature to draw new maps. However, shortly before the session was scheduled to start, Republican legislators, on a party-line vote, moved to overrule the governor and cancel the session. They’re arguing that Cooper doesn’t have the authority to call such a session over redistricting, particularly while the legislature’s regular session remains ongoing. Both parties will likely take this fight to court, potentially raising the odds that the court will wind up drawing the lines.

Meanwhile, North Carolina state law gives the legislature roughly two weeks to come up with new maps before judges are allowed to step in and take over the process, which would of course be the ideal outcome for Democrats and gerrymandering opponents. By calling a special session, Cooper is likely trying to jump-start the clock ahead of the filing period for this fall’s regularly scheduled municipal races (which runs from July 7 to 21) to increase the chances of holding special elections this November. Republicans, by contrast, are attempting to delay until the regularly scheduled November 2018 elections.

It’s unclear just what the chances are of special elections this fall as opposed to next year, though. But whatever schedule we wind up with, Democrats have a major opportunity to set North Carolina in a new direction. Republicans have turned the Tar Heel State into an experiment in hardline conservative governance and made it ground zero in the battle over voting rights. With redrawn districts, Democrats could finally provide a firm check against Republican legislative abuses by sustaining Cooper’s vetoes and restoring some sanity to North Carolina’s government.

Ballot Measures

Puerto Rico: On June 11, residents of Puerto Rico will vote on the future political status of their island commonwealth, which is currently an unincorporated territory—meaning the Constitution does not fully apply there—whose residents have been U.S. citizens for the last 100 years. Voters will face three choices: the status quo, statehood, or independence in free association with the U.S.

This referendum marks the fifth time that Puerto Rico citizens have had the option to vote for statehood. The most recent opportunity came in 2012, when two questions were on the ballot: The first asked whether voters wanted to change the island’s status, and the second asked what that status should look like if it changed. Most voted in favor of some form of change on the first question, and a larger majority supported statehood on the second question, but statehood failed to attain a majority among all ballots cast thanks to abstentions. Some statehood opponents have called for a boycott in 2017 to once again prevent the option from obtaining a majority of registered voters.

Given Puerto Rico’s long-running deep financial crisis and economic struggles, statehood could be a more appealing option this time than in previous votes. If the territory votes to become a state, Congress would then have the power to admit it to the union with just a simple majority vote. Surprisingly, the national Republican Party platform has long favored honoring the wishes of Puerto Rico voters on this issue, and the territorial GOP strongly supports statehood. However, since Puerto Ricans living on the mainland have long voted overwhelmingly Democratic, it is unlikely that congressional Republicans would admit a new state that could very well elect two new Democratic senators and five Democratic representatives at the federal level.

But even if the GOP remains obstinate following a pro-statehood vote, congressional Democrats could admit Puerto Rico as the 51st state if they regain control of both chambers of Congress in 2018 or 2020. And as a matter of principle, Democrats should embrace statehood if Puerto Ricans themselves do. The island’s 3.4 million people are American citizens who are currently deprived of full voting rights and representation, and its admission as a state would mark a small step toward correcting Congress’ steep structural bias that over-represents white voters and under-represents Latinos compared to their proportions of the national electorate. The same goes for admitting Washington, D.C., as a state, which voted for statehood in a landslide last year, but whose heavily black electorate also lacks proper representation on Capitol Hill.

Voter Registration

Oregon: Oregon became the first state to pass automatic voter registration in 2015, and the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank, has issued an extensive new report on its impact on last year’s elections. The report finds that the new law boosted registration substantially among demographics that are typically less likely to participate: the young, nonwhites, low-income citizens, and rural residents. Indeed, roughly 40 percent of automatic registrants were age 30 or younger, or about twice the proportion of eligible citizens of that age.

CAP estimates that approximately 116,000 of the 273,000 automatic registrants otherwise would not have registered at all. And although just 44 percent of automatic registrants actually turned out in 2016 compared to 84 percent of traditional registrants, CAP concludes that about 40 percent of automatically registered voters otherwise wouldn’t have participated in the election, meaning some 40,000 voters were added to the electorate. It’s likely that this effect could build in future elections as automatic registrations accumulate over time, particularly because voting is a habit-forming behavior.

This is just one study, and gauging a citizen’s propensity to vote is not easy, meaning far more research is needed. Additionally, Oregon makes it very easy to vote by mailing ballots to all registered voters, a procedure very few states use. Nonetheless, the available evidence strongly indicates that automatic registration is indeed working to increase voter participation. And following Oregon’s lead two years ago, five more states and D.C. have since joined it, while several other states are considering adopting similar policies in an effort to lower barriers to voter participation.

Voter Suppression

Kansas: On Thursday, Republican Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach announced he would run for governor to succeed term-limited GOP Gov. Sam Brownback in 2018. Gubernatorial elections are typically outside the Voting Rights Roundup’s purview, but since taking office after ousting an appointed Democratic incumbent in the 2010 GOP wave election, Kobach has used his position as the Sunflower State’s chief elections administrator to become one of America’s foremost crusaders for restrictive voting laws.

Under his advocacy, Kansas passed a burdensome proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration. This law would have effectively made voter registration drives next to impossible, since few people carry around such documents day-to-day, and many citizens don’t have easy access to them either. For Kobach, though, this regime worked exactly as planned: Kansas wound up suspending one in seven new voter registrations since 2013 under this law. Fortunately, a court ruled that this system violated federal law when it blocked a key component last year.

Not content to abuse civil law to suppress the vote, Kobach even convinced the state legislature to allow him to prosecute voter fraud as a criminal matter, making him the only secretary of state in the country with the power to do so. And yet in spite of his fanatic pursuit of fraud, Kobach has only ever successfully prosecuted one non-citizen voter, demonstrating yet again just how extremely rare such cases are.

Not only has Kobach been a leading opponent of voting rights in Kansas, his proposals have influenced Republicans around the country. Indeed, he has clout at the highest levels: Shortly after Donald Trump’s victory, Kobach was seen meeting Trump in D.C. while carrying documents that outlined proposed changes to federal voting laws. Following a lawsuit, a court ordered him to turn over those documents last month. Trump most recently named Kobach as the vice chair of his “voting integrity” commission, a thinly veiled fishing expedition to find more excuses to suppress the vote, and one that Democrats and voting rights advocates have widely condemned.

Kobach will still have to fight his way through a contested Republican primary, and after Brownback’s disastrous tenure, Democrats think they have a shot at the governorship even in dark red Kansas. But if Kobach wins, we can be certain that he will continue his crusade against voting.

 

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7 Things to Know About Redistricting


 Brennan Center for Justice

October 28, 2013

The recent government shutdown and struggle over raising the debt ceiling were the result of many factors. Big money in politics, congressional dysfunction, and geographical self-sorting by like-minded voters all played a role. So did redistricting. For those unfamiliar with redistricting, below are some common questions and answers.

Also see our Citizen’s Guide to Redistricting.

What is redistricting?
Members of Congress, state legislators, and many county and municipal offices are elected by voters grouped into districts. At least once per decade, usually after a Census, district lines are redrawn, block by block. Populations change. Some districts gain residents, some lose them. Some districts increase the numbers of minorities, some districts lose them. District boundaries are redrawn to ensure each district has about the same number of people and to fulfill the constitutional guarantee that each voter has an equal say. Based on the 2010 census, each Congressional district has an average population of about 711,000, which is nearly a 10 percent increase from the 2000 census, when each district had an average of 647,000 people. In 2010, some states lost congressional seats and others gained them. For example, Texas gained four districts and New York lost two.

Who draws the lines?
Each state decides. In most states, the line drawers are politicians along with hired consultants. Often, state legislators draw the map, which the governor can veto. Some states have special commissions that advise legislators on drawing the map, or that serve as backup mapmakers if the legislature deadlocks. A few states have independent commissions so politicians and public officials cannot directly draw their own districts. Some states try to prevent a single political party from controlling the process. Some do not, providing one party a major advantage if it controls the state legislature. In other states, politicians from both parties simply work together to draw districts that often protect incumbents.

Why does redistricting matter?
Redistricting affects political power. It determines which party controls Congress and state and local governments across the country. Even when the population is divided equally, drawing the lines one way can reward Democrats and punish Republicans or vice versa. Some line-drawing can protect incumbents. Some line-drawing can guarantee they will face a potent challenger, either from their own party or the opposite party. Consequently, redistricting has a direct bearing on what matters a legislature chooses to tackle, and which to ignore.

How should the lines be drawn?
A good redistricting process should help a community secure meaningful representation. Other than meeting the constitutional requirement that all votes should count equally, there is no magic formula. Many states consider “communities of interest” when drawing their districts. That’s just a term for groups of people who share common social, cultural, racial, economic, geographic, or other concerns. These groups are likely to have similar legislative interests as well, and that means they can benefit from common representation in the government. This goes much deeper than Republican or Democrat. A district of farmers, say, and a district of city dwellers will probably elect representatives that reflect differing histories, priorities, and aspirations. Other redistricting goals — like keeping a district compact or within county borders — are usually proxies for keeping communities intact. A good redistricting process will be open and transparent, allowing communities to ask questions and give input. This participation is important, since communities are the basic units of well-designed districts.

What is gerrymandering?
Gerrymandering refers to the manipulation of district lines to protect or change political power. Any change in district lines affects politics. But a gerrymander is a deliberate and, according to opponents, unfair attempt to draw district lines to increase the likelihood of a particular political result. Incumbents, for example, have an incentive to create districts that are likely to re-elect them, sometimes dividing communities among one or more districts when a single district containing the entire community would better represent their interests.

Did redistricting affect the government shutdown?
Republicans gained 43 seats in the House of Representatives in the 2010 election and regained majority control, the largest swing in any midterm election since 1938. Many experts believe the newly-elected Republicans won their seats as a result of gerrymandering, which created districts with more conservative electorates. More than 50 House Republicans belong to the Tea Party Caucus, the main proponent of the government shutdown and the confrontation over the debt ceiling. This minority of the majority party drove many of the recent decisions regarding whether the House would consider legislation to continue funding the government. Some experts think these lawmakers were likely more willing to shut down the government because they did not fear being voted out of office. Others say gerrymandering did not have an effect because it actually reduces the number of extremely safe districts.

When is the next redistricting cycle, and what can you do now?
The next redistricting will be after the 2020 census. You can hold the line drawers accountable by paying attention and speaking up. Call your state legislators and tell them you want a fair redistricting process. Lawmakers will propose redistricting reform measures in the next few years. Track those developments and make your voice heard.

No more protection for bad cops ~ Scott Roberts, Color Of Change


Cops think they can get away with murder!

The Chicago City Council must end police contracts that protect bad cops.

TAKE ACTION!

Last week was a devasting moment for our communities with THREE painful not guilty verdicts in the murders of Philando Castile, Samuel Dubose and Sylville Smith. The horrible reality is that cops can kill Black people and get away with it. One major way to fight back against that is to stop the stronghold of police unions. In FOUR days, the employment contract for Chicago police officers is set to expire.  It gives us a huge opportunity — standing together, we can ensure that the City of Chicago refuses any new contract that puts police officers above the law.

Police unions like Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) use their contracts to prevent any accountability for officers who prey on our communities, as we saw with the killing of Laquan McDonald and the coverup that followed, and in similar cases in Chicago and around the country. But we have a chance to demand better, and if enough of us speak out, we’ll win.

We have only a few days. Join us NOW in calling on members of the Chicago City Council to reject any contract that puts police above the law.

Why do cops keep getting away with murder? One of the biggest obstacles to accountability are the employment contracts negotiated by police unions that help cops lie and cover up their crimes, essentially putting them above the law.

These contracts require a “cooling off” period before cops have to give a statement to investigators, giving them time to construct a story and coordinate it with other officers. If they’re caught in a lie, they’re allowed to “revise” their statements without consequences. Even when prosecutors are serious about holding police accountable, these rules in their contracts make it very hard to build a case against cops who break the law.

Police unions have made sure these outrageous contracts are the status quo in most places. But right now in Chicago, we have a big opportunity to challenge the power of the police union and change the rules.

The city is in contract negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police, whose contract expires June 30th. The city council will need to approve any agreement reached between the FOP and the city, and a big part of the council (including the entire Black caucus) has already committed to vote against any new contract that continues to put police above the law – thanks to incredible organizing work from the BlackRoots Alliance and other groups in Chicago.

Now, we need to increase the pressure on the rest of the council to make sure we have the votes to block any contract that doesn’t contain key reforms that will prevent police from operating with impunity.

Tell Chicago city council members to oppose any new contract that puts police above the law.

Until justice is real,

Rashad, Arisha, Scott, Anay, Clarise, Enchanta, Malaya, Katrese, and the rest of the Color Of Change team

References:

1. “Fraternal Order of Police: Is the tail wagging the dog?,” Chicago Defender, 06-01-2016 https://act.colorofchange.org/go/8090?t=9&akid=7652.1174326.xmywLJ

on this day … 6/27 1969 – Patrons at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, clashed with police. This incident is considered to be the birth of the homosexual rights movement.


0363 – The death of Roman Emperor Julian brought an end to the Pagan Revival.

1693 – “The Ladies’ Mercury” was published by John Dunton in London. It was the first women’s magazine and contained a “question and answer” column that became known as a “problem page.”

1743 – King George II of England defeated the French at Dettingen, Bavaria, in the War of the Austrian Succession.

1787 – Edward Gibbon completed “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.” It was published the following May.

1801 – British forces defeated the French and took control of Cairo, Egypt.

1847 – New York and Boston were linked by telegraph wires.

1871 – The yen became the new form of currency in Japan.

1885 – Chichester Bell and Charles S. Tainter applied for a patent for the gramophone. It was granted on May 4, 1886.

1893 – The New York stock market crashed. By the end of the year 600 banks and 74 railroads had gone out of business.

1905 – The battleship Potemkin succumbed to a mutiny on the Black Sea.

1918 – Two German pilots were saved by parachutes for the first time.

1923 – Yugoslav Premier Nikola Pachitch was wounded by Serb attackers in Belgrade.

1924 – Democrats offered Mrs. Leroy Springs for vice presidential nomination. She was the first woman considered for the job.

1927 – The U.S. Marines adopted the English bulldog as their mascot.

1929 – Scientists at Bell Laboratories in New York revealed a system for transmitting television pictures.

1931 – Igor Sikorsky filed U.S. Patent 1,994,488, which marked the breakthrough in helicopter technology.

1940 – Robert Pershing Wadlow was measured by Dr. Cyril MacBryde and Dr. C. M. Charles. They recorded his height at 8′ 11.1.” He was only 22 at the time of his death on July 15, 1940.

1942 – The FBI announced the capture of eight Nazi saboteurs who had been put ashore from a submarine on New York’s Long Island.

1944 – During World War II, American forces completed their capture of the French port of Cherbourg from the German army.

1949 – “Captain Video and His Video Rangers” premiered on the Dumont Television Network.

1950 – Two days after North Korea invaded South Korea, U.S. President Truman ordered the Air Force and Navy into the Korean conflict. The United Nations Security Council had asked for member nations to help South Korea repel an invasion from the North.

1954 – The world’s first atomic power station opened at Obninsk, near Moscow.

1955 – The first “Wide Wide World” was broadcast on NBC-TV.

1955 – The state of Illinois enacted the first automobile seat belt legislation.

1959 – The play, “West Side Story,” with music by Leonard Bernstein, closed after 734 performances on Broadway.

1961 – Arthur Michael Ramsey was enthroned as the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury.

1967 – The world’s first cash dispenser was installed at Barclays Bank in Enfield, England. The device was invented by John Sheppard-Barron. The machine operated on a voucher system and the maximum withdrawal was $28.

1967 – Two hundred people were arrested during a race riot in Buffalo, NY.

1969 – Patrons at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village, clashed with police. This incident is considered to be the birth of the homosexual rights movement.

1973 – Former White House counsel John W. Dean told the Senate Watergate Committee about an “enemies list” that was kept by the Nixon White House.

1973 – Nixon vetoed a Senate ban on bombing Cambodia.

1980 – U.S. President Carter signed legislation reviving draft registration.

1984 – The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that individual colleges could make their own TV package deals.

1984 – The Federal Communications Commission moved to deregulate U.S. commercial TV by lifting most programming requirements and ending day-part restrictions on advertising.

1985 – Route 66 was officially removed from the United States Highway System.

1985 – The U.S. House of Representatives voted to limit the use of combat troops in Nicaragua.

1986 – The World Court ruled that the U.S. had broken international law by aiding Nicaraguan rebels.

1991 – Associate Justice Thurgood Marshall resigned from the U.S. Supreme Court. He had been appointed in 1967 by President Lyndon Johnson.

1995 – Qatar’s Crown Prince Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani ousted his father in a bloodless palace coup.

1998 – An English woman was impregnated with her dead husband’s sperm after two-year legal battle over her right to the sperm.

1998 – In a live joint news conference in China U.S. President Clinton and President Jiang Zemin offered an uncensored airing of differences on human rights, freedom, trade and Tibet.

2002 – In the U.S., the Securities and Exchange Commission required companies with annual sales of more than $1.2 billion to submit sworn statements backing up the accuracy of their financial reports.

2005 – In Alaska’s Denali National Park, a roughly 70-million year old dinosaur track was discovered. The track was form a three-toed Cretaceous period dinosaur.

New lawsuit could invalidate Pennsylvania GOP’s congressional gerrymander


The Daily Kos Elections Voting Rights Roundup is written by Stephen Wolf and edited by David Nir.

LEADING OFF

Pennsylvania: A group of Pennsylvania voters and the League of Women Voters filed a lawsuit in state court Thursday arguing that the congressional map Republican legislators passed in 2011 amounted to a partisan gerrymander in violation of the state constitution’s guarantees of free speech and equal protection. If the court strikes down this map, Pennsylvania could have to draw new districts for the 2018 cycle, which would almost certainly result in more Democrats getting elected to the House.

As shown in this map, the GOP’s brazenly tortured lines have produced a stable 13-to-5 Republican congressional majority in what is otherwise an evenly divided swing state. That Republican advantage persisted even when Obama carried Pennsylvania by 5 points—and Democratic House candidates won more votes statewide than Republicans—in 2012, and it held fast in 2016 when Trump narrowly won the state. As we have demonstrated, this Republican gerrymander likely cost Democrats up to four seats in both 2016 and 2012, making it one of the most effective GOP gerrymanders nationally.

The plaintiffs in this new suit point to several statistical tests to argue that Republicans could not have possibly passed the map that they did without intending to favor their own party. These tests include the “efficiency gap,” which is at the center of ongoing litigation over Wisconsin’s GOP-drawn state Assembly map, as well as one called the “mean-median district test,” both of which we have previously explained in detail. The plaintiffs have also put forth computer-simulated nonpartisan plans to buttress their claim that any efforts by mapmakers to adhere to traditional redistricting criteria alone (like compactness) were statistically unlikely to produce such a GOP-leaning map.

While these tests have yet to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down partisan gerrymanders for violating the federal constitution, plaintiffs are hoping that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, where Democrats gained a majority in 2015, will ultimately give them a more favorable outcome under the state constitution. And while Republicans remain firmly in control of the legislature, if the state courts invalidate the existing congressional map, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf could veto any potential Republican replacement, prompting the court itself to draw much fairer lines.

Naturally, Republicans have already attacked this lawsuit by pointing out the map passed with some Democratic votes. However, that argument cynically omits the fact those Democratic legislators cravenly favored the map to protect powerful Democratic incumbents whose districts were drawn to help Republicans in neighboring seats, not because they thought the map didn’t favor the GOP. (This is also a good reason why you should never, ever vote for the other side’s gerrymander.)

There’s still a long way to go before this case reaches a conclusion, and of course we can’t know if even a Democratic-majority state Supreme Court would produce a favorable ruling. (The lower court is dominated by Republicans.) However, if this case proceeds quickly enough through the system, and the plaintiffs do ultimately prevail, Pennsylvania could play a huge role in helping Democrats retake the House next year.

Redistricting

Florida: The Sunshine State’s chapter of the League of Women Voters has filed a petition with the Florida Supreme Court urging it to declare in advance that Republican Gov. Rick Scott lacks the authority to appoint the replacements of three judges on the court who will reach mandatory retirement age and have to leave office on the same day that term limits do the same to Scott: Jan. 8, 2019. Scott has promised to fill all three seats, which would flip the court from a 4-to-3 liberal-leaning majority to a 6-to-1 conservative edge, with dramatic implications for redistricting after the 2020 census.

This controversy has arisen because the judges in question are in office until the end of the day on Jan. 8, while Scott’s successor as governor will be sworn in earlier the same day. Logically it seems Scott’s replacement—who, depending on next year’s election outcome, could be a Democrat—would get to fill those vacancies. So Scott’s stated intention of doing so himself risks sparking a constitutional crisis. The outcome could only be resolved by the very same court at the heart of the underlying dispute, which is why plaintiffs are urging the court to act now.

Republicans have even implicitly acknowledged that Scott does not have the authority to fill these seats. In 2014, GOP legislators referred a state constitutional amendment to the ballot that would have allowed the governor to “prospectively” fill certain upcoming vacancies like these, but voters rejected it 52-48. Obviously they wouldn’t have bothered with such an amendment had they thought Scott already had the power to pick replacement judges!

But if Scott is somehow given the chance, a change in ideological control over the court from left to right would likely neuter the amendments to the state constitution that voters passed in 2010 to ban legislators from engaging in partisan gerrymandering, known as the “Fair Districts” amendments. Republican legislators gerrymandered anyway, of course, leading to prolonged litigation that finally saw the state Supreme Court strike down the GOP’s congressional and state Senate maps ahead of the 2016 elections. The ruling fell strictly along ideological lines, and if conservatives gain a majority in 2019, the court is unlikely to stop new Republican gerrymanders after 2020.

We can only hope the court will resolve this issue ahead of time to avoid a legal crisis. But gerrymandering foes will also need Democrats to win next year’s governor’s race to prevent a new conservative court majority from enabling future Republican gerrymandering.

North Carolina: The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday denied a motion from Democrats, requesting that it swiftly return jurisdiction over North Carolina’s legislative racial gerrymandering case back to the three-judge federal district court panel that originally struck down the GOP’s maps last year. That means it won’t do so until the end of June. The lower court still has to determine (once again) whether to order special elections for any redrawn districts, following the Supreme Court’s early June decision that upheld the rest of the district court’s ruling invalidating the maps.

This two-week delay is critical because North Carolina state law appears to grant the legislature two weeks to debate new maps before the courts can step in and draw their own replacement districts. The July 7 to 21 filing period for North Carolina’s regularly scheduled November 2017 municipal elections is quickly approaching, and the Supreme Court’s delay significantly raises the risk that the lower court will be unable to require special legislative elections this fall instead of waiting until the regularly scheduled legislative elections a full year later in 2018.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper had called a special legislative session to start on June 8, which Republican legislators immediately moved to nullify. It’s still possible, though, that the lower court will consider the two-week clock to run from the abortive June 8 start date, meaning it could conclude legislators will have failed to act in due time when they receive the Supreme Court’s mandate to revisit the case at the end of this month. On the other hand, the district court could give Republican legislators even more time to stall before passing new replacement gerrymanders of their own, rather than allowing the court to implement its own, less partisan maps.

Voter Suppression

Kansas: Last week, we detailed newly minted GOP gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach’s long voter-suppression crusade as Kansas’ secretary of state, but we would be remiss if we did not follow up by recommending voting rights expert Ari Berman’s excellent New York Times exposé on Kobach’s career. In chilling detail, Berman relays how Kobach’s pervasive hostility toward voting rights and immigration has had a national political impact that reaches all the way to the very top with Donald Trump’s administration.

North Carolina: A trial-level and appellate state court both recently refused to stay a ruling from early June in which the lower court had unanimously dismissed Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s lawsuit against the GOP-dominated state legislature’s new elections-board law, even while Cooper’s appeal is ongoing. That new measure removes Democratic majorities from every state and county elections board by creating an evenly divided partisan split, preventing Democrats from rolling back voting restrictions that Republicans implemented when they held majorities under GOP ex-Gov. Pat McCrory.

Cooper’s last recourse to prevent the law from taking effect while his appeal is ongoing will be to petition the all-important state Supreme Court, where Democrats hold a majority. But after Cooper’s unanimous defeat before a lower court panel that consisted of judges from both parties, there’s no guarantee he’ll prevail on the merits or even succeed in ultimately obtaining a stay pending appeal from the high court.

Automatic Voter Registration

Congress: Following its recent adoption in six states and the District of Columbia, Democratic Sen. Pat Leahy and Democratic Rep. Bob Brady introduced a bill in Congress to establish automatic voter registration nationwide for every eligible citizen who interacts with a variety of government agencies, unless they opt out. While this bill will almost certainly never become law so long as Republicans control both chambers of Congress, it nevertheless highlights a very important voting reform and sends a message that Democrats are focused on voting rights. And if this bill does indeed get enacted some day, it could add more than 40 million newly registered voters and likely boost turnout substantially.

Massachusetts: Legislators in the Bay State are also considering a bill that would automatically register any eligible voters who update their information with a variety of different state agencies, unless they opt out. A majority of members in both legislative chambers, which are dominated by Democrats, have reportedly signed on as co-sponsors. State Senate President Stan Rosenberg and Rep. Joe Kennedy are also urging passage of the bill, which could add many of the state’s nearly 700,000 eligible but unregistered citizens to the rolls.

While almost no Republicans have offered their support, Democrats could easily pass this bill without any GOP votes if the party sticks together, since they hold over three-fourths of the seats in both chambers. That is well above the two-thirds needed to override a potential veto from Republican Gov. Charlie Baker. It’s even possible the relatively moderate Baker would sign this bill into law, although more partisan GOP governors in other states keep vetoing similar Democrat-backed measures.

Ballot Measures

California: California recently approved a comprehensive transportation-funding deal that included a gas-tax increase, and Republicans have responded how? By initiating recall proceedings against a potentially vulnerable Democratic state senator, Josh Newman, who was narrowly elected in 2016. If the GOP succeeds, they’d eliminate the Democrats’ two-thirds supermajority, which is needed to impose new taxes. In turn, Democratic legislators have introduced a bill that would add new layers of review to the recall-initiation process itself in an obvious effort to delay any such recall election until June of next year. Doing so would mean the recall would coincide with the state’s regularly scheduled primary elections, when turnout will likely be much higher and more Democratic-leaning.

While both parties are likely just acting in their political self-interest, California’s recall system is a broken mess that was made infamous during 2003’s politically motivated—and successful—recall of then-Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, which led to the election of Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. The recall process should be reserved for extraordinary situations, such as when elected officials abuse their powers or commit crimes while in office, not simply because their political opponents want to further a partisan agenda. But Republican recall proponents have said the quiet part loud, openly admitting their goal is the elimination of the Democrats’ supermajority.

In addition, California’s recall election procedures are themselves terribly flawed. California requires a two part-ballot: On the first question, voters are asked if they want to recall the official in question. The second contains a simultaneous election in which all replacement candidates run on a single ballot regardless of party where only a plurality is required to win. That means a divided field alone could hand the seat to the opposition.

Furthermore, this system makes it nearly impossible for the incumbent party to campaign against the recall but for a replacement candidate as a backup plan. (You may recall the Democrats’ incredibly awkward slogan from 2003—“No on recall, yes on Bustamante”—exhorting voters to oppose Davis’ recall but, hey, just in case, vote for Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante in case Davis gets the hook. Needless to say, it failed badly.)

In other states, voters face a much more straightforward process. In some jurisdictions, voters are asked whether they want to recall an office-holder. If a majority say yes, then that official is removed from office, creating a vacancy for which a separate special election is later held. In others, if a recall is placed on the ballot, then there’s just one traditional election, pitting the recalled candidate against an opponent from the other party.

California’s recall laws needed reforming after the Davis debacle, and that’s still true today. It may be understandable that Democrats would want to delay a politically motivated recall until an election when there will be higher turnout. But what they really ought to do is overhaul California’s recall procedures completely.

Puerto Rico: On Sunday, Puerto Rico residents voted in a referendum to decide on the island’s future political status, which we previously detailed. Voters almost unanimously opted for statehood after opponents boycotted the election, helping to lead to an abysmal turnout rate of just 23 percent. While pro-statehood Gov. Ricky Rosselló has vowed to proceed with his statehood push, it’s unlikely that Republicans will allow a congressional vote on the matter. At the same time, the low turnout and the non-binding nature of the referendum are unlikely to give Democrats much appetite for pushing the issue in Congress right now.

Election Systems

Hacking: A bombshell Bloomberg report on Tuesday indicated that alleged Russian hacking attempts during the 2016 elections went far beyond intrusions into the computer systems of committees like the DNC and DCCC and included efforts to compromise election administration systems in 39 states. The hacks reportedly did not attempt to change the votes on cast ballots but did unsuccessfully try to alter voter information records. That raises the risk that future hacks could distort things like voter-registration databases, potentially disenfranchising voters on Election Day.

There is no evidence so far that these hacks swung the outcome of any election, and they should be interpreted with caution as more details continue to unfold. However, these reports underscore that our byzantine state- and county-level system of decentralized election administration is potentially vulnerable to malicious interference. Of course, with Donald Trump and congressional Republicans using hacked emails of Democrats to their benefit in last year’s elections, it’s doubtful that they will be eager to appropriate and coordinate the resources necessary for states and counties to bolster the security of their election systems

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