Voting Rights Roundup: Georgia lawmaker admits GOP gerrymandered the 6th District to stop Democrats


Georgia: Gerrymandering is a seedy business where legislators often go to extremes to hide their true motivations: maximizing partisan advantage for their own party. But every so often, someone on the inside will let the mask slip and acknowledge the truth. As Democrats continue to give Republicans the fight of their lives in the special election for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, a historically Republican seat in the northern Atlanta suburbs, state Sen. Fran Millar said the quiet part out loud at a Republican breakfast meeting right before last Tuesday’s primary:

“I’ll be very blunt: These lines were not drawn to get Hank Johnson’s protégé to be my representative. And you didn’t hear that. They were not drawn for that purpose, OK? They were not drawn for that purpose.”

Millar is referring above to Democratic nominee Jon Ossoff, who previously worked for Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson and just advanced to a hotly contested June runoff in a seat that has been Republican for decades. He’s also absolutely right: As Daily Kos Elections has demonstrated, the district’s current boundaries played an instrumental role in ensuring that Georgia Democrats hold just three congressional districts in the Atlanta area instead of the four that simple math suggests they ought to hold.

It’s also not hard to feel that there’s a racial element to Millar’s remarks: Johnson, who serves the neighboring 4th District, is African-American, while the 6th has always been represented by white Republicans. Referring to Ossoff as Johnson’s “protégé” sounds like yet another attempt to suggest he doesn’t “belong” in the 6th District. And Millar deserves no benefit of the doubt: Three years ago, he vowed to shut down early voting in DeKalb County (where part of the 6th is located) because it was “dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches.”

Millar’s admission that Republicans intentionally drew the 6th District to ensure that they would win it does more than just expose the GOP’s flagrant efforts to twist the democratic process to its own benefit. It could also potentially come back to bite Republicans in court. Several major cases currently working their way toward the Supreme Court could finally result in the justices imposing limits on gerrymandering for partisan gain. By admitting what the GOP’s motivation was in drawing the 6th, Millar may have just handed opponents of gerrymandering a smoking gun.

Redistricting

Delaware: Delaware is one of just a handful of states where Democrats had full control over the legislative redistricting process after the 2010 census, and after prevailing in a hotly contested special election earlier this year, Team Blue still remains fully in charge of state government.

Surprisingly, though, Democrats in the state Senate just passed a bill that would hand over redistricting to an independent redistricting commission. The proposed panel would have a balance of three Democrats, three Republicans, and three independents, and legislators would be prevented from serving on the commission or handpicking its members.

The bill now moves on to the state House, where Democrats also have a majority, and passage appears likely. Although a few Republicans supported the bill in the Senate, most of them were opposed, which is odd because the current partisan control would once again allow Democrats to draw new district lines after 2020. However, if this bill becomes law, it wouldn’t affect congressional redistricting, since Delaware only has a single statewide congressional seat, and that’s not going to change with the next census.

Texas: On Thursday, a federal district court struck down the state House map that Texas Republicans drew in 2011 on the grounds that lawmakers intentionally engaged in racial discrimination in violation of the Voting Rights Act, the 14th Amendment, and the bedrock principle of “one person, one vote.” This major victory for voting rights could subsequently result in Republican legislators having to draw a new map for the 2018 elections that would give black and Latino voters the ability to elect their preferred candidates in more districts, most likely Democrats.

Making matters more complicated, federal courts had blocked the 2011 map from taking effect in full, imposing temporary changes ahead of the 2012 cycle that still largely left the original gerrymander in place. However, Republican legislators later passed a new plan in 2013 to make most of those changes permanent. That means reformers will have to wage a separate legal challenge to that plan, too, since it’s the one currently in effect, but that litigation should be much easier and quicker if Thursday’sruling against the original 2011 map stands.

And yeah, about that whole “2011” thing: This case has been ongoing for six years, and litigants completed their arguments all the way back in 2014. Plaintiffs rightly grew outraged at the court’s endless foot-dragging in such a major case of constitutional importance. As a result of this slow walk, Republicans have potentially gotten away with an illegal racial gerrymander for a majority of this decade, demonstrating how it pays for cynical lawmakers to draw illegal maps, since courts of course can’t invalidate previous elections conducted under prior maps.

There’s still a long way to go before this litigation concludes, and infuriatingly, it still might not be over in time to have new maps in place for the 2018 elections. This ruling will also have to survive a likely appeal to the Supreme Court, but given the frequent hostility swing Justice Anthony Kennedy has lately shown toward racial gerrymandering, there’s a good chance of success. If the plaintiffs ultimately prevail, Texas could end up with new state House districts that increase representation for black and Latino voters, and consequently Democrats, too.

There’s another, longer-term angle at play as well. Thursday’s ruling follows two separate recent court decisions that invalidated the Texas GOP’s congressional map and strict voter ID law, and all three crucially held that Republicans intentionally discriminated based on race. These repeated findings of intentional discrimination could be grounds for forcing Texas to seek Justice Department approval for all new voting-law changes for up to 10 years, which it previously had to do until the Supreme Court struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act in 2013. While Attorney General Jeff Sessions is unlikely to block new oppressive voting laws, a future Democratic administration could.

Voter Suppression

Indiana: The Hoosier State’s Republican secretary of state, Connie Lawson, announced on Tuesday that she had purged nearly half a million voter registrations from the rolls since November, or roughly 10 percent of the statewide total. While voter registries undoubtedly need to stay up to date as people move or die, in Indiana, local election administrators usually handle this task day-to-day.

Such an unusual and massive purge of supposedly inactive voters therefore almost automatically raises questions, because it could easily ensnare those who simply haven’t voted in a while and didn’t respond to postcards asking them to update their voter records but nonetheless haven’t moved or died. Indiana does not allow same-day registration, so those who are unaware that their registrations have been canceled would have little recourse if they show up to vote on Election Day. Voting rights advocates are trying to ascertain the impact of this voter purge, and if there is evidence of improper removals, litigation is likely.

Nebraska: Nebraska is one of the few states with a Republican-controlled state government that still has no voter ID law, but that might change soon. A committee in the state’s unicameral legislature (which is called the Senate) just advanced a resolution to the full chamber on a party-line vote that would refer a state constitutional amendment to the 2018 ballot. This measure would require voters to present a photo ID to cast a ballot. With Democrats promising a filibuster, Republicans and the lone Republican-turned-Libertarian will need perfect party unity to attain the two-thirds majority needed for passage.

North Dakota: Republican legislators have sent a new strict voter ID bill to GOP Gov. Doug Burgum, who is expected to sign it. North Dakota is the only state that doesn’t have voter registration at all, so identification of some sort makes more sense here than elsewhere, but not at the cost of disenfranchising eligible voters when fraud is nearly nonexistent. Indeed, a federal court struck down the state’s previous voter ID law because of its disparate impact on Native Americans living on reservations, who often lack a driver’s license, birth certificate, or even a residential address.

Under the court-ordered status quo, North Dakotans without the proper ID can still cast a ballot by swearing to their identity under penalty of perjury. However, this latest bill would still require those who don’t present an ID on Election Day to follow up and prove their identity shortly afterward for their vote to count, effectively undermining the court’s ruling.

One in 20 voters used the affidavit option to vote in 2016, and blocking them from voting could swing a close election to the GOP. That includes next year’s key Senate race, where Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp faces a tough re-election battle.

Texas: As expected, a state House committee has sent a bill to the full floor that would make permanent the changes to Texas’ strict voter ID law that a court ordered the state to implement for the 2016 election cycle. The state Senate has already approved the measure, which would allow those with a reasonable impediment to obtaining an ID to sign a statement under threat of perjury that would let them cast a ballot. It would also impose far stricter penalties for those who provide false information. Voting rights advocates have, however, warned that even this softer requirement will cause confusion, and litigation remains ongoing.

Voting Access

Montana: State legislative Republicans appear to have finally killed a bill that would have conducted Montana’s upcoming May 25 special election for its lone House seat entirely by mail. Since the state’s existing budget hadn’t allocated funds to conduct the special election, many county election administrators and a handful of key Republicans supported vote-by-mail as a cost-saving mechanism, while Democrats also pushed the measure as a way to boost turnout. However, most Republican legislators opposed it, with the state GOP chair even going so far as to explicitly acknowledge that his party’s opposition came about solely because Republicans think higher turnout helps Democrats.

The measure surprisingly had majority support in both Republican-controlled legislative chambers, but a state House committee had blocked it from receiving a full vote. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock subsequently used a special power known as an “amendatory veto” to send the provision to the full floor, but the Republican speaker simply refused to schedule a vote. The legislative session will soon draw to a close, and proponents lack the three-fifths supermajority needed to force a vote.

Felony Disenfranchisement

Florida: The Florida Supreme Court has now cleared the way for a 2018 ballot initiative to proceed that would automatically restore the voting rights of those with past felony convictions who have fully completed their sentences. Florida’s lifetime prohibition bans one in 10 adults from voting, more than any other state, and that includes a staggering one in five black people. Nearly 1.5 million people are disenfranchised in Florida despite having fully served their time, or roughly one fourth of the entire country’sdisenfranchised population of about 6 million people.

Indeed, the historical record shows that the very premise of disenfranchising those with past felony convictions is racially discriminatory by design, and George W. Bush almost certainly would not have become president in 2000 without Florida’s hard-line laws. These laws, in fact, could also have made the difference for Florida Republicans in key close races that they won for president last year and for governor in both 2010 and 2014, demonstrating just how high the stakes are and why Republican-led opposition will be fierce.

Following Thursday’s court ruling, this amendment still has far to go. Proponents need to gather just over 750,000 valid signatures by Feb. 1 of next year, and if they’re successful, 60 percent of voters would have to support the measure that November. While this reform isn’t quite perfect, it would nonetheless strike an enormous blow against felony disenfranchisement in America.

Electoral College

Nebraska: Nebraska Republicans have passed a bill out of committee in the state’s unicameral legislature that would end Nebraska’s system of assigning one Electoral College vote to the winner in each of its three congressional districts and two to the statewide victor. The proposed bill would have Nebraska switch to giving every vote to the statewide winner like the other 48 states and D.C. do. (The only state that does it like Nebraska is Maine, where Donald Trump won a single electoral vote last year in the state’s rural 2nd District.)

Republicans have frequently tried to switch Nebraska a winner-take-all system, largely because Barack Obama picked off the Omaha-based 2nd District’s electoral vote in 2008, and Hillary Clinton lost the district just 48-46 last year. Although Republicans have a dominant legislative majority, they will need to maintain perfect party unity to overcome a Democratic filibuster, leaving this bill’s chance of success uncertain.

This move comes as Republicans in three Clinton-won states have mulled switching to a by-congressional district allocation since the 2016 election, allowing them to effectively gerrymander the Electoral College. Taken together, these plans are an effort to make the Electoral College even more biased toward Republicans compared to the national popular vote.

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

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Voting Rights Roundup: North Carolina Republicans plot even more new ways to rig elections-reminder


North Carolina: It seems that not a week goes by without North Carolina’s Republican legislators concocting new schemes to change election laws to their benefit and usurp power from newly elected Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. The GOP’s latest set of proposals would turn local elections into partisan contests for city councils, school boards, and even judges sitting on lower courts. Republicans hope that identify candidates by party will help them win downballot offices from Democrats in locales where the electorate otherwise leans Republican. Indeed, the state House has already approved these changes for judicial races, although the good news is that the measure passed with less than three-fifths support, meaning Cooper could successfully veto it if it also passes the Senate.

A separate effort would change the state Board of Education from an appointed body into an elected one. The governor currently chooses most of the board’s members, but the GOP’s bill would allow him to appoint only the board’s chairman, while the superintendent of public instruction and lieutenant governor (two Republican elected officials) would remain on the board.

Republicans also figured out a way to retain a hammerlock on the board’s 13 other members: elect one for each congressional district in the state. Since Republicans drew an extreme gerrymander (shown in the map at the top of this post) that guarantees them 10 of those seats in the House, this provision would almost certainly do the same for the board.

Unexpectedly, another proposal would move municipal elections from odd- to even-numbered years to increase turnout. That change could actually end up hurting Republican candidates, since races in even years often see higher turnout among Democratic-leaning demographics such as young voters and African-Americans.

Finally, several Republican lawmakers introduced a House bill to extend the length of the terms state legislators in both chamber serve from two years to four. Deviously, this proposed change would only take effect starting in 2022, meaning North Carolina would thenceforth elect its legislature only in midterm years. That could give Republicans a major leg up, since Democratic turnout tends to disproportionately drop in non-presidential elections. The measure would also impose a three-term limit for members of either chamber.

Changing the composition of the Board of Education and altering term lengths in this manner would require state constitutional amendments. Thanks to gerrymandering on the legislative level, Republicans just narrowly hold the three-fifths supermajorities needed to pass the measures, but any amendment would have to face voter approval, too. Unfortunately, legislators could time a referendum to coincide with the 2018 primary, when low turnout could result in a disproportionately Republican-leaning electorate.

Campaign Finance

Federal Election Commission: Democrat Ann Ravel announced that she plans to step down from the Federal Election Commission, which oversees campaign finance regulations. The commission has long been deadlocked between three Democrats and three Republicans, crippling its ability to adequately regulate elections, since the Republican commissioners almost invariably vote for less oversight. Ravel cited this very gridlock as a reason for her leaving.

While traditionally, Senate leaders in each party select their party’s commissioners, the ultimate authority to name Ravel’s replacement lies with Donald Trump. By law, no more than three commissioners can come from the same political party, but there’s nothing forcing Trump to appoint a Democrat as opposed to a conservative independent. Given Trump’s disdain for honoring longstanding political norms, he might appoint a commissioner who would side with the three Republicans, giving them an effective majority.

Such a move could be devastating for campaign finance restrictions. No longer shackled by partisan deadlock, the FEC could enable even more unaccountable campaign spending by overturning existing regulations and even participating in litigation against current restrictions. With no filibuster in the Senate, Democrats would be powerless to stop Trump from nominating an anti-regulation crusader if he so chooses.

Voting Access

California: California already tries to make voting easier than many states by automatically registering voters and by allowing everyone who wants to vote by mail, but despite these efforts, it still lags when it comes to turnout rates. One Democratic state senator wants to turn Election Day in November into a holiday for schools and state workers as a way to make it easier to vote. The bill wouldn’t affect private businesses, but its sponsor hopes many would follow suit.

Idaho: A committee in Idaho’s Republican-dominated state House approved a measure that would potentially cut early voting availability under the guise of standardizing the number of early voting hours offered throughout the state. Current law gives local jurisdictions the authority to choose whether to begin early voting on or before the third week prior to an election. This bill would restrict the start of early voting to one to three weeks before Election Day, which could reduce the current number of hours offered in some locales.

Nevada: Election reformers filed signatures last December to put an automatic voter registration law up for a statewide vote. The measure would register anyone who interacts with the Department of Motor Vehicles unless they choose to opt out. However, Nevada law gives the legislature the opportunity to pass such measures first, thereby avoiding the ballot.

Following the lead of these reformers, the Democratic-controlled state Assembly approved implementing automatic registration last week on a party-line vote. Democrats also hold a majority in the Senate, but they don’t have enough votes in either chamber to override a potential veto from Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval. However, even if Sandoval vetoes the measure, it would still head to voters in 2018.

Election Reform

Utah: A bipartisan group of state legislators want this ruby red state to consider adopting instant-runoff voting, where voters rank multiple candidates in order of preference. If no one attains a majority in the first round, the last place candidate gets eliminated, and votes for that candidate shift to each voter’s second preference. That process repeats until one candidate achieves a majority.

Maine recently became the first state to implement instant-runoff voting for state and congressional races following a 2016 ballot initiative, but Utah could become the first state to pass this reform legislatively. Proponents want it to apply up and down the ballot in races where more than two candidates are running. A state House committee has already advanced a bill to the full chamber for consideration, but its chances of success are uncertain.

Electoral College

Connecticut: The Nutmeg State’s legislature will soon hold hearings over a proposal to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. That plan would award Connecticut’s seven Electoral College votes to the national popular vote winner regardless of which presidential candidate wins the state, but only if enough states amounting to a majority of electoral votes also sign on.

This compact is far and away the most realistic path toward having presidential elections reflect the popular vote, so naturally, most Republicans are adamantly opposed. Ten states and D.C. have currently joined the compact, but their total of 165 electoral votes is still well shy of the 270 majority needed for it to come into effect.

Democrats narrowly control Connecticut’s state government thanks to their lieutenant governor, who can break ties in their favor in the tied state Senate. So if the party is serious about this vital reform, they could pass it without any Republican support.

Maine: Democratic legislators in Maine also want their small state to add its four electoral votes to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Maine is one of just two states (along with Nebraska) that divides its electoral votes by congressional district. Candidates get one vote for each district that they win and two if they win the state. That system saw Donald Trump pick off one electoral vote thanks to his edge in the 2nd District, meaning Maine helped contribute to Trump’s Electoral College victory even though he lost the popular vote nationwide.

Democrats currently control the state House, but Republicans have a one-seat majority in the state Senate and hold the governor’s office. While Trump-esque Gov. Paul LePage could veto this bill even if it were to somehow pass the legislature, he’s term-limited in 2018. Democrats have a good chance of regaining the governor’s mansion and even retaking the state Senate next year. If they do attain unified control over the state government, they could have Maine join the popular vote compact ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

New Mexico: The Democratic-controlled state Senate recently approved a bill to include its five electoral votes in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. This bill passed on a party-line vote, and although Democrats also hold the state House, they don’t have enough seats to override a possible veto from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. However, like LePage in Maine, Martinez is term-limited in 2018, so New Mexico could join the compact by 2020 if they can win next year’s gubernatorial race.

But even if these three small states all enter the compact before the next presidential election, its members would still only total 181 electoral votes. In order to reach the 270 threshold, supporters would need to make inroads in several larger states, including some currently under Republican control.

Felony Disenfranchisement

Virginia: Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe took executive action in 2016 to begin restoring the voting rights of all citizens with felony convictions who had fully served out their sentences, an effort Republicans unsuccessfully opposed in court. In reaction, the Republican-run state Senate recently approved a state constitutional amendment that would restrict the governor’s ability to restore voting rights by making the process automatic but also imposing new burdensome restrictions.

However, the GOP-dominated state House just sunk that plan when a key committee decided not to advance the proposal. A constitutional amendment would need to pass both legislative chambers both this year and again after the 2017 elections, followed by a statewide voter referendum. With the legislature soon adjourning for the year, this measure appears to be dead for now.

Voter Suppression

Arkansas: As we’ve covered previously, the GOP-dominated state House passed a voter ID bill earlier this month, and the staunchly Republican state Senate appears poised to follow suit soon. A Senate committee passed an amended bill that would somewhat soften the House’s ID requirement by allowing registered voters who don’t have an ID to sign a sworn affidavit permitting them to vote. While that option could indeed lessen the law’s burden, the requirement could nonetheless intimidate registered voters who lack ID into not voting, or still disenfranchise them if a poll worker were to decide their signature doesn’t match the one on file.

Meanwhile, a House committee approved a resolution to put a constitutional amendment implementing voter ID on the ballot for 2018. The state Supreme Court had previously struck down as unconstitutional the voter ID law that Republican legislators passed in 2013, though GOP legislators believe their latest voter ID bill will survive judicial review, but it looks like they also want to change the state constitution just to be sure.

North Carolina: Last summer, a federal appeals court brought the hammer down on North Carolina Republicans’ sweeping 2013 voter suppression law, striking it down while slamming it for “target[ing] African-Americans with almost surgical precision.” Republican Gov. Pat McCrory had asked the Supreme Court to review the law right before he left office at the end of last year, but now the man who beat him is trying to drop the state’s appeal. New Gov. Roy Cooper and state Attorney General Josh Stein moved to dismiss the attorneys who had been representing the state.

It’s uncertain, though, whether the two Democrats will be able to succeed. Republican state legislators could try to find a way to hire outside counsel to argue the state’s appeal, but the legislature itself is not a party to the lawsuit. Should those lawmakers succeed, though, the Supreme Court could reverse at least part of the lower court ruling if Trump’s nominee, Neil Gorsuch, gets confirmed.

Texas: Last year, a federal appeals court ruled that Texas’ strict voter ID law was racially discriminatory ahead of the 2016 elections. The judges had ordered the state to temporarily “soften” the law’s requirements by allowing registered voters who lacked the appropriate ID to sign a sworn affidavit to cast a ballot. Republican legislators are now fast-tracking a new bill that would make this system permanent so that the state remains in compliance with the court ruling. However, the Supreme Court might still hear a future appeal once a Trump appointee fills the high court’s vacant seat.

Ballot Measures

Arizona: Progressives have scored recent victories at the ballot box in Arizona, like a $12-an-hour minimum wage and a paid leave measure in 2016. And years ago, voters established an independent redistricting commission, which Republicans unsuccessfully fought in court in their quest to gerrymander the state. Unhappy that they can’t defeat progressive reforms when they’re on the ballot, Republican legislators are now mulling using their unified control over state government to impose new restrictions on the initiative and referendum process itself.

One proposal would ban campaigns from paying petition circulators on a per-signature basis, forcing them to pay them by the hour or rely on volunteers. Such a change could make it far more expensive for campaigns to obtain the voter signatures needed to put measures on the ballot because it could kill the incentive for circulators to gather as many signatures as possible.

Republicans claim that this proposal is an attempt to eliminate fraud, but the state already checks signatures for validity when campaigns submit them. And of course, Republicans don’t propose to ban paying circulators per signature when candidates themselves seek to qualify for the ballot, demonstrating just how nonsensical their justification is of supposedly preventing fraud.

Another bill would impose an even more onerous requirement that campaigns gather signatures in all 30 state legislative districts. This hurdle would make it particularly burdensome for progressive groups to acquire enough signatures in a timely manner because they’d have to target staunchly Republican districts, and canvassing in sparsely populated rural areas would be particularly time-consuming and costly. For instance, the state’s 5th Legislative District, which stretches almost 300 miles from the Utah border to just north of Yuma (and voted for Trump 73-22), is 533 times the size of the 30th District in downtown Phoenix (which backed Clinton 62-32). Good luck finding Democrats in a district like the 5th.

A House committee has already approved both of these changes, but there’s more afoot. Arizona has a law on the books called the Voter Protection Act that currently prohibits the legislature from altering voter-initiated laws in ways that undermine the statute’s intent. The GOP-controlled state House wants to do away with that act and has already voted to refer a ballot measure to the voters that would repeal the law and allow legislators to easily thwart voter-initiated laws measures.

When Republicans can’t gerrymander or suppress voters to guarantee victory, placing new restrictions on the ballot initiative process is a logical next step for those seeking to thwart democracy.

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

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Supreme Court reverses ruling that protected Virginia GOP’s legislative gerrymander


VA Redistricting, VA State House: On Wednesday, the United States Supreme Court ruled for plaintiffs who had argued that 12 of Virginia’s Republican-drawn state House of Delegates districts were unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. The high court overturned a previous district court ruling that had found Virginia did not impermissibly use race. They remanded the case back to the district court for reconsideration using a different legal standard that makes it much more likely that many of these challenged districts could ultimately be invalidated.

Republican legislators admitted to using a hard population threshold of 55 percent African American when they redrew state House districts that already had a black majority. This was done without consideration as to whether that proportion was actually necessary to elect black voters’ representatives of choice under the Voting Rights Act. In most cases, the needed proportion was likely below that number. By packing black voters into a few heavily black districts, legislators made it harder for black voters to elect their preferred candidates in neighboring seats.

However, the district court ruled that because legislators’ map didn’t flagrantly override other traditional redistricting criteria like compactness, it wasn’t immediately obvious that race “predominated” the decision-making process. Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling faulted the district court for using the wrong legal standard, holding that plaintiffs in racial gerrymandering cases like this one did not need to prove that the state had violated traditional redistricting criteria for the use of race to be impermissible.

This distinction is important because not all gerrymanders have odd shapes, and it’s often far easier for plaintiffs to prove that a map has a racially discriminatory impact than to show that those drawing it acted with discriminatory intent. The case will now go back to the district court, where plaintiffs won’t have to meet the much higher burden of proving that legislators subordinated other criteria to race.

This lower threshold of burden could make it easier to bring racial gerrymandering challenges in the future. That could have profound consequences, since Daily Kos Elections has previously demonstrated how nearly every Southern state could have drawn another congressional district to elect black or Latino voters’ candidate preference in the 2010s round of congressional redistricting. Many Republican-drawn state legislatures could similarly face future challenges just like in Virginia.

This ruling could result in an outcome much like a 2015 Supreme Court ruling against Alabama, where they faulted the state for using a mechanical population proportion threshold without demonstrating it was necessary to elect black voters’ candidate choice. The court also remanded that decision back to the lower court, which in turn eventually struck down Alabama’s legislative districts in January as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders and ordered new maps.

There is no guarantee that a reconsidered district court ruling could come in time to affect Virginia’s state House elections this November, and a delayed ruling could potentially even result in 2018 special elections for the affected districts. However, if the court strikes down the districts in question and orders legislators to draw new ones, black voters and consequently Democrats could gain significantly.

The Republican-controlled legislature currently lacks the votes to override Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s vetoes, and this situation could persist following the 2017 elections if Democrats win the race to succeed McAuliffe. After a federal court struck down Virginia’s congressional map in an unrelated racial gerrymandering case in 2015, the two parties couldn’t reach a compromise, so the court drew its own plan for the affected districts.

Such a result could see a dramatically more favorable map for Democrats than if Republicans got another chance to draw a new gerrymander. A new court-drawn map wouldn’t automatically hand Democrats control of the state House, but it could at least put the possibility of majority on the table. That would be an enormous victory against gerrymandering considering that the current map has consistently given Republicans roughly a two-thirds majority even though they haven’t won a statewide election since 2009.

A state court on Tuesday allowed an unrelated lawsuit to proceed to trial against both Virginia’s state House and state Senate maps. Unlike the federal racial gerrymandering case, that upcoming suit challenges the maps under a state constitutional provision that mandates districts be compact. The U.S. Supreme Court also has yet to rule in another critical racial gerrymandering lawsuit in North Carolina, which could affect how the district court in Virginia’s racial gerrymandering case revisits its overturned ruling.

Senate

ND-Sen: This is Rep. Kevin Cramer, the GOP’s top choice to challenge Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, commenting on female members of Congress’ attire at Trump’s Tuesday speech:

But by the way, did you notice how poorly several of them were dressed as well? It is a syndrome. There is no question, there is a disease associated with the notion that a bunch of women would wear bad-looking white pantsuits in solidarity with Hillary Clinton to celebrate her loss. You cannot get that weird.

Gubernatorial

FL-Gov: This week, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum became the first Democrat to announce that he’ll run for this open seat in 2018. Gillum is unlikely to be the last, though, with ex-Rep. Gwen Graham and wealthy Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine both likely to get in, and several other Democrats also flirting with bids.

Very little of Florida is in the Tallahassee media market, so Gillum likely won’t start with much statewide name recognition. If Graham also runs, she and Gillum could also be competing for the same North Florida geographic base. However, Gillum is likely to be the only serious African American candidate in the primary, which could help him stand out in a crowded race. Twenty-seven percent of the 2016 presidential primary electorate was black so if Gillum can do well with black voters, it could go a long way towards helping him win the nomination.

Gillum has been mentioned as a Democratic rising star for a while but winning a statewide race in Florida is very expensive, and we’ll see if he’ll be able to raise the money he’ll need to do well next year. No Republicans have entered the race to succeed termed-out GOP Gov. Rick Scott, though state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will likely start out as the primary frontrunner once he gets in.

ID-Gov: On Wednesday, developer Tommy Ahlquist announced that he would seek the GOP nomination to succeed retiring Republican Gov. Butch Otter. Ahlquist’s company worked on two major projects in downtown Boise and Ahlquist was a finalist for a post on the state Board of Education in 2014, so he sounds like he has some connections. Ahlquist is also wealthy and reportedly ready to spend millions of his own money.

Ahlquist will face Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who has Otter’s support, and 2014 primary candidate and ex-state Sen. Russ Fulcher in the primary. Rep. Raul Labrador, one of the most prominent bomb throwers in Congress, is also reportedly planning to run. Ahlquist’s rivals may already have some attack lines against him. In 2014, Ahlquist donated to Democratic nominee A.J. Balukoff, and Democratic state Rep. Phylis King later wrote a letter encouraging Team Blue to make Ahlquist their 2018 candidate. Ahlquist insists he’s a lifelong conservative who backed Otter and only donated to Balukoff out of friendship, but his intra-party foes may argue he’s not a real Republican.

Ahlquist is portraying himself as a businessman outsider, which hasn’t actually been a successful line in Idaho politics. According to the University of Minnesota’s Eric Ostermeier, Ahlquist would be the first Idaho governor in over 100 years who didn’t previously hold an elected office.

Idaho is a very conservative state, and Democrats haven’t won the governor’s office since Cecil Andrus was re-elected in 1990. Balukoff, who lost to Otter 54-39 during the 2014 GOP wave, says he’s considering a second bid, and other Democrats aren’t exactly clamoring to run here. Balukoff, a wealthy businessman who served as president of the Boise School Board and remains a member of the board, did get the national GOP’s attention in October of that year when the Republican Governor’s Association dropped six-figures worth of ads on him, ads that continued into the final days of the race.

Balukoff seems to have benefited from voter fatigue with Otter, which still wasn’t enough in this red state in a tough year. If Little wins the GOP nod and voters see him as an unwelcome extension of Otter’s governorship, Team Blue may have a chance to do what they couldn’t do in 2014, but Democrats will still need a lot to go right next year to flip this seat.

NM-Gov: Attorney General Hector Balderas has been considering seeking the Democratic nomination for a while, and he tells the National Journal that he “won’t wait past summer” to make a decision. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham has had the primary to herself since December, while businessman and 2014 candidate Alan Webber; Santa Fe Mayor Javier Gonzales; former Univision executive Jeff Apodaca; and state Sen. Joseph Cervantes have also talked about getting in.

OH-Gov: Several Democrats were waiting to see if Rep. Tim Ryan would run for governor, and his Tuesday announcement that he’d stay in the House gave them their answer. State Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni quickly announced he was in, while ex-Rep. Betty Sutton says she’ll announce her plans next week. However, ex-Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams, who has a similar geographic base as Schiavoni, still says he’s considering and “will likely make a decision in March or April at the latest.”

SD-Gov: Rep. Kristi Noem, who represents all of South Dakota in the House, kicked off her bid for the GOP nomination last year, and she’ll have some primary competition. Attorney General Marty Jackley has never made it a secret that he was planning to run, and while he doesn’t seem to have publicly announced he’s in, his official Facebook and Twitter pages display a “Marty Jacky for Governor” banner. That’s good enough for us to consider him an official candidate to succeed termed-out Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

A third Republican may also get in, with Lt. Gov. Matt Michels saying he’ll decide after the legislative session ends in late March. Lieutenant governors often don’t have much name recognition with voters, and it’s unclear if Michels will have the money and connections he’d need to take on heavy hitters like Noem and Jackley. The local station KELO also says there are “rumblings as to possible candidates for governor” like Sen. Mike Rounds, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011, but we haven’t seen any sign that Rounds is interested in seeking out his old job.

The last time Democrats won the governorship was 1974, when incumbent Richard Kneip was re-elected. Democrats have a very small bench here, and it got even smaller last year when Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Huether left the party to become an independent. KELO calls state Senate Minority Leader Billie Sutton and ex-U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson, the son of ex-Sen. Tim Johnson, rumored candidates. However, Johnson said back in November that he “won’t be running for anything” in 2018, and there’s no indication he’s changed his mind. Huether has flirted with running for governor as an independent, which could make it even tougher for Team Blue to win.

House

GA-06: Well, we knew this was coming: You don’t raise seven figures for a congressional special election and have Republicans not take notice. But it’s safe to say we had no idea the GOP’s response would look this utterly bizarre. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC closely tied to House Speaker Paul Ryan, just announced plans to spend $1.1 million on a minute-long TV attacking Democrat Jon Ossoff for the sin of—and we’re not joking here—dressing up as Han Solo in college.

The spot mainly features a few clips of Ossoff goofing around with some fellow Star Wars enthusiasts—in other words, some very normal-looking fun and games from a decade ago. It’s obviously designed to make voters think the 30-year-old Ossoff is still just an unready college kid, but for all we know, it’ll make him look like a regular human being who, like everyone else, loves Han Solo because he’s just the coolest character ever to walk on to a Hollywood set. Let’s just put it this way, kid: We’ve flown from one side of this galaxy to the other, and we’ve seen a lot of strange stuff, but we’ve never seen anything quite like this.

IA-03: On Wednesday, wealthy investor Mike Sherzan announced that he would seek the Democratic nomination to face GOP Rep. David Young in this Des Moines-area seat. This is the third cycle in a row that Sherzan has run. In 2013, Sherzan dropped out after a few months citing health issues, while he lost the 2016 primary to veteran Jim Mowrer 50-36.

At least two other Democrats, Office of Consumer Advocate attorney Anna Ryan and longtime political consultant Pete D’Alessandro, are talking about getting in, and one of them might try attacking Sherzan the same way Mowrer did last year. Sherzan seemed to be well positioned through most of the primary, with even a Mowrer poll from two weeks before the contest giving Mowrer just a 36-35 lead. However, Mowrer ran a commercial late arguing that “banker Mike Sherzan was fighting to weaken President Obama’s Wall Street reform laws.” It’s unclear how much damage Mowrer’s message really did in the homestretch, but Sherzan should probably anticipate a similar line-of-attack this time.

In 2016, Sherzan spent about $800,000 of his own money on the primary and raised very little from donors. This time, Sherzan says he’s getting in early to give him time to fundraise, though he didn’t rule out doing more self-funding. Whoever makes it to the general won’t have an easy time against Young, who beat Mowrer 53-40 as this seat swung from 51-47 Obama to 49-45 Trump. Still, this district is competitive enough that it very well could flip in a good year for Team Blue.

MT-AL: On Wednesday, GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke was confirmed by the Senate to head the Department of the Interior. Zinke resigned that day, and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock scheduled the special election to succeed him for May 25, a Thursday. Montana backed Trump 56-35 and the GOP is favored to hold this seat, which contains the entire state. However, Bullock pulled off a 50-46 win against Republican Greg Gianforte last year and Sen. Jon Tester (whom Zinke may have challenged next year if he hadn’t been picked for the cabinet) won re-election 49-45 as Romney was carrying the state 55-42, so Montana is still open to electing Democrats.

Under Montana law, the parties will choose their nominees at conventions rather than through a primary. Democrats have announced that their convention will be on Sunday, while the GOP says they’re waiting to hear from the secretary of state to find out the deadline for submitting their nominee’s name to the state. On the Democratic side, state Rep. and 2014 Senate nominee Amanda Curtis, state Rep. Kelly McCarthy, and musician Rob Quist, who has the support of ex-Gov. Brian Schweitzer, are competing on Sunday. Several Republicans are also competing, including Gianforte. Gianforte, who says he’s raised $825,000 already, is arguing he already has enough support to win the GOP convention, but we’ll find out soon.

NJ-11: Democratic Assemblyman John McKeon recently refused to rule out a bid against longtime GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen in this North Jersey seat, and he now tells Politico that he’s spoken to the DCCC. However, McKeon also says he’s focusing on his re-election campaign this year. There’s nothing stopping McKeon from running for Congress after winning another term in the Assembly, but it would leave him with less time to fundraise for a House race in the ultra-expensive New York City media market. Frelinghuysen is the chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee so he’ll have absolutely no trouble bringing in cash, and the congressman is personally wealthy to boot. This ancestrally red seat, which includes Morristown, swung from 52-47 Romney to 49-48 Trump.

TX-23, TX-16, TX-20: Republican Rep. Will Hurd pulled off a narrow 48-47 win last year in his rematch with ex-Rep. Pete Gallego as Clinton was carrying his seat 50-46. Democrats will want to target this district, which stretches from the outskirts of El Paso east all the way to San Antonio, but it’s unclear whom they’ll field. Two Texas Democrats, state Rep. César Blanco and ex-state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, both tell the National Journal that they’re interested. However, each man says they’ve also been encouraged to run for a neighboring and safely blue seat if the incumbent congressman leaves to run for the Senate.

Over in the El Paso-based 16th District, Rep. Beto O’Rourke is flirting with a campaign against Sen. Ted Cruz, and Blanco says he’s been contacted about running there if O’Rourke leaves. In the San Antonio-area 20th, Rep. Joaquin Castro is also considering a Senate bid, and Martinez Fischer says he’s been encouraged to seek that seat if Castro tries for a promotion. Castro says he’ll likely decide in “seven or eight more weeks” and O’Rourke insists he might run for the Senate even if he needs to face Castro in a primary, so it’s possible that Blanco and Martinez Fischer will both run for Congress—just not against Hurd.

During his time in the state House, Martinez Fischer used the chamber’s rules to find ways to block the GOP majority. However, as Trowaman reminds us, Martinez Fischer memorably called the GOP “Gringos y Otros Pendejos” in a 2014 speech, a term that we’ll just say probably won’t play incredibly well in a swing seat where Anglo-Americans make up a large portion of the electorate.

Martinez Fischer’s last two elections also didn’t go particularly well. In 2015, Martinez Fischer lost a 2015 state Senate special election to fellow Democratic state Rep. Jose Menendez 59-41 in a big upset after Menendez relied heavily on GOP voters to win and a conservative group spent heavily on ads portraying Martinez Fischer as too close to trial lawyers. The next year, Martinez Fischer challenged Menendez in the Democratic primary and also lost 59-41.

Blanco, a Navy veteran who served as chief of staff for several Texas Democratic congressmen, including ex-23rd District Rep. Gallego, is considerably more low-key. If Blanco runs for Congress, his D.C. connections could help him raise money. However, almost all of Blanco’s seat is located in O’Rourke’s 16th Congressional District. If O’Rourke runs for the Senate, as he says he’s likely to do, Blanco may decide it makes more sense to run in the primary for the safely blue El Paso district where he has a base than run against Hurd in a swing seat.

Legislative

Special Elections: Connecticut held three special elections for the state legislature on Tuesday night, and as expected, no seats changed hands. But the results were interesting nonetheless. Here’s a quick summary:

Connecticut SD-02: This was an easy hold for the Democrats: State Rep. Douglas McCrory defeated Republican Michael McDonald 72-25.

Connecticut SD-32: Republicans kept this seat: State Rep. Eric Berthel defeated Democrat Greg Cava by a 54-44 margin.

Connecticut HD-115: Democrats held on to this one, with Dorinda Borer defeating Republican Edward Granfield by a 61-39 margin.

The 32nd Senate District race was the most closely contested of the three, but it should never have even been in question for Republicans. Donald Trump carried the seat by a 59-37 margin, meaning that Cava, the Democrat, ran 12 points ahead of Hillary Clinton’s performance. Meanwhile, in the 115th House District, Borer also outpaced the top of the ticket by 4 points. As we’ve noted repeatedly, Democrats almost always run behind presidential performance in special elections, but since Trump’s victory last fall, they’ve now exceeded the presidential margin in seven of nine Democrat-vs.-Republican special elections nationwide.

 

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.

A Great Day for Pregnant Workers in Massachusetts


   A Better Balance
Yesterday, after many years of advocacy, the Massachusetts Senate passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)! 
The bill will make it illegal for most Massachusetts employers to deny reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. Now it is one step closer to heading to the Governor’s desk, where he is expected to sign it. Massachusetts will become the 23rd state to grant explicit protections for pregnant workers in need of accommodations.
Under the PWFA, if a pregnant worker requests, for example, a few more breaks at work, or time off to recover from childbirth, or a temporary transfer to a less strenuous position, employers must grant such an accommodation unless it would be extremely difficult or expensive for them to do so. The legislation also makes clear that employers must provide a private space, other than a bathroom, to employees who are nursing and need to express breast milk at work. Women cannot be pushed out of their jobs or forced to risk their health.
This is a crucial, and hard fought, step forward for Massachusetts workers. A Better Balance has been working with advocates on this bill since 2014. We assisted in drafting the legislation, conducted legal research, authored a Letter to the Editor in the Boston Globe, co-authored a fact sheet, submitted testimony in support, negotiated with the business community, assisted with story collection and other communications support, and worked closely with local advocates and lawmakers every step of the way. For example, we had many conversations with the Massachusetts business lobby, AIM, to address some of their concerns about prior versions of the legislation. AIM now supports the legislation, demonstrating the widespread enthusiasm around this issue.
As MotherWoman, the coalition leading the PWFA effort in Massachusetts recently said, “Through a great collaborative effort among legislative sponsors, Rep. Dave Rogers, Rep. Ellen Story and Sen. Joan Lovely, our dedicated legal advocates at A Better Balance, and the team at AIM — who were so generous with their time and their attention to detail — we have a better proposal…It’s an important support for moms, children and families, and it makes good sense for both employers and employees.”
Congratulations to all those who worked on this campaign! Working families in Massachusetts have great reason to celebrate today! Please join us in spreading the good news.

on this day 7/3 1930 – The U.S. Congress created the U.S. Veterans Administration. 


1608 – The city of Quebec was founded by Samuel de Champlain.

1775 – U.S. Gen. George Washington took command of the Continental Army at Cambridge, MA.

1790 – In Paris, the marquis of Condorcet proposed granting civil rights to women.

1844 – Ambassador Caleb Cushing successfully negotiated a commercial treaty with China that opened five Chinese ports to U.S. merchants and protected the rights of American citizens in China.

1863 – The U.S. Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, PA, ended after three days. It was a major victory for the North as Confederate troops retreated.

1871 – The Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad Company introduced the first narrow-gauge locomotive. It was called the “Montezuma.”

1880 – “Science” began publication. Thomas Edison had provided the principle funding.

1890 – IDaho became the 43rd state to join the United States of America. 

1898 – During the Spanish American War, a fleet of Spanish ships in Cuba’s Santiago Harbor attempted to run a blockade of U.S. naval forces. Nearly all of the Spanish ships were destroyed in the battle that followed.

1903 – The first cable across the Pacific Ocean was spliced between Honolulu, Midway, Guam and Manila.

1912 – Rube Marquard of the New York Giants set a baseball pitching record when earned his 19th consecutive win.

1922 – “Fruit Garden and Home” magazine was introduced. It was later renamed “Better Homes and Gardens.”

1924 – Clarence Birdseye founded the General Seafood Corp.

1930 – The U.S. Congress created the U.S. Veterans Administration. 

1934 – U.S. Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) made its first payment to Lydia Losiger. 

1937 – Del Mar race track opened in Del Mar, CA.

1939 – Chic Young’s comic strip character, “Blondie” was first heard on CBS radio.

1940 – Bud Abbott and Lou Costello debuted on NBC radio.

1944 – The U.S. First Army opened a general offensive to break out of the hedgerow area of Normandy, France.

1944 – During World War II, Soviet forces recaptured Minsk.

1945 – U.S. troops landed at Balikpapan and take Sepinggan airfield on Borneo in the Pacific.

1945 – The first civilian passenger car built since February 1942 was driven off the assembly line at the Ford Motor Company plant in Detroit, MI. Production had been diverted due to World War II.

i dispute the info above with the info below…could be more info out there as well

1915- The first Patterson-Greenfield car debuted in 1915 and was sold for $850. With a four-cylinder Continental engine, the car was comparable to the contemporary Ford Model T. The Patterson-Greenfield car may, in fact, have been more sophisticated than Ford’s car, but C.R. Patterson & Sons never matched Ford’s manufacturing capability

1950 – U.S. carrier-based planes attacked airfields in the Pyongyang-Chinnampo area of North Korea in the first air-strike of the Korean War.

1954 – Food rationing ended in Great Britain almost nine years after the end of World War II.

1962 – Jackie Robinson became the first African American to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. 

1974 – The Threshold Test Ban Treaty was signed, prohibiting underground nuclear weapons tests with yields greater than 150 kilotons. 

1981 – The Associated Press ran its first story about two rare illnesses afflicting homosexual men. One of the diseases was later named AIDS.

1986 – U.S. President Reagan presided over a ceremony in New York Harbor that saw the relighting of the renovated Statue of Liberty.

1991 – U.S. President George H.W. Bush formally inaugurated the Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota.