New cutting commissions split along partisan lines – The North State Journal



FILE – In this March 2, 2020 file photo, Del. Martha Mugler, D-Hampton, second from right, and Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, right, walk past a group of protesters as they make their way to the Delegates House inside the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Va. Democrats wonder if they made a mistake in pushing too hard in some states for a non-partisan redistribution process. Redistribution is the ten-year process by which state legislatures redraw the political maps. Parties can gain major advantages if they draw seats in a way that favors their candidates. But Democrats have partly turned against this process, known as “gerrymandering”. (Bob Brown / Richmond Times-mailing via AP)

When voters in some states created new commissions to handle the politically thorny redistribution process, the hope was that bipartisan panelists could work together to draw new voting districts without partisan gerrymandering.

Instead, cooperation has proven elusive.

In New York City, Ohio and Virginia, the commissions meeting for the first time this year have split into partisan camps to develop competing slice maps based on data from the 2020 census.

As a result, the new Republican-led Ohio House and Senate districts will always favor the GOP. The Democrats who control New York could always draw maps as they please. And a potential deadlock in Virginia could eventually send the process back to court.

“It’s probably predictable that this is sort of the way things turned out,” said Alex Keena, a political scientist at Virginia Commonwealth University who has analyzed redistribution and gerrymandering.

Redistribution can have important consequences. Subtle changes in constituencies can solidify a majority of voters for a particular party or divide its opponents among multiple constituencies to dilute their influence. Republicans only need five seats to regain the United States House in the 2022 election, which could determine the fate of President Joe Biden’s remaining program.

Throughout most of American history, redistribution has been handled by lawmakers and state governors. But as public attention to gerrymandering has grown in recent decades, voters in some states have shifted the task to so-called special commissions.

Some committees, such as those in Arizona, California, Colorado and Michigan, are made up only of citizens who have the final say on which maps to adopt. But others, such as in Ohio and Virginia, include politicians among their membership or require their cards to be submitted to the legislature for final approval, as is the case in New York, Virginia, and Utah.

If the New York Democrat-led legislature rejects the work of the new commission (made up of four Democrats, four Republicans and two independents), then lawmakers can draft and adopt their own redistribution plans.

The prospects for that heightened last week, when Democrats and Republicans on the committee failed to come to an agreement and instead released competing versions of new maps for the U.S. House, the State Senate and State Assembly.

State Republican Party Chairman Nick Langworthy called Democratic cards “wildly gerrymandered” and accused Democratic commissioners of refusing to compromise.

State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs countered that there was no reason to “bend over backwards” to try to attract as many Republican seats as possible. He added: “We will be fair, but up to a point.”

The division of the commission frustrated Jennifer Wilson, deputy director of the League of Women Voters of New York. The organization supported the 2014 voting measure that created the commission and encouraged people to testify at the panel’s public hearings this year.

“It almost sounds like a slap in the face to us and to all those people who have spent time going out and submitting comments – have taken time in their daily lives to do so – when it is very obvious that there is no had no respect for any of those comments, ”Wilson said.

Michigan’s Citizen Redistribution Commission released its first draft of a new US Senate and House map last week and is still working on a State House map. He plans to garner more public comment on his proposals with the aim of finalizing the cards by the end of the year – exceeding the November 1 deadline set in the constitutional amendment approved by voters.

In Virginia, two separate cartographers hired for Democrats and Republicans are due to submit rival plans for consideration next week by the 16-member commission, which includes four lawmakers and four citizens from each major party. If the commission can’t come to an agreement – or if the Democratic-led General Assembly rejects its cards – the decision will rest with the state’s Supreme Court, which is dominated by GOP-appointed judges.

How the commissioners react to the two maps will determine whether the reform effort works, said Liz White, executive director of OneVirginia2021, which supported last year’s voting measure creating the commission. She hopes the panelists will find a way to “marry” the two proposals.

“We’re going to be able to go back to that kind of experience and see what works and what doesn’t,” White said. “I hope this will lead to better reforms in the future.”


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