By Wendy Underhill
Next month will be the peak of the annual redistricting news cycle, as the Supreme Court is expected to deliver its opinions on two partisan gerrymandering cases and one racial gerrymandering case. These are big deals (at least for politicos).
Can’t wait? Turns out, May has had lots of redistricting news too.
Stays: Redistricting cases in Michigan and Ohio were decided in favor of the plaintiffs earlier this spring by three-judge federal panels, who alleged the maps were drawn for partisan gain (even though there is no legally accepted standard for how much is too much). Both were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and last week, the court granted stays in both cases. While the orders gave no hints as to judicial thinking, it may signify that the court rulings in the two partisan cases next month will provide guidance for Michigan and Ohio.
Commissions: New Hampshire’s two chambers have each passed a plan to create a commission to tackle redistricting, with equal parts Democrats, Republicans and independents. The two chambers are seeking concurrence now. Virginia enacted a measure earlier this year calling for a redistricting commission as well. To go into effect, the same measure must be passed a second time next session, and then Virginians must vote to approve the constitutional amendment in 2020.
Commissioners: Montana has appointed members for its redistricting commission, the first commission in the nation to do so. (If I’m wrong on that, please contact me.) There are five members, 2 Ds, 2 Rs and an independent chair. One of the R’s, Jeff Essmann, is a former legislator, having served most recently in Montana’s House and previously as the Senate president.
Counting prisoners: When it comes to the U.S. Census, everyone counts, including prisoners. Because they reside at the prisons, it’s no surprise that the census reports them at the prison’s address. And yet, prisoners can’t vote in 48 states, so in rural districts with small populations, the prison population can be a substantial proportion of the whole population. Some observers think this makes for unequal representation. Washington state became the fifth to decide to reallocate prisoners to their previous addresses when possible. Nevada has a similar bill on the governor’s desk.
Other Enactments: Nevada SCR9 calls for a study of redistricting practices during its interim (which stretches until January 2021, since it is a state with biennial sessions). Mississippi HB 914 prohibits local jurisdictions from changing precinct boundaries between now and redistricting. And Arizona SB 1139 gives a special honor to Prescott, the territorial capital, by ensuring that it will be Legislative District One after the next round of redistricting.
In June, while waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings (or, if the rulings are already out, grappling with what those rulings mean for the states), please join us June 20-23 in Providence for NCSL’s first of five redistricting seminars.
Wendy Underhill is NCSL’s director of Elections and Redistricting.