NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, August 19th, 2022

Netroots Nation 2022 — Day Two — Redistricting: What Happened? What Did We Learn? What’s Next?

Michael Li of the Bren­nan Center’s Democ­ra­cy Pro­gram opened this after­noon’s redis­trict­ing pan­el by stat­ing that although there have been his­toric gains in this redis­trict­ing cycle, “There are many maps in the coun­try that are still wide­ly skewed in favor of the par­ty that drew them.”

This pan­el also includ­ed Vic­to­ria Gri­jal­va Ochoa, who is the Can­di­date Recruit­ment Direc­tor of One Ari­zona, Sale­wa Ogun­mefun, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of Penn­syl­va­nia Voice, and Kha­di­dah Stone, a lit­i­ga­tor and orga­niz­er who leads the Evolve Amer­i­ca podcast.

The maps that Li men­tioned con­sis­tent­ly make it more dif­fi­cult for pro­gres­sives and minori­ties to win elec­tions. Li says that out­side of Cal­i­for­nia, there were very lim­it­ed improve­ments in rep­re­sen­ta­tion for peo­ple of col­or.

Ochoa dis­cussed the media atten­tion sur­round­ing Arizona’s Inde­pen­dent State Com­mis­sions, address­ing the pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive results pro­duced by the com­mis­sion. While reports are large­ly con­sid­er­ing Arizona’s maps to be some of the fairest, Ochoa argues there are still sig­nif­i­cant dis­par­i­ties in Ari­zona among minor­i­ty vot­ers. She clar­i­fied that just because a state uses a com­mis­sion process does not mean they have a fair redis­trict­ing process.

In her opin­ion, the biggest issue with Arizona’s com­mis­sion is the size. Cur­rent­ly, it includes two Repub­li­cans, two Democ­rats, and one inde­pen­dent. Only hav­ing one “tie-break­er” inde­pen­dent vote makes that per­son­’s bias­es very pow­er­ful in the process. Ochoa com­pared this small group to the much larg­er com­mis­sion in Michi­gan, which was very suc­cess­ful in draw­ing equi­table maps. She con­clud­ed that the most com­mon issue in oth­er com­mis­sion states, par­tic­u­lar­ly Vir­ginia, is the pres­ence of law­mak­ers on com­mis­sions.

Ochoa also stressed the impor­tance of open, acces­si­ble meet­ings and com­mu­ni­ty involve­ment in the redis­trict­ing process. This point was echoed by the rest of the pan­el, includ­ing Kha­di­dah Stone, who crit­i­cized Alabama’s open meet­ings for being at inac­ces­si­ble times, often in the mid­dle of the work day.

Stone dis­cussed her involve­ment in the lit­i­ga­tion of Mil­li­gan v Mer­rill, an Alaba­ma case argu­ing that Sec­tion 2 of the Vot­ing Right Act should be used to block Alabama’s ger­ry­man­dered maps. Stone says that these maps clear­ly dilute the votes of minori­ties, legit­imiz­ing their claim that the maps vio­late Sec­tion 2. Cur­rent­ly, Alaba­ma maps place the major­i­ty of Black vot­ers into a sin­gle con­gres­sion­al dis­trict, while the remain­ing Black vot­ers are split up into oth­er con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts.

Stone stressed the impor­tance of this case by stat­ing Alabama’s poor nation­al rat­ing in both health care and edu­ca­tion. In her opin­ion, redis­trict­ing has played a dis­tinct role in guar­an­tee­ing the needs of both poor and minor­i­ty vot­ers are unmet. Hav­ing a sec­ond pri­mar­i­ly Black con­gres­sion­al dis­trict, rather than break­ing up and dilut­ing the com­mu­ni­ty, will ulti­mate­ly allow for health­care and edu­ca­tion-focused can­di­dates to be more suc­cess­ful.

Li also addressed Mil­li­gan v Mer­rill as well as the forty-one oth­er active cas­es chal­leng­ing maps. The pri­ma­ry con­cern about these cas­es is that the Supreme Court will set the dan­ger­ous prece­dent that fed­er­al and state courts should not be involved in chal­lenges to maps. This posi­tion is based in the Con­sti­tu­tion­al pro­vi­sion charg­ing state leg­is­la­tures with the respon­si­bil­i­ty of hav­ing redrawn leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sion­al maps every decade.  The present Supreme Court could decide that they can only be drawn direct­ly by a state leg­is­la­ture and not dis­charged to such options as a com­mis­sion. Li said that this is a very dam­ag­ing prece­dent that would give state leg­is­la­tures the pow­er to draw maps with­out a nec­es­sary check against abus­es. In his opin­ion, there is a real dan­ger that the Supreme Court could move in this direc­tion this term.

Clos­ing com­ments includ­ed Stone announc­ing her goal to have ral­lies in every state cap­i­tal this Octo­ber 4th, when Mil­li­gan v Mer­rill is sched­uled to be heard before the Supreme Court. Ogun­mefun fol­lowed Stone’s announce­ment with a reminder to keep the role of redis­trict­ing on the fore­front of con­ver­sa­tions regard­ing increas­ing the facil­i­ty to both vote and to be reg­is­tered to vote. This means that even in the decade between the redis­trict­ing process­es, we need to remind vot­ers how impor­tant redis­trict­ing is in every cit­i­zen’s right to vote.

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