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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