The amendment also removes a requirement to use the total population for redistricting—the norm in practically every state—and it instead loosens the language to allow for unspecified "data being used." That change opens the door to using the whiter adult citizen population for the purposes of drawing new lines, something that Donald Trump and Republicans pushed heavily for last year as part of a plot to undermine Democratic and Latino representation in redistricting. Although Trump failed in his drive to add a question on citizenship to the census, he's still trying to produce citizenship data by other means for states like Missouri to use.
Republicans hold the supermajorities needed to put this amendment on the ballot this year. They can also set the date for a time that doesn't coincide with November's general election, ensuring lower turnout and, likely, a more conservative electorate. The GOP unsuccessfully attempted a similar gambit last year only to unexpectedly lose on a procedural vote thanks to absent lawmakers, something that's unlikely to happen again.
Republicans also appear intent on adding modest language on ethics reforms in an attempt to hide the true purpose of the amendment, which is to gut redistricting reform. Republicans accused supporters of the 2018 amendment of doing this very thing by tying popular lobbying and ethics reforms to a redistricting reform they claimed wouldn't have passed without the other provisions. Even if that were true, however, reformers were trying to make the system fairer, not less so—as Republicans intend to.
● Virginia: Virginia legislators passed a constitutional amendment to reform redistricting last year before Republicans lost their majorities, but now that Democrats have full control over state government, it's unclear if they'll pass the same amendment a second time this year.
That step would be necessary for the measure to appear on the November ballot and therefore come into force ahead of the coming round of redistricting that will follow the 2020 census.
One reason for the hesitancy is that the amendment reflected a compromise between the parties and introduced a number of weaknesses. To remedy this problem, several Democratic legislators have introduced "enabling legislation" in an attempt to fix some of the amendment's potential flaws.
The original proposal creates a bipartisan 16-member commission for congressional and legislative redistricting, with half the commissioners made up of legislators from each major party and half comprised of citizens picked by retired judges. Maps would be subject to approval by the legislature and governor, but lawmakers could not draw their own.
The amendment turned out to be weaker than what reformers had proposed by dropping a number of criteria, including a ban on maps unduly favoring one party; a requirement to try to keep cities and counties whole; and a mandate to preserve communities of interest. As a result, nothing would prevent bipartisan gerrymandering to protect incumbents, though it would take bipartisan support for the commission to recommend a map to lawmakers, potentially limiting the chance for one-party distortion.
Democratic lawmakers' enabling bills (which you can find here and here) seek to address some of these concerns by requiring the commission members to reflect Virginia's demographic and geographic diversity; banning maps that intentionally favor a party or candidate; increasing transparency; and setting nonpartisan guidelines that the state Supreme Court must follow if commissioners fail to pass a map. That last provision is critical because Democrats are concerned that the state's highest court, which is dominated by conservatives, would draw maps that unfairly favor the Republican legislators who elevated them to the bench to begin with.
However, even if these newest provisions pass into law, they will still only be statutory, meaning there's a risk that they could later be repealed. Nevertheless, if they are enacted this year, they would be in place for the 2021 redistricting process, and Democrats could enshrine them into the state constitution in a future amendment. That prospect could make it more likely that Democrats will uphold their commitment to redistricting reform.
● Arizona: Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and state Attorney General Mark Brnovich have overridden a policy change implemented by Democratic Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, removing Hobbs' language from the state Elections Procedures Manual that had directed election officials to give voters who don't sign their absentee mail ballots several days to "cure" the problem after Election Day.
This change undermines a legal settlement between Hobbs' office and the Navajo Nation, which had sued in 2018 to ensure its members—and voters statewide—would have the chance to fix problems with a missing signature. As a result, the Navajo Nation is threatening further litigation.
● Georgia: A federal court has rejected a challenge from voting rights advocates who sought to restore roughly 100,000 registrations of voters who had been removed from the rolls by Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger simply because they had not voted in recent elections. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs, led by Democrat Stacey Abrams' Fair Fight, had failed to prove the purge violated the Constitution. Plaintiffs say they are considering an appeal.
Meanwhile, Democrats who are challenging Georgia's notification procedures concerning absentee ballot rejection in a separate case have amended their suit to also challenge the state's process for rejecting ballot signatures themselves.
The suit had originally sought to bar the state the state from rejecting any absentee ballots without notifying voters and giving them a chance to correct problems, such as their signature not matching the one on file. The additional claim seeks to block the state from using its current procedures for rejecting signatures as non-matching, arguing that they're arbitrarily enforced.
● North Carolina: A federal district court has issued a preliminary injunction blocking North Carolina's GOP-backed voter ID requirement, finding that the statute was likely enacted with discriminatory intent. A trial is expected to take place in the coming months.
This ruling comes three years after a previous voter ID law was struck down for what a federal court described as an effort to target black voters "with almost surgical precision." Republicans responded by placing a vaguely worded constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2018 to establish a new ID requirement. After voters approved the amendment, GOP lawmakers passed a statute implementing it in the lame-duck session of the legislature, over Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper's veto.
In this latest court ruling, Judge Loretta Biggs said Republicans had sought to "circumvent" prior legal decisions. She noted that the current voter ID law excluded forms of identification that black voters were more likely to possess, such as certain types of government and public assistance IDs. She further observed that even nominally free IDs take time and access to transportation to obtain, which could be burdensome for low-income voters especially.
Democratic state Attorney General Josh Stein announced that he will appeal the ruling. However, he said he would wait until after the March 3 primary to avoid any voter confusion, noting that absentee voting is set to begin in just under two weeks. While ordinarily an attorney general is tasked with defending state laws in court, Cooper, who was Stein's predecessor, declined to appeal the 2016 ruling striking down the GOP's original voter ID law to the Supreme Court, who in turn declined GOP legislators' pleas to hear the case. Meanwhile, the state Board of Elections has already begun informing the public that ID won't be required for the primary.
In addition, the amendment itself is facing a lawsuit. In a separate case, the NAACP has argued that because the legislature was improperly constituted since its members had been elected under illegally gerrymandered maps that were later struck down by the courts, lawmakers lacked the authority to amend the constitution. A state court agreed last year and struck down the amendment, but the state Court of Appeals has stayed the ruling while GOP legislators appeal.
● Texas: State and national Democratic Party organizations have filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit over Texas' refusal to offer online voter registration when citizens update their driver's license address online, even though the state provides an opportunity to register for those who update their licenses in person or by mail.
In November, a panel on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court ruling that deemed this a violation of federal law, ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing because they had subsequently registered successfully and were no longer harmed by the system.
The appeals court, however, didn't rule on the underlying merits of the law and sent the case back to the lower court. The Democratic groups now seeking to intervene are hoping to resolve the standing issue by arguing that their organizations represent members who would likely be harmed by Texas' current system.
● Wisconsin: Amid ongoing litigation over a right-wing group's effort to require Wisconsin to purge roughly 200,000 voter registrations, the state's bipartisan Elections Commission has deadlocked along party lines and will keep those voters on the rolls for now.
This outcome follows a lower court ordering the purge to proceed, but the commission is currently appealing to the state Court of Appeals, while the plaintiffs are asking the conservative-dominated state Supreme Court to take up the case. Expecting a hostile reception in the state courts, the League of Women Voters, a good government group, filed a separate lawsuit last month in federal court to keep the affected voters on the rolls.
At issue in this litigation is a GOP-backed law that requires voter registrations to be purged if voters suspected of moving fail to respond within 30 days to a single mailing. The Elections Commission wants to hold off until 2021 to remove these voters to avoid confusion in this year's elections, but the conservative plaintiffs want the purge to happen swiftly. Opponents have argued that the single mailing sent out to at-risk voters was inadequate and that new notices should be sent to instruct those voters how to stay registered.
● Massachusetts: An initiative to adopt instant-runoff voting in state and congressional elections has cleared the next hurdle in its path to becoming law. After organizers turned in more than 80,000 valid signatures, the initiative will go to the Democratic-run state legislature, which can either pass it and negate the need for it to appear on the ballot, or reject it. If legislators don't pass the proposal, supporters would need to submit just over 13,000 more signatures to qualify for the November ballot.