● New Jersey: The New Jersey Supreme Court has chosen former state Supreme Court Justice John Wallace, who'd been nominated by Democrats, as the tiebreaking member on the state's congressional redistricting commission after the two parties couldn't agree on who should fill the role. Wallace was named to the Supreme Court in 2003 by then-Gov. Jim McGreevy, a Democrat, but was denied renomination in 2010 by Republican Gov. Chris Christie, the first time since the adoption of the state's current constitution in 1947 that a sitting justice had not been reappointed.
Wallace, who is Black, will be the first person of color to serve as a redistricting tiebreaker for the state. While his ultimate preferences can't be predicted with absolute certainty (The New York Times editorial board, in decrying Christie's move, called him a "political moderate"), the fact that Democrats put his name forward is the surest sign they think he'll be more inclined to side with their members on the commission. As a result, we can expect that New Jersey's next congressional map will either favor Democrats or at least be more neutral than the current districts, which tilt toward Republicans.
The state's separate commission for legislative redistricting (called the "Apportionment Commission") operates similarly, though the tiebreaker will be selected unilaterally by Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, an appointee of former Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine, rather than the court as a whole. The New Jersey Globe reports that Rabner's choice likely won't be known until November. Because of the delay in receiving census data, legislative elections this fall will be held using the maps put in place a decade ago when the tiebreaker at the time chose the Democratic proposal, with new maps not going into effect until 2023.
● Redistricting: The 2020s redistricting cycle began in earnest on Thursday with the release of key population data from the Census Bureau—and Republicans are once again positioned to dominate the playing field just as they did last decade. In a new guide that looks at all 50 states, Daily Kos Elections has detailed how the redistricting process will unfold and which party, if any, will control the outcome at both the congressional and legislative levels.
Our guide explains the rules for each state, including things like:
- Whether redistricting is handled by the legislature, a commission, or a hybrid of the two
- Just how independent those "independent" commissions are
- What criteria, if any, constrain mapmakers, such as requirements to keep communities intact
- What happens if there's a deadlock
- And much, much more
Thanks to their victories in the 2020 elections, Republicans are poised to draw 4 or 5 out of every 10 congressional districts nationally. Democrats, meanwhile, will only be able to draw fewer than two out of 10, as shown in this map. The GOP's advantage means that Democrats' slim House majority is greatly imperiled next year. There's even a strong risk that we could return to a period of minority rule, where Democrats win more votes nationally yet Republicans win more seats—exactly what happened in 2012.
With Democrats still in charge of Congress and the White House, they have the opportunity to ban congressional gerrymandering nationally, and House Democrats in fact passed a bill to that effect earlier this year. However, moderate Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin who have so far refused to curb the filibuster are standing in the way of passage in the Senate, since Republicans oppose the measure in lockstep. While Senate Democrats are reportedly working on a compromise with Manchin and his fellow holdouts, they have adjourned until September without passing a bill, and time is fast running out to pass reforms that can stop new gerrymanders from going into effect next year.
With the redistricting landscape therefore likely set for next year's elections, our new guide delves into how we expect it to play out in every state, explaining the process and the likely outcome in each. We'll continue to add to this guide as states make their way through the redistricting process over the course of 2021 and 2022, so be sure to bookmark it.
● Wisconsin: On behalf of a group of Wisconsin voters, Democratic election lawyer Marc Elias has filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to compel the court to draw new congressional and legislative districts to remedy the "one person, one vote" violations of the districts drawn last decade now that new census data is available. The plaintiffs argue that the state's Republican-run legislature and Democratic Gov. Tony Evers are unlikely to come to an agreement over drawing new districts, requiring the court to step in.
Democrats likely prefer that a federal court rather than the state courts get to draw the lines, given that conservatives hold a 4-3 majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. For the same reason, Republicans are trying to ensure that the probable impasse between Evers and GOP lawmakers gets resolved in the state judicial system.
● Minnesota: The Minnesota Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal seeking to invalidate the state's disenfranchisement of people with felony convictions who are on parole or probation. Earlier this year, a lower court rejected the plaintiffs' argument that the ban violates the state constitution. Minnesota's high court has a 5-2 majority of Democratic appointees, but that is no guarantee that the plaintiffs will prevail.
● New Hampshire: Republican Gov. Chris Sununu has signed a law passed by Republicans using their gerrymandered majorities that would pave the way for the creation of two separate systems for election administration: one for federal races and one for state and local contests. Republicans are pushing this approach as a way to resist new voting reforms if Democrats in Congress pass H.R. 1, which would enact a sweeping expansion of voting access measures, or any equivalent legislation.
As we have previously explained, Democratic-backed voting reforms rely heavily on Congress' power to regulate federal elections under the Constitution's Elections Clause, but those powers provide a much more limited basis for extending any reforms to the state and local levels. The GOP's plan would not only undermine voting rights but create new administrative problems due to the burdens of potentially maintaining separate systems for two sets of elections, including registration records, ballots, and more, and it could lead to litigation if ultimately adopted.
Electoral System Reform
● Utah: Reform advocates have unveiled a proposed ballot initiative that would switch Utah from its system of traditional party primaries to instead using a "top-five" primary. Under this approach, all candidates regardless of party would run on a single ballot, and the five highest vote-getters would advance to a general election that would be decided using ranked-choice voting. This proposal is very similar to the "top-four" system that Alaska voters adopted in a 2020 ballot initiative, except for the larger number of candidates it would permit to move on from the primary.
The proposal would also significantly reduce the number of voter signatures needed for candidates to get onto the ballot. In addition, it would allow voters to sign petitions for multiple candidates instead of the current limit of one candidate per office. To qualify for the 2022 ballot itself, initiative backers would need to gather roughly 138,000 signatures by Feb. 15, equivalent to approximately 8% of active registered voters, and they would need to meet that threshold in 26 of 29 state Senate districts, which could be a daunting hurdle.