Saturday, June 29, 2019

Gerrymandering free-for-all

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that federal judges have no power to police partisan gerrymandering - the practice of manipulating electoral district boundaries for political gain - likely will embolden politicians to pursue more extreme efforts free from the fear of judicial interference, experts said. 

“We’ll see more states doing more bad stuff,” said University of California at Irvine election law expert Rick Hasen. 

Election reformers now face a limited menu of options, all of which face potential obstacles: voter ballot initiatives, lawsuits filed in state courts and congressional legislation. Countering gerrymandering will fall back to state legislatures, courts and voters themselves.

“The hope from the reform groups was that you would just be able to wave a wand over the entire country and fix all the gerrymanders,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida expert on U.S. elections. “[Chief Justice] Roberts said the battle that was in the states will stay in the states.”

Gerrymandering is carried out by configuring districts in a way that packs as many like-minded voters as possible into a small number of districts and distributing the rest in other districts too thinly to form a majority. Trump’s fellow Republicans have been the primary beneficiaries of gerrymandering since the last round of redistricting following the 2010 census, though Democrats have engaged in the practice as well. Hasen said he expects more Democratic-led legislatures to engage in the practice in light of the ruling. 

“I think there will be a lot of pressure on Democrats who may have held back to do so, because this has national implications,” Hasen said. 

1 comment:

ajohnstone said...

Floridians voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to restore voting rights for as many as 1.4 million citizens who had fully completed their felony sentences but Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed a new law that will keep the vast majority of those citizens disenfranchised and also bans early voting on college campuses. Republicans also recently passed another law to stymie similar ballot initiatives in the future that DeSantis has already signed.

To thwart the will of Florida voters, Republicans are imposing a measure straight out of the Jim Crow playbook: poll taxes. This new law would require the payment of all court-ordered restitution as well as any court-related fines or fees before voters can regain their rights. By demanding that citizens pay all court fines and fees, Republicans could effectively roll back most of the 2018 amendment.

Imposing a requirement to pay off all court costs is especially draconian because of the predatory ways in which Florida courts and law enforcement derive funding from harsh fines imposed on criminal defendants, above and beyond restitution to crime victims. Indeed, a recent report found that Florida overall levied $1 billion in fines and fees from just October 2017 to September 2018. Even worse, the new law mandates the payment of fines that have been converted into civil liens, meaning that some who have paid all of their criminal penalties still won’t win back the right to vote.

Last year, Republicans lost a still-ongoing lawsuit that overturned their 2014 ban on early voting sites on college campuses, but they also snuck a little-noticed provision into the poll tax legislation that would effectively reinstate that ban.

The measure in question requires all early voting locations to “provide sufficient nonpermitted parking to accommodate the anticipated amount of voters,” which plaintiffs in the early voting case say is specifically targeted at campuses. That’s because most schools require permits for parking and often face parking shortages; according to plaintiffs, this new law would preclude “nearly all college and university campuses” from hosting early voting sites.