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Voting Rights Roundup: New York Democrats advance bill to ban gerrymandering by county governments

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New York: Democratic legislators have passed a bill that would apply nonpartisan redistricting criteria to local governments in 23 counties that have their own county charters, opening up those jurisdictions to lawsuits if they pass maps that don't comply with the legislation. The criteria include requirements that districts be compact and that they "shall not be drawn to discourage competition or for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring incumbents or other particular candidates or political parties."

If enacted into law, the bill could have an especially large impact on several major suburban counties such as Nassau County on Long Island, where Republican gerrymanders have given the GOP control of the county legislature even though Democrats frequently win the county in statewide or countywide races (Nassau hasn't voted for a Republican for president since 1988). The bill wouldn't apply to the state's 39 non-charter counties, such as the five that make up New York City, because almost all of these jurisdictions already have strict rules governing redistricting.

Illinois: As expected, Republicans have filed a federal lawsuit challenging Illinois Democrats' newly enacted legislative gerrymanders because they were drawn using population estimates instead of data from the decennial census, which won't be released before August. Republicans contend that the estimates are insufficiently accurate and therefore violate the principle of "one person, one vote" established by federal court precedents. Latino voter advocates also filed a separate federal lawsuit making a similar claim.​

​Democrats passed these maps last month using estimated figures in order to complete legislative redistricting ahead of a state constitutionally mandated June 30 deadline. Had lawmakers failed to enact new districts by then, legislators would have had to cede control over the process to a bipartisan backup commission with a 50-50 chance of having a GOP tiebreaker who would let Republicans pass their own gerrymanders in this blue state.

Redistricting expert Michael McDonald has theorized that Illinois Democrats (and lawmakers from both parties in other states who are also contemplating using population estimates) are doing so with the expectation that even if courts later strike down those maps, legislators will still get the first crack at drawing remedial plans rather than letting a court or a backup commission take over. If so, that could give Illinois Democrats a chance to revise their gerrymanders with official census data later this year.

North Carolina: North Carolina's Republican-controlled state House has unanimously passed a bill that would let officials in dozens of municipalities choose whether to postpone district-based local elections set for this fall and extend the terms of current officeholders in order to give those localities more time to redraw their electoral districts due to delays in receiving census data. The bill would allow them to delay those elections so that they take place alongside the March 2022 state primary, but the change would not apply to future years.

The same House bill would also permanently shift local elections in the capital of Raleigh, which is the state's second-largest city, to take place in November of even-numbered years beginning in 2022 and coinciding with federal elections every two years thereafter at the request of city officials. This change could see turnout increase considerably and make the electorate more demographically representative of the eligible voter pool, and it would also save money on election administration.

The GOP-run state Senate had previously passed a version of the bill with unanimous support several days earlier, but that package didn't include the change in Raleigh. A subsequent vote on the changes made by House lawmakers will therefore be needed in the Senate before the bill can go to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Congress: Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin dealt a crippling blow to Democratic efforts to pass federal legislation to protect voting rights and fair elections when he said on Sunday that he will oppose the For the People Act (also known as both H.R. 1 and S. 1), which would ban congressional gerrymandering, enact the most significant voting protections since the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and adopt new campaign finance and ethics regulations. This move comes even though Manchin cosponsored the bill in 2019.

Rather than specify which provisions of the bill he disliked in order to give Democrats a template for a compromise, Manchin said he opposes both making major election changes without bipartisan support and changing the filibuster rule to overcome GOP opposition. Republicans have steadfastly tried to block Democrats from passing any new voting bills, meaning 10 GOP senators were never going to support any Democratic-backed measure to overcome a filibuster.

Manchin's position is completely at odds with political reality, since it effectively hands Republicans a one-way veto over election law changes.........

© Daily Kos

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