Redistricting review – a summary of this week’s map-making news
Last week, I briefed you on U.S. House apportionment counts based on the 2020 Census. As a reminder, six states gained seats in the U.S. House, and seven states lost a seat each. Here’s today’s update on redistricting activity.
On May 12, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit was scheduled to hear oral arguments in Ohio v. Coggins, in which Ohio officials are seeking to force the U.S. Census Bureau to release redistricting data to the states ahead of its September 30 target date.
On Feb. 25, 2021, the state filed its lawsuit against the Census Bureau in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. Ohio Solicitor General Benjamin Flowers said, “The unavailability of decennial census data irreparably harms the State: the Ohio Constitution requires the State to use decennial census data during redistricting if the data is available, and allows the use of alternative data sources only as a second-best option. By blocking the State from conducting redistricting using decennial census data, the Census Bureau’s decision prevents the State from conducting redistricting in the constitutionally preferred manner.”
The state asked that the court “issue an injunction either prohibiting the defendants from delaying the release of Ohio’s redistricting data beyond March 31, 2021, or else requiring the defendants to provide the State with Ohio’s population data at the earliest date this Court deems equitable.”
Judge Thomas Rose, a George W. Bush (R) appointee, dismissed the lawsuit on March 24, 2021, writing, “The Court will therefore reject Ohio’s request for an order that pretends that the Census Bureau could provide census-based redistricting data by March 31, 2021. The Court cannot ‘order a party to jump higher, run faster, or lift more than she is physically capable.'” The next day, the state appealed Rose’s decision to the Sixth Circuit.
A similar lawsuit is pending in Alabama.
On April 26, Delegate Lee Carter (D) sent a letter to Attorney General Mark Herring (D) asking for a formal opinion as to the “constitutionality of the 2021 elections for the House of Delegates being conducted under electoral districts established in 2011.” Carter asked Herring to address the following issues:
1. “The Constitutional authority, if any such authority exists, under which the Virginia Department of Elections is currently conducting the 2021 House of Delegates elections for the electoral districts established in 2011.”
2. “Whether, in the absence of timely data from the United States Census Bureau, the Virginia Redistricting Commission is Constitutionally bound to establish new electoral districts with the best available population data for the House of Delegates elections in the year 2021 and in each tenth subsequent year thereafter.”
As of May 6, Herring had not responded to Carter’s request for an opinion.
Pennsylvania voters to decide statewide judicial primaries, ballot measures
Pennsylvania voters will decide statewide primaries next Tuesday—May 18—including several judicial races and four statewide ballot measures. There are three primary partisan elections for judgeships on the state’s appeals courts.
One seat is up for election on the seven-member Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Justice Thomas Saylor (R) is not running for re-election. Three candidates—Kevin Brobson, Patricia McCullough, and Paula Patrick—are running in the Republican primary, and Maria McLaughlin is running unopposed in the Democratic primary. Excluding Saylor, five judges on the court have been elected in partisan elections as Democrats, and one—Sallie Mundy—was appointed by a Democratic governor. Mundy was then elected to the court in a partisan election in which she ran as a Republican.
There are also primary elections Tuesday for one seat each on the state’s superior court and commonwealth court, which are the state’s intermediate appeals courts. Pennsylvania’s appellate court system is somewhat unique, so let me explain the differences between the two courts. A full term on both courts is 10 years.
- The Pennsylvania Superior Court hears appeals of most civil and criminal cases from the state’s county courts (known as the courts of common pleas).
- The Commonwealth Court hears appeals of certain cases depending on what the case is about and the identity of the parties to the lawsuit. The Commonwealth Court usually hears appeals when a case involves state and local government and regulatory agencies and when the appeal concerns specific subjects, such as banking, taxation, or elections. The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court also has original jurisdiction over most election cases and cases where someone files a lawsuit against the state itself.
The seat up for partisan election on the Pennsylvania Superior Court is vacant. On the commonwealth court, Judge Andrew Crompton (R) is running for re-election.
- Voters will decide four statewide measures. Two constitutional amendments would give the legislature more authority over the governor’s emergency powers, which have been a point of conflict between the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf (D) during the coronavirus pandemic. The third amendment would add language to the state constitution prohibiting the denial or abridgment of rights due to an individual’s race or ethnicity. The fourth measure would expand the state’s loan program for volunteer fire companies and ambulance services to also include municipal fire companies and EMS services.
- Voters in Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, and Philadelphia will decide three local ballot measures in two cities. The measures include two law enforcement initiatives to ban solitary confinement in the Allegheny County Jail and ban the use of no-knock warrants by Pittsburgh police.
- Voters in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh will decide municipal elections including mayor, city council, and district attorney.
- Allegheny County voters will decide county council and sheriff races.
Anchorage & Omaha mayoral election results
Both Anchorage and Omaha held elections for mayor on Tuesday, May 11. Here’s a summary of the results.
The outcome of the mayoral runoff remains unclear after preliminary results posted by the city show Forrest Dunbar leading Dave Bronson with 50.08% of the vote. As of May 11, at least 6,600 ballots had not yet been counted, and mail-in ballots continue to arrive. Mail-in ballots postmarked no later than election day will continue to be counted if they arrive by May 21. Overseas ballots must arrive by May 25.
Based on the over 78,000 ballots received so far, the voter turnout rate is at 30.5% of registered voters and already exceeds the 75,441 cast in the April 6 general election. The city’s highest recorded voter turnout was in the 2018 mayoral election in which 36.3% of registered voters cast 79,295 votes.
If the race remains within the current margins, the city will conduct a recount. The candidates are currently separated by just 0.16% of the vote, and Anchorage municipal code stipulates that an automatic recount be conducted for city elections in which a candidate wins by less than 0.5%.
Incumbent Jean Stothert (R) won re-election to a third term after defeating RJ Neary (D) in the nonpartisan mayoral general election.
Unofficial results showed Stothert received 67% of the vote to Neary’s 33% at the time of his concession.
Stothert is one of 25 Republican mayors among the country’s 100 largest cities. She was first elected in 2013 after defeating incumbent Jim Suttle (D) and won re-election to a second term in 2017.
If Stothert serves the full four-year term as mayor, she will become the longest-serving mayor in Omaha’s history. No mayor has served for more than nine consecutive years. Stothert has already served eight years as mayor.