Welcome to The Ballot Bulletin, where we track developments in election policy at the federal, state, and local level. In this month’s issue:
- Redistricting round-up: U.S. Census Bureau releases block-level population data (and other news)
- U.S. District Court temporarily suspends Georgia voting law barring photographs of voted ballots
- Legislation update
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Redistricting round-up: U.S. Census Bureau releases block-level population data (and other news)
In today’s round-up, we take a look at the following recent developments:
- The U.S. Census Bureau released the block-level data that most states use in their redistricting processes.
- Alaska has adopted a timeline for state legislative redistricting.
- The Texas Legislature has adopted a bill that would postpone the 2022 primary if redistricting is delayed.
- Virginia has adopted a timeline for congressional and state legislative redistricting. The state’s redistricting commission has also hired data consultants and technical advisers.
U.S. Census Bureau releases block-level data from the 2020 census
On Aug. 12, the U.S. Census Bureau released block-level data from the 2020 census. The data include county-level demographic information on the ethnic, racial, and age makeup of neighborhoods across the country. Release of the block-level data has prompted some states to begin redrawing their congressional and state legislative district maps in earnest.
Here are some findings from the Bureau’s press release:
- “The population of U.S. metro areas grew by 9% from 2010 to 2020, resulting in 86% of the population living in U.S. metro areas in 2020, compared to 85% in 2010.”
- “The 2020 Census used the required two separate questions (one for Hispanic or Latino origin and one for race) to collect the races and ethnicities of the U.S. population. … Building upon our research over the past decade, we improved the two separate questions design and updated our data processing and coding procedures for the 2020 Census. These changes reveal that the U.S. population is much more multiracial and more diverse than what we measured in the past.”
- “The 2020 Census showed that the adult (age 18 and older) population group grew 10.1% to 258.3 million people over the decade.”
The Bureau is expected to release a tabulated version of the dataset by Sept. 30.
Alaska: Redistricting commission adopts timeline for state legislative redistricting
On Aug. 23, Alaska’s redistricting commission adopted a schedule for state legislative redistricting. Under that schedule, Aug. 12 is treated as the starting point for the 90-day process. The commission must publish its proposal by Sept. 11. It must adopt a final plan by Nov. 10.
About redistricting in Alaska: Because Alaska has only one congressional district, congressional redistricting is not necessary. A non-politician commission draws state legislative district lines. In place since 1998, Alaska’s redistricting commission has five members. The governor appoints two members, the House and Senate majority leaders appoint one member each, and the state supreme court’s chief justice appoints the final member. State law mandates that commissioners “be chosen without regard to party affiliation.” One commissioner must be selected from each of the state’s judicial districts.
The Alaska Constitution requires state legislative districts to be contiguous and compact. Every district must also contain a “relatively integrated socio-economic area.” Each state legislative district has one state senator and two state representatives.
For more information about the current redistricting cycle in Alaska, click here.
Texas: State legislature adopts bill providing for postponement of 2022 primary and filing deadlines
The Texas Legislature has adopted a bill (SB 13) that would provide for the postponement of the state’s 2022 primary election and associated candidate filing deadlines if new district maps are not in place by the March 1, 2022 primary date.
- If a redistricting plan is adopted on or before Nov. 15, 2021, the primary date and candidate filing deadline will remain unchanged.
- If a redistricting plan is adopted after Nov. 15, 2021, and on or before Dec. 28, 2021, the primary will be postponed to April 5, 2022. The candidate filing deadline will be Jan. 24, 2022.
- If a redistricting plan is adopted after Dec. 28, 2021, and on or before Feb. 7, 2022, the primary will be postponed to May 24, 2022. The candidate filing deadline will be March 7, 2022.
On Aug. 27, the Texas House of Representatives voted 96-25 in favor of the final legislation. On Aug. 29, the Texas Senate followed suit, voting 30-1 in favor of the bill.
Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is expected to sign the bill into law.
About redistricting in Texas: In Texas, the state legislature draws both congressional and state legislative district maps. These maps are subject to gubernatorial veto. If the legislature is unable to approve a state legislative redistricting plan, a backup commission must draw the lines (the backup commission is not involved in congressional redistricting).
For more information about the current redistricting cycle in Texas, click here.
Virginia: Redistricting commission officially begins work on new district maps
On Aug. 16, Virginia’s redistricting commission voted to start the state’s redistricting process on Aug. 26. The commission hired an outside consultant to reformat the raw data that the U.S. Census Bureau released on Aug. 12 for use in the redistricting process.
On Aug. 23, the commission voted 12-4 to draft entirely new maps rather than use the existing maps as a guide. The commission also hired two analysts “to help with the technical aspects” of drafting new maps. Republicans on the commission selected John Morgan, who worked with Republicans in the General Assembly during the 2010 redistricting cycle. Meanwhile, Democrats tapped Ken Strasma, CEO of HaystaqDNA, an analytics firm that describes itself as the developer of “the predictive analytics that helped the [Barack] Obama campaign make history in 2008.”
About redistricting in Virginia: On Nov. 3, 2020, Virginia voters approved a constitutional amendment establishing a commission-driven congressional and state legislative redistricting process. The 16-member commission has eight legislators and eight non-legislator members. Leaders of the General Assembly’s two largest political parties select legislators to serve on the commission. General Assembly leaders recommend the eight citizen members. A panel of five retired circuit court judges selects the citizen members from those recommendations. The commissioners themselves select one of the eight citizens to chair the commission. District maps are subject to the following consensus requirements:
- Congressional maps: Approval by 12 commissioners, including six legislators and six non-legislators.
- Virginia Senate: Approval by 12 commissioners, including six legislators (with three state senators) and six non-legislators.
- Virginia House of Delegates: Approval by 12 commissioners, including six legislators (with three state delegates) and six non-legislators.
The commission submits its maps to the General Assembly, which can vote to approve the maps or reject them. The General Assembly cannot amend the maps. If the General Assembly rejects a map, the commission must draft a second map. If the General Assembly rejects that map, the Virginia Supreme Court is tasked with enacting a new map.
For more information about the current redistricting cycle in Virginia, click here.
U.S. District Court temporarily suspends Georgia voting law barring photographs of voted ballots
On Aug. 20, Judge Jean-Paul Boulee, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, issued a preliminary injunction against a Georgia law prohibiting photographs of voted ballots. The preliminary injunction bars enforcement of the disputed provision, pending resolution of the case. Boulee, a Donald Trump (R) appointee, wrote: “[The photography rule’s] broad sweep prohibits any photography or recording of any voted ballot in public and nonpublic forums alike. … Even if the Court accepts State Defendants’ argument that [the rule] serves the compelling interests of preserving ballot secrecy and preventing fraud, they have neither argued that it is narrowly tailored to serve those interests nor rebutted Plaintiffs’ assertion that the rule is a blanket prohibition on recording any voted ballot under any circumstances.” In granting the injunction, Boulee said that the plaintiffs were “substantially likely to succeed on the merits of their First Amendment challenge” to the rule, and therefore granted the injunction.
The photography rule was implemented as part of SB202, an election policy omnibus bill Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed into law on March 25. SB202 enacted a series of changes to Georgia’s election administration procedures, including the following:
- Absentee/mail-in voting:
- Absentee/mail-in ballots verified on the basis of driver’s license numbers instead of voter signatures (the last four digits of a Social Security number, and date of birth, permissible in lieu of a driver’s license number).
- Ballot drop boxes made available only inside early voting locations during business hours.
- Ballot application deadline fixed at 11 days before Election Day.
- Early voting:
- For general elections, counties are required to offer early voting on two Saturdays. Counties are authorized, but not required, to offer early voting on two Sundays.
- For runoff elections, early voting period limited to a minimum of one week.
- Other election administration matters:
- State Election Board authorized to remove county election boards and replace them with interim election managers.
- Counties required to certify election results within six days instead of 10.
- Prohibited the use of “photographic or other electronic monitoring or recording devices … to photograph or record a voted ballot.”
The full text of the enacted bill can be accessed here. Boulee declined to grant the plaintiff’s motions for preliminary injunctions of several other parts of the law, including the modified deadline for submitting an absentee/mail-in ballot application.
Also in Georgia, federal appeals court rejects claim that requiring voters to pay postage for absentee/mail-in ballots amounts to a poll tax
On Aug. 27, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit unanimously affirmed a lower court’s decision finding that a Georgia law requiring voters to pay postage for returning absentee/mail-in ballots is not an illegal poll tax. The plaintiffs alleged that requiring absentee/mail-in voters to pay the price of postage amounted to levying a poll tax, violating the Fourteenth and Twenty-Fourth Amendments. The defendants (state and local election officials) moved to dismiss. A U.S. District Court granted the motion, citing “[t]he fact that any registered voter may vote in Georgia on election day without purchasing a stamp, and without undertaking any ‘extra steps’ besides showing up at the voting precinct and complying with generally applicable election regulations.” The plaintiffs then appealed to the Eleventh Circuit.
The Eleventh Circuit panel—comprising Judges Elizabeth Branch (a Donald Trump (R) appointee), Britt Grant (another Trump appointee), and Edward Carnes (a George H.W. Bush (R) appointee)—unanimously affirmed the lower court’s ruling. Writing for the court, Branch, said, “While voting often involves incidental costs like transportation, parking, child care, taking time off work, and—for those who choose to vote absentee by mail—the cost of a postage stamp, those incidental costs do not mean that Georgia has imposed an unconstitutional poll tax or fee on its voters.”
Sean Young, legal director for the Georgia affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union (which was involved in the suit on behalf of the plaintiffs), said, “We are disappointed in the outcome. The ACLU of Georgia will continue to protect the sacred fundamental right to vote.” Regarding a possible appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, Young said, “All legal options remain on the table.”
Legislation update: Redistricting, electoral systems, and primary systems bills
Redistricting legislation: So far this year, we’ve tracked at least 197 redistricting-related bills up for consideration in state legislatures.
Redistricting legislation in the United States, 2021
Current as of Sept. 1, 2021
Electoral systems legislation: So far this year, we’ve tracked at least 145 bills dealing with electoral systems that are up for consideration in state legislatures.
Electoral systems legislation in the United States, 2021
Current as of Sept. 1, 2021
Primary systems legislation: So far this year, we’ve tracked at least 20 bills dealing with primary systems that are up for consideration in state legislatures.
Primary systems legislation in the United States, 2021
Current as of Sept. 1, 2021