The last state enacts new state legislative boundaries

Welcome to the Monday, February 27, Brew. 

By: Samuel Wonacott

Here’s what’s in store for you as you start your day:

  1. Montana becomes last state to enact state legislative boundaries after the 2020 census
  2. Twenty-one candidates running in Denver’s first open mayoral race since 2011 
  3. 294 election-related bills introduced in state legislatures 

Montana becomes last state to enact state legislative boundaries after the 2020 census

Every state completed its redistricting process by May 2022—except Montana.  

Last week (Feb. 22), Montana became the last state to enact its state legislative district boundaries when the Districting & Apportionment Commission submitted its final plan to the secretary of state.  

Why is Montana completing state legislative redistricting more than eight months after Ohio became the 49th state to do so? 

The answer lies in Montana’s state constitution. The constitution dictates the Legislature meet only in odd-numbered years, meaning it wasn’t in session in 2022. The constitution also requires that the redistricting commission submit legislative maps to the Legislature so it can provide non-binding recommendations before they are enacted.

Because the Legislature adjourned in April 2021—before census data was delivered to the states—and the state wasn’t in session in 2022, the earliest lawmakers could review the proposed district maps was 2023 (the state enacted its congressional maps in 2021, but the Legislature was not required to be involved in that process). 

Here’s how Montana decided on its final state legislative maps, which will take effect for the 2024 legislative elections.  

  • The commission voted 3-2 to approve its final plan on Feb. 11. 
  • The commission’s nonpartisan chair, Maylinn Smith, and two Democratic-appointed commissioners voted to approve the map. The Montana Supreme Court appointed Smith. In our May 2021 study to discern the partisan balance of all state supreme courts, we classified three Montana Supreme Court justices as Mild Democrat, one as a Strong Republican, and three as Indeterminate. As of this writing, the composition of the court has not changed since May 2021. Click here to read about our methodology. 
  • The two Republican-appointed commissioners voted against it. 

Montana Public Radio’s Shaylee Ragar wrote: “According to data compiled by Democrats on the commission, the map could give Republicans a 20-seat advantage in the House and an 8-seat advantage in the Senate. It projects Democrats picking up a few seats currently held by Republicans.” 

The Montana Free Press’s Arren Kimbel-Sannit wrote: “In sum, the new maps could cost Republicans several seats while still leaving them a sizable majority that at least suggests the GOP’s dominance in recent elections.”

The Census Bureau released block-level data, which included county-level demographic information, to all 50 states on Aug. 12, 2021. 

Five states—New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, and Texas—are either required by current court decisions to enact new maps before the 2024 elections or have said they will adopt new congressional or legislative district boundaries. According to the American Redistricting Project, there are active redistricting lawsuits in 23 states. 

Click here to learn more about redistricting following the 2020 census, and click the link below to read more about Montana’s redistricting process. 

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Twenty-one candidates running in Denver’s first open mayoral race since 2011 

This year might be something of an off-season for state and congressional elections (though don’t forget Mississippi, New Jersey, Virginia, and Louisiana!), but plenty of cities are holding municipal elections. We’re covering 40 mayoral races this year in the 100 largest cities and state capitals. 

One of those mayoral elections is in Denver, Colorado. Twenty-one candidates are running in the general election on April 4. If no candidate receives a majority of votes, the top-two vote-getters advance to a June 6 runoff.

Incumbent Michael Hancock (D), first elected in 2011, is term-limited. This is Denver’s fifth open mayoral election since 1959. That was the last time the city elected a Republican mayor.

Denverite‘s Kyle Harris wrote, “Denverites are worried about the city’s affordability … public safety and rising crime … [and] homelessness. People want solutions, and it’s clear that the people of the city understand that the mayor’s seat can try to tackle many of these issues.”

Former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce C.E.O. Kelly Brough, state Rep. Leslie Herod, former state Sen. Michael Johnston, At-large City Councilmember Deborah Ortega, and Army veteran Andy Rougeot lead the field in fundraising and media coverage. While mayoral elections in Denver are officially nonpartisan, Brough, Herod, Johnston, and Ortega are Democrats, and Rougeot is a Republican.

These five candidates all identified public safety, homelessness, and housing affordability as key issues in their campaigns.

On the topic of public safety, for example:

  • Brough said, “We must hold people accountable for unlawful activity” and “pursue economic development and public health strategies that will help to alleviate desperation that drives criminal activity in the first place.”
  • Herod said she will “[improve] relationships and trust with our police while holding them accountable,” create alternatives to jailing, and “[address] base-level economic, health, and housing insecurities.”
  • Johnston supports a “compassionate but effective approach to crime” based on accountability, connecting offenders to services, and increasing the quantity and quality of law enforcement.
  • Ortega said she “is dedicated to addressing both the root causes of crime and enforcing laws to make Denver a safe place,” adding that “[t]ackling these issues simultaneously will build respect and trust between law enforcement and the community.”
  • Rougeot said, “We’ve turned too far in favor of worrying about the person who’s committing the crime and not enough in terms of putting the victim ahead of the criminal,” adding that he would hire 400 more police officers and oppose personal recognizance bonds.

Renate Behrens, Al Gardner, state Sen. Chris Hansen, Aurelio Martinez, Terrance Roberts, Trinidad Rodriguez, Kwame Spearman, Ean Tafoya, Robert Treta, James Walsh, and Thomas Wolf are also on the ballot. Matt Brady, Paul Fiorino, Jesse Parris, and Abass Yaya Bamba are running as write-in candidates.

Denver has a strong mayor government, where the mayor serves as chief executive, and the city council operates as a legislative branch. Denver’s mayor sets the city budget, nominates department heads—including the city attorney—and makes more than 700 appointments to positions city-wide. The mayor also oversees the Denver International Airport, police and sheriff departments, and the community planning and development department.

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231 election-related bills introduced in state legislatures 

Here’s an update on last week’s state election legislation. As a reminder, if you want to learn more about election-related legislation, you can subscribe to the Ballot Bulletin to receive weekly updates on election policy. You can also use our interactive Election Administration Legislation Tracker to find and read election-related bills in your state.

Between Feb. 17-23, state legislatures have acted on 294 bills. That’s a 1.7% increase from last week’s 289 bills. Of those, 231 were introduced (or had pre-committee action). 

These 294 bills represent 18.4% of the 1,596 pieces of legislation we are currently tracking. Of these bills, 124 are from states with Democratic trifectas, 127 are from states with Republican trifectas, and 43 are from states with divided governments.

Of those 294 bills, 37 passed one chamber (or had pre-adoption action in the second chamber) and 10 passed both chambers. Thirteen advanced from committee. 

Election-related bills include legislation on voter registration and lists, audits and oversight, absentee/mail-in voting, election dates and deadlines, fraud, voting equipment, and more.

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