Sanne Roeven

Sanne Roeven is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at

Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission releases first set of staff drawn maps

The Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission released its first set of staff-drawn maps for the state House and Senate on Sept. 13. The commission had released an initial set of proposed maps in June before the US Census Bureau released block-level population data in August.

On Aug. 13, the commission adopted a new redistricting schedule which set Sept. 13 as the commission staff’s deadline for publishing its first set of plans online. The adjusted schedule was published after the Colorado Supreme Court ordered on July 26 that the deadline for submitting the state’s legislative redistricting plans to the Colorado Supreme Court be extended from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15.

After the staff plans were released, David Pourshoushtari, a spokesman for the Colorado Democratic Party, said, “the commission staff needs to understand the implications of drawing maps without taking into account the overlapping 4-year terms of state senators. Coloradans voted for fair redistricting when they approved Amendment Z, and this map does not meet that goal.” Executive director of the Colorado Republican Party, Joe Jackson, said that “this map will consistently elect a Democrat majority in the state House and state Senate. This process has a long way to go, and we hope the commission will work to generate more competitive districts.”

Colorado voters approved Amendment Z, which created the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, in 2020 by a margin of 71% to 29%. A similar amendment was approved that year that created an independent commission for congressional redistricting.

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Illinois legislature approves new legislative maps in special session

Photo of the Illinois State Capitol building

The Illinois House and Senate approved new state legislative boundaries on Aug. 31 during a special session. The maps, which passed 73-43 in the state House, and 40-17 in the state Senate, revised legislative redistricting plans enacted in June. The legislature approved maps in June in order to meet the state constitution’s June 30 deadline for approving a state legislative redistricting plan. They were adopted before the U.S. Census Bureau released block-level data from the 2020 census on Aug. 12.

Click here to view the new state House map and here to view the Senate map.

Two lawsuits that were filed in federal district court challenging the June legislative maps were consolidated on July 14. The minority leaders of the Illinois House and Senate and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund argued that those redistricting plans did not ensure that the districts had substantially equal populations because they used data from the American Community Survey (ACS) instead of the 2020 census. The trial in the consolidated lawsuit is scheduled to begin on Sept. 27. 

Legislators have not yet proposed a congressional redistricting plan in Illinois.

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Illinois Redistricting Update: Special session to be held on Aug. 31, motion for summary judgment filed

Photo of the Illinois State Capitol building

The Illinois House and Senate Redistricting Committees will hold special sessions on Aug. 31 to “amend the legislative map enacted in June to incorporate the latest Census data.” Lawmakers are holding public hearings ahead of the special session from Aug. 26-29.

The special session is coming after the release of 2020 census data on Aug. 12, and Illinois Senate and House minority leaders McConchie (R) and Durkin’s (R) motion filed Aug. 19 for summary judgment in the consolidated redistricting lawsuit, Contreras et. al. v. Illinois State Board of Elections. The motion argued that the maps signed by Gov. Pritzker (D) on June 4 are unconstitutional because they exceed the maximum 10% deviation permitted, with “29.88% [deviation] for House Districts and 20.25% for Senate Districts.”

Contreras et. al. v. Illinois Board of Elections was consolidated on July 14, from two separate lawsuits filed in June: one by minority leaders McConchie and Durkin on the 9th, and the other by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) on behalf of five registered voters (Contreras, Fuentes, Martinez, Padilla, and Torres).

Plaintiffs alleged that the new district maps did not have substantially equal populations because they relied on data from the American Community Survey.

The Illinois State Board of Elections and the offices of House Speaker Welch (D) and Senate President Harmon (D) filed a motion to dismiss on July 16, alleging the plaintiffs lacked standing and that until the Census Bureau released full data, there was no way to measure the validity of the plaintiffs’ equal protection arguments. On July 28, MALDEF attorneys filed an amended complaint, alleging that because Contreras, Fuentes, Martinez, Padilla, and Torres lived in the allegedly malapportioned districts, the maps would dilute their votes in future elections. As of Aug. 27, litigation on the case is ongoing. A trial was tentatively set for Sept. 27-29.

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Ten states to count prison inmates who are state residents in their pre-incarceration districts for redistricting this year

Eleven states have passed policies since 2010 requiring redistricting authorities to count prison inmates who are state residents at their pre-incarceration address, rather than in the community where their detention facility is located. Those policies will be in effect in ten states in the current redistricting cycle, while Illinois’ policy will not go into effect until 2025. President Joe Biden (D) won all 11 of these states in the 2020 presidential election.

These states differ on whether their policy for counting incarcerated persons in their pre-incarceration districts applies to legislative or congressional maps. Four states will count incarcerated persons at their pre-incarceration addresses for legislative maps only, and seven will count them at their pre-incarceration address for both legislative and congressional maps.

The states’ policies also differ on how out-of-state inmates and inmates with unknown previous residences are counted. Two states—Colorado and Virginia—count these people as residents in their correctional facility for redistricting purposes. Seven exclude this group from all district redistricting population calculations. Connecticut counts these inmates as generic residents of the state, and Nevada’s policies do not address the issue.

Federal inmates are counted the same as state inmates in six states, and are excluded from redistricting calculations in two states. Three states have not addressed how to count persons incarcerated in federal facilities for redistricting.

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The latest redistricting news from New Jersey, New Mexico, and Wisconsin

In this week’s Redistricting Review, we cover news out of New Jersey, New Mexico, and Wisconsin.

New Jersey: On July 20,New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner asked Democrats and Republicans to reconvene and pick a consensus candidate for the 13th member of the state’s congressional redistricting commission.

According to state law, the majority and minority leaders of each chamber of the state legislature and the chair of the state’s two major political parties appoint the first 12 members of the congressional redistricting commission. The 12 commissioners then appoint the last commission member. If they cannot agree on an appointment, the commissioners must submit two names to the New Jersey Supreme Court and the court must then appoint the final commissioner.

Last week, when the commissioners could not reach a consensus by their July 15th deadline, they submitted former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice John E. Wallace, Jr., and former Superior Court Judge Marina Corodemus to the court. According to the New Jersey Globe, “This is the first time the two parties haven’t agreed on a 13th member for congressional redistricting. The Supreme Court option wasn’t involved in 1991, 2001 and 2011.”

Chief Justice Rabner gave the commissioners until July 30th to respond with a consensus candidate. If they do not, the New Jersey Supreme Court will pick a tiebreaker candidate by August 10th.

New Mexico: The New Mexico Redistricting Committee’s new website launched last week. The website includes information on how to participate in committee meetings and a portal for submitting public comments or maps. It can be accessed here.

Wisconsin: The Wisconsin Supreme Court temporarily halted a lower court ruling blocking Republican legislators from hiring private attorneys with taxpayer funds. On July 15, the court unanimously agreed to take up the case, and in a 4-3 decision ordered that Republican lawmakers be allowed to hire private attorneys pending their decision.

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Assessing the vulnerability of the Democratic trifectas in New Jersey and Virginia

Gubernatorial or state legislative elections are taking place in two states, New Jersey and Virginia, in 2021. Trifecta status is at stake in both states.

A trifecta exists when one party holds the governorship, a majority in the state senate, and a majority in the state house. There are currently 38 trifectas: 23 Republican trifectas and 15 Democratic trifectas. The remaining 12 states have a divided government where neither party has a trifecta. Ballotpedia has calculated the vulnerability of both trifectas with elections in 2021. Trifecta vulnerability is calculated by Ballotpedia by assessing each component’s chance of changing control. Gubernatorial races are rated using race ratings from the Cook Political Report, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections. Legislative races are assessed based on the absolute number of seats and the proportion of seats that would need to be flipped. Both chambers in a state’s legislature are evaluated individually.

New Jersey has been a Democratic trifecta since Gov. Phil Murphy (D) assumed office in 2018. It has scheduled elections for governor, all 40 state Senate seats, and all 80 state Assembly seats. Election forecasters rate the governor’s race Solid Democratic. Republicans need to either win that election, flip six out of 40 state Senate seats (15%), or flip 13 out of 80 state Assembly seats (16.25%) in order to break the Democratic trifecta. Ballotpedia therefore assesses New Jersey’s Democratic trifecta as not vulnerable.

Virginia has scheduled elections for governor and all 100 state House seats in 2021. The state is also a Democratic trifecta, and has been since the start of the 2020 legislative session. Election forecasters rate the gubernatorial election as Leans Democratic and Republicans would need to flip six of the 100 state House seats (6%). Ballotpedia has assessed Virginia’s Democratic trifecta as moderately vulnerable.

Changes in a state government’s policy priorities often follow changes in trifecta status, as trifecta control affords a political party the opportunity to advance its agenda. Gaining or breaking trifectas—or in some cases, maintaining divided government—thus often becomes a major priority for a party heading into each election cycle. Between 2010 and 2020, 72 state government trifectas were broken or gained.

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State government trifectas

Historical and potential changes in trifectas

Democratic state representatives in Texas leave state ahead of expected vote on voting-related legislation

On July 12, 2021, at least 51 of the 67 Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives (the number needed to break quorum) left the state for Washington D.C. ahead of expected votes on House Bill 3 and Senate Bill 1. The bills being considered are voting-related legislation including provisions related to early voting, elections officers, voter registration, and voting systems. At 10 a.m. on Tuesday, July 13, the House conducted a test vote that 80 of the 150 House members participated in, four of whom were Democrats.

Texas House Democratic Caucus Chairman Chris Turner, Mexican American Legislative Caucus Chairman Rafael Anchía (D), Texas Legislative Black Caucus Chairwoman Nicole Collier (D), Legislative Study Group Caucus Chairman Garnet Coleman (D), and Dean Senfronia Thompson (D) released a joint statement on the decision to break quorum and go to Washington D.C. saying, “Today, Texas House Democrats stand united in our decision to break quorum and refuse to let the Republican-led legislature force through dangerous legislation that would trample on Texans’ freedom to vote. We are now taking the fight to our nation’s Capitol. We are living on borrowed time in Texas. We need Congress to act now to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to protect Texans — and all Americans — from the Trump Republicans’ nationwide war on democracy.”

Governor Greg Abbott (R) responded to the walkout saying in a statement, “Texas Democrats’ decision to break a quorum of the Texas Legislature and abandon the Texas State Capitol inflicts harm on the very Texans who elected them to serve,” and that, “the Democrats must put aside partisan political games and get back to the job they were elected to do. Their constituents must not be denied these important resources simply because their elected representative refused to show up to work.”

The Texas House of Representatives requires that two-thirds of the body be present for a quorum. Democrats control 67 of the 150 House seats. This is the second walkout House Democrats have held in 2021; the first took place on May 30, when all 67 members of the Democratic caucus left the chamber during consideration of another package of voting-related legislation, Senate Bill 7. Legislators left the chamber around 10:30 p.m., leaving it without a quorum ahead of a midnight deadline for passing legislation for the session. The walkout came following a meeting between the Democratic caucus and Speaker Dade Phelan (R). Following the closure of the regular session, Gov. Abbott called a special session beginning on July 8 and lasting for up to 30 days, to take up the legislation again.

The last time there was a walkout of the Texas legislature before 2021 was in 2003 when 11 Democratic members of the Texas State Senate and 51 Democratic members of the Texas House of Representatives did not come to a scheduled legislative session to prevent the passage of a redistricting plan they claimed would have benefited Republicans. That walkout lasted for 43 days and ended when state Sen. John Whitmire (D) returned to the chamber and a quorum was reached.

There have been six other noteworthy legislative walkouts since 2000 (noteworthy walkouts are those where legislators left the state for at least a week or received significant national media attention). Four of the walkouts occurred in Oregon (2021, 2020, 2019, and 2001); one in Indiana (2011), and one in Wisconsin (2011).

The Oregon walkouts focused on proposals related to COVID-19 (2021), a bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions (2020), a cap-and-trade bill (2019), and a Congressional redistricting plan (2001). Three were conducted by Republican state senators (2021, 2020, 2019), and one by Democratic state representatives (2001). The walkouts were resolved by killing the contested legislation in 2020, 2019, and 2001; and by legislators returning to the chamber in 2021.

In 2011, walkouts over right-to-work legislation occurred in Indiana and Wisconsin. The Indiana walkout included 37 Democratic members of the House who did not attend a scheduled legislative session to prevent passage of the legislation, and ended after six weeks when the legislation was killed. The Wisconsin walkout involved 14 Democratic members of the Wisconsin State Senate who did not come to a scheduled legislative session to prevent passage of the legislation and ended after five weeks when Republicans removed fiscal provisions from the right-to-work legislation, lowering the quorum required to hold a vote. The Democrats returned three days after the legislation passed.

Noteworthy state legislative walkouts 

Click here to read House Bill 3.

Click here to read Senate Bill 1.

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Eleven candidates running in Republican special primary for Ohio’s 15th Congressional District

Eleven candidates are running in the Republican primary to represent Ohio’s 15th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives on August 3, 2021. The special general election, which will be held November 2, 2021, was called after Steve Stivers (R) resigned his seat in the House to become the President and CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, effective May 16, 2021. Mike Carey, Bob Peterson, and Jeff LaRe have led in endorsements and media attention.

Carey’s campaign has focused on his experience in the United States Army (where he served from 1989 to 1999), and his status as a self-described conservative outsider. President Donald Trump (R) endorsed him.

LaRe’s campaign has focused on his background in law enforcement and security services, as well as his experience serving in the Ohio House of Representatives, where he assumed office in 2019. As of the 2021 election, LaRe is the executive vice president of a security services company, the Whitestone Group, where he began working in 2000. Former Rep. Steve Stivers (R) endorsed LaRe.

Peterson’s campaign has focused on his farming background and experience serving in the Ohio state legislature, first in the House from 2011 to 2012, and then in the Senate where he assumed office in 2012 and served as the president pro tempore during the 133rd, 132nd, and the second half of the 131st General Assemblies. Peterson earned his B.S. in agriculture from Ohio State University, and his professional experience includes managing Peterson Family Farm. Ohio Right to Life PAC endorsed him.

Also running in the primary are John Adams, Eric M. Clark, Thad Cooperrider, Ruth Edmonds, Ron Hood, Tom Hwang, Stephanie Kunze, and Omar Tarazi.

The general election is rated Strong Republican by Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales. The Republican nominee will face the winner of the Democratic primary between Greg Betts and Allison Russo in the general election.

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Roundup of lawsuits against Illinois’ newly-adopted redistricting plans

As of June 16, two lawsuits have been filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois-Eastern Division challenging the state legislative maps signed that Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker (D) signed into law on June 4, 2010. Both complaints focus on the Illinois Legislature’s use of data from the American Community Survey (ACS) instead of from the U.S. census, alleging that by using data from the ACS the maps violated the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie filed a complaint on June 9 alleging undercounts by the ACS compared with the census data saying, “[ACS] estimates are not intended to be, and are not, a proper substitute for the official census counts.” They allege that “because it uses ACS estimates for population data, the Redistricting Plan does not ensure that the Senate and Representative Districts satisfy the constitutional mandate of substantially equal populations [among districts].” They are asking the court to declare the enacted maps unconstitutional and to appoint either a bipartisan legislative commission or a special master (outside expert) to draft new maps.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) filed a complaint on behalf of five registered voters (Contreras, Fuentes, Martinez, Padilla, and Torres) on June 10 alleging the maps were malapportioned because of the committee’s use of the ACS data and that they violated the Fourteenth Amendment, saying “ACS data are an estimate of population characteristics based on sample data, and not a count of U.S. citizens and non-U.S. citizens.” The plaintiffs allege that “the Enacted Plans purportedly ensure compliance with the ‘one-person, one-vote’ standard mandated by the Fourteenth Amendment; however, ACS data is inadequate for that purpose.” They are asking the court to declare that the enacted plans violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, and are asking for an injunction preventing the defendants from certifying petitions or conducting future elections for the General Assembly under the enacted plans and an injunction requiring the defendants to draw new maps based on the data from the 2020 Census.

Democratic leaders of the Senate Redistricting Committee Omar Aquino and Elgie Sims responded to Durkin and McConchie’s lawsuit, saying: “Throughout this process, (Republicans) have done nothing but delay and obstruct efforts to ensure our communities are fairly represented, as seen by their refusal to even draft their own proposals… We stand by our work to ensure everyone has a voice in state government.” No response to the MALDEF lawsuit had been reported as of June 16th.

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Exploring the history of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996

You may have heard about Section 230, but what exactly is it? Section 230 is a federal law passed as part of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) which contains two provisions that prevent internet service providers and website companies from being held liable for most content created by users of their services, including content that could be considered false or defamatory.

At the time of the bill’s passage, household internet usage was limited but rapidly growing. Societal concerns over access to pornography and sexually explicit materials by minors accompanied the rapid growth of internet usage and became notable political issues in the 1980s and 1990s. Congress sought to address concerns over pornography through legislation, including the passage of the Communications Decency Act, which became Title V of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Shortly after passage, the American Civil Liberties Union challenged the constitutionality of the CDA on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment and Fifth Amendment. In a unanimous decision in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Reno v. ACLU that the Act violated the First Amendment. The decision invalidated much of the CDA with the exception of the language of Section 230, which was not the subject of the ACLU’s legal challenge, thus Section 230 was left intact and remained federal law.

The legal and social relevance of Section 230 has grown in the 21st century as internet use has expanded, causing the provision to attract both critics and defenders. Critics have argued that the law has exempted online companies from a legal responsibility to moderate what they view as harmful content and that it has protected companies that discriminate or censor content. Supporters of Section 230 have argued that it serves to promote and protect free speech and user choice on the internet.

On May 28, 2020, President Donald Trump (R) signed Executive Order 13925: Preventing Online Censorship which included a provision asking the Secretary of Commerce and Attorney General to, acting through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), file a petition for rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting that the FCC clarify certain rules for the application of Section 230. The Department of Justice, on September 23, 2020, sent a letter to Congress proposing four areas for amendments to Section 230. One month later, on October 15, the FCC Chairman announced the Commission would work on clarifying the meaning of Section 230. On May 19, 2021, President Biden (D) signed Executive Order 14029: Revocation of Certain Presidential Actions and Technical Amendment, which included a provision to revoke Executive Order 13925. In addition to these actions, multiple bills have been proposed since the beginning of 2020 in Congress to amend Section 230.

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