“Your place for all the information you need about voting rights,
voter suppression, and voting trends to prepare you to fight in the 2022 election.”
May 3, 2022
Federal Appeals Court Says Ohio May Use Unconstitutional Maps If State Can’t Create Constitutional Ones
In what seems to be a never-ending saga, a federal appeals court has ordered Ohio to use redistricting maps that have been ruled unconstitutional four times by the Ohio State Supreme Court if a new, constitutionally acceptable map is not created by May 28.
In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals stated it was concerned the state could not otherwise hold a primary for state legislative races in August as planned. The decision essentially said that it would be better to use unconstitutional maps than to deprive voters of the right to vote in an August election. The two judges voting in the majority are Trump appointees.
The basis for the Ohio Supreme Court’s four rulings against the maps hinges on a constitutional amendment passed by Ohio voters in 2015 to create a bipartisan redistricting commission with standards designed to prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering. That failed to work, which the Republican-controlled state legislature took as permission to create their own maps. Despite the state supreme court ordering the use of outside mapmakers, the legislature prevented their work from being done. https://bit.ly/37RNLCv
Now, the Republican governor and legislature appear to be trying to run out the clock on both the state supreme court-mandated map deadline of May 8 and the federal court’s May 28 deadline, says the the ACLU of Ohio, the Ohio League of Women Voters, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute in an April 25 court filing to the state supreme court.
According to their filing, Republicans have refused to agree with the commission’s two Democrats to even hold a meeting. They asked the court not only to order the redistricting commission to meet, but also to re-hire the two bipartisan map-making consultants whose nearly completed plan Republicans tossed aside last month.
“If the Commission fails to convene and adopt a map, the likely outcome is that the 2022 General Assembly election will be conducted using the unconstitutional Third Plan,” the groups said in the filing. “Based on the Commission’s conduct to date, this appears to be exactly what the Commission is trying to do.” https://bit.ly/3rXTE8b
Courts Throw a Monkey Wrench into Two More State Redistricting Efforts
The New York State Supreme Court ruled last week that the state’s Democratic-drawn congressional map represented a partisan gerrymander that violates the state’s constitution. This is the second time the Democrats have lost in court, following a lower court’s similar ruling earlier last month.
As in Ohio, Democrats were tripped up by a constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2014 that created an independent redistricting commission. When the commission’s map failed to pass in the state legislature, the legislature, controlled by Democrats, created their own. The resulting map, the state supreme court ruled, was “drawn with impermissible partisan purpose” and “to discourage competition.”
Unlike Ohio,the court is taking no chances about what a new map might look like. The ruling has ordered the lower court judge who initially struck down the map, Judge Patrick McCallister, to appoint a special master to create the new map. The new map will be issued by May 24, but with New York’s primary election scheduled for June 28, it is expected that the primary date will be moved to August. https://cnn.it/3Lzgf2E
The ruling is a blow to Democratic hopes of holding the US House because, according to Five Thirty-Eight, “much of Democrats’ national redistricting advantage rested on their gerrymander in New York.” https://53eig.ht/3EZyvj4
Meanwhile, in Kansas, Wyandotte County District Court Judge Bill Klapper struck down a GOP-authored Congressional map that had been passed by the Republican-dominated legislature over a veto by the state’s Democratic governor. The map, he said, “intentionally and effectively dilutes minority votes in violation of the Kansas Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.”
The Republican map would have broken up the Kansas City metro area into two districts by combining part of the current district into a neighboring rural district. The big problem with that? The Kansas City metro area’s county is the only one in Kansas with a majority-minority population, with the state’s sole Democratic member of Congress.
It is apparently the first time ever that a Kansas judge has applied the state constitution to Congressional redistricting. https://bit.ly/37Mz2Jm
Florida Passes Extreme Congressional Map, Immediately Is Sued for Violating State Constitution
On March 29, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a Republican-drawn congressional redistricting map because he considered it not aggressive enough. In particular, he wanted to eliminate two districts with a Black plurality. In its place, he created his own map with the aggressive reapportionment he desired and presented it to the Florida legislature whose own maps had attempted to maintain the current number of Black districts.
On April 21, the Republican-dominated state legislature approved DeSantis’ map, despite their earlier efforts to maintain the two Black districts. Not surprisingly, DeSantis signed his map into law on April 22. “This is a blatant partisan gerrymander…designed by the governor to support his primary challenge against Trump,” said Florida State Rep. Andrew Learned. https://bit.ly/3ON60cX
What’s the problem with DeSantis’ map? It produces a 70% Republican congressional delegation in a state where only 36% of voters call themselves Republicans. It achieves this by completely dismantling the Black-majority 5th District. That district is now split into four majority-white districts, thus eliminating the chance for Black Floridians to elect their candidate of choice in any northern Florida district.
The new map was immediately challenged in court the same day DeSantis signed the bill. A consortium of four advocacy groups and several individual voters filed the suit claiming that DeSantis’ congressional map violated the Florida Constitution. That’s because, in 2010, Florida voters overwhelmingly passed two amendments to the state constitution called the Fair Districts Amendments, whose purpose was to prevent ruling parties in the legislature from engaging in this kind of gerrymandering. As in Ohio, the Florida lawsuit claims the new map blatantly ignores the voter-passed anti-gerrymandering amendments.
Group Headed by Election Conspiracy Theorist Holding “Election Integrity Summits” in Battleground States
The Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a group with strong ties to Donald Trump’s PAC Save America, has been holding “election integrity” summits in battleground states across the country as part of their effort to help elect Republicans by curbing voting rights.
The group is headed by Cleta Mitchell, the Republican lawyer who figured prominently in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Among the sessions offered at the summits: how to form a “local election integrity taskforce”; how to protect “vulnerable voters from leftist activists”; “researching your local election office”; and “monitoring voting equipment and systems.”
According to one attendee quoted by The Guardian newspaper, “The event definitely used the false allegations of fraud in 2020 as a call to action to rally support for vigilant engagement this year in the election process…There was a large focus on recruiting precinct officials to watch the polls and all of the other processes associated with elections.”
Former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, a senior partner at the CPI, has had a leading role in some of the summits, at least until this past March. That’s when North Carolina announced its investigation into Meadows and his wife for voter fraud—they voted in the state despite living in Virginia (they have now been found to be registered to vote in three states, not just two).
So far, summits have been held in Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania, and Florida. Future meetings are planned this spring for Virginia, Michigan and Wisconsin. https://bit.ly/3ETfGxZ
Georgia’s New Voter Suppression Bills Working as Intended
When Georgia passed its SB202 voting rights law last year, the legislation allowed for, among other things, partisan takeovers of election boards that state election officials determined to be “low performing.” That portion of the bill, understandably, set off alarm bells among voting rights advocates.
Now their fears have turned to reality.
Backed by the new law, Georgia Republicans last December purged Black Democrats from the election board of Spalding County, a rural county outside Atlanta, and elected a supporter of Trump’s election lies as head of the board (https://reut.rs/3EQJgo2).
Now that board has voted to eliminate Sunday early voting for the upcoming primary election in May for federal offices. The decision puts a dagger in the heart of the traditional Black “Souls to the Polls” efforts in a county that is 35% Black.
In explaining the decision, Ben Johnson, the new Republican chair of the county election board, noted that other voting options exist, including mail-in voting and the ability to cast ballots on two Saturdays during Georgia’s 17-day early voting window. “Anyone who only has Sunday off — God bless them — but we do have mail-in ballots available,” he said.
Unfortunately, Georgia has also passed laws making it more difficult to vote absentee and limiting the hours and locations of drop boxes that voters can use to return their ballots.
Says Aklima Khondoker, chief legal officer of the New Georgia Project, “The lasting impact here is that Spalding County does not prioritize ballot access for its voters and in particular, Black voters who have long suffered from unequal ballot access. https://cnn.it/3xYWgXc
From the Editor: Time to Sign Off
When we started the Voting Rights Gazette last August, we knew the story of voting rights, voter suppression, and voting trends was an important one. Who knew it would blow up to such proportions that we’d be reporting not only on gerrymandering and election denial, but even QAnon county clerks purposely hacking their own voting machines and federal courts agreeing that unconstitutional maps are better than no maps. It’s almost too much to take in, and we’re only halfway to the November election.
That’s why it’s with a bit of sadness that I say goodbye to you, our readers. Putting out the Voting Rights Gazette has been the thrill of a lifetime. I’ve learned a lot writing this newsletter. I hope you have, too.
But have no fear–you can still keep up with the latest on voting rights, voter suppression, and the fight for 2022 by visiting our Voting Rights Gazette Facebook page! My team and I plan to keep posting the latest news right through to the election. So, stay true, work hard, and Vote Blue in 2022!