Redistricting maps were kept in North Carolina, but struck down in Ohio. What’s the difference?

Political Notebook

(WGHP) — After a three-judge panel in Raleigh upheld the redistricting maps drawn by the state General Assembly, two rulings involving similar claims in Ohio came out quite differently.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Friday struck down the congressional maps approved by the state’s redistricting commission, following a decision earlier this week on the state House and Senate maps, on the grounds of being an extreme partisan gerrymanders. The chief justice, a Republican, voted with three Democrats to sway the 4-3 decisions.

The case in Ohio had been filed in federal court, but a federal judge delayed hearing the case until the state courts had ruled.

On Friday, the court ruled against maps that would’ve given the GOP a 12-3 advantage, saying in the opinion that, “When the dealer stacks the deck, the house usually wins.”

From left, Superior Court Judges Nathaniel Poovey, Graham Shirley and Dawn Layton listen to testimony from Jowei Chen, a political scientist from the University of Michigan, not pictured, during a partisan gerrymandering trial over North Carolina’s new political maps Monday, Jan. 3, 2022 at a courtroom at Campbell University School of Law in Raleigh, N.C. (Travis Long/The News & Observer via AP)

In the first ruling, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch said the court “ruled that the Ohio Redistricting Commission – which is tasked with drawing legislative maps and dominated by Republicans – could not ignore parts of the Ohio Constitution that required them to attempt to match the statewide voting preferences of voters.”

Arguing the case for the defendants in the state maps case was attorney Phil Strach, the same attorney who delivered closing arguments in North Carolina last week that helped sway the panel in Wake County Superior Court to uphold the maps approved on Nov. 5 by the NCGA.

The biggest difference in Ohio is that there is a redistricting commission, composed of seven individuals appointed by various politicians. That process was approved by voters in 2015.

The NCGA has declined to move forward various pieces of legislation to form a nonpartisan commission to redraw districts in the state. House Majority Whip Jon Hardister (R-Guilford County) has been a proponent of that plan and has sponsored some of the stalled legislation to implement it.

What’s next in North Carolina?

The three plaintiffs against the congressional and state maps in North Carolina told the state Supreme Court that they planned to appeal Tuesday’s ruling, and the court set Feb. 2 as the date when it will hear oral arguments.

Associate Justice Phil Berger Jr.
Associate Justice Anita Earls (nccourts.gov)

That court last month delayed the primary elections and candidate filings until the courts could deal with this matter. The primary is scheduled for May 17, but the filing period will resume in late February, the court in Wake County ruled this week.

The appeal brought renewed pressure on the Supreme Court for some justices to recuse themselves because of personal or historic conflict.

You’ve heard about Associate Justice Phil Berger Jr. because his father is Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), a named defendant in the case. Associate Justice Anita Earls is a founder of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, which is involved in representing the plaintiff Common Cause in this case.

Lawyers for the legislature have filed with the court to have Earls and Associate Justice Sam Ervin IV – who is up for re-election – recuse themselves. Plaintiffs similarly have pushed for Berger. Associate Justice Tamara Barringer also has been a recusal target because she is a former Republican legislator who has voted on redistricting maps.

There are detailed guidelines for when recusal is appropriate or required, and the Supreme Court has allowed justices to police that for themselves. Berger and Barringer have said they would hear the case.

Democrats have a 4-3 margin among justices. Recusal of all four would mean a 2-1 Democratic advantage. Any recusals that led to an equally divided court could render a decision moot.

GOP could’ve gone further

Tim Moore

A comment by state House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) has Democrats and gerrymandering critics outraged.

Moore was addressing passages in the ruling by the 3-judge panel in which the judges expressed disdain for what they deemed an extreme gerrymander in some districts. These maps could give the GOP a 10-4 or 11-3 advantage in Congress (it’s currently 8-5, with a new seat awarded by the census figures) despite a statewide voting balance between the parties.

Hall told the News & Observer in Raleigh: “At the end of the day, take a look at the map. If you wanted to take political data into account, if it had been taken into account, the maps could have been drawn in such a way that they would be much more advantageous for Republicans.”

Voting rights legislation

It’s possible that all of this dispute about gerrymandering would be addressed if the U.S. Senate were to pass the voting rights act that President Joe Biden passionately pushed this week.

Non-partisan redistricting would be specified as one of the key elements of the bill, which addresses many elements of elections that cause controversy on the state level, such as voter registration and identification, early voting dates and mail-in ballots.

Actually, there are two bills: the Freedom to Vote Act, which Sen. Joe Manchin (R-W.Va.) negotiated, a modified version of the bill first introduced in 2019, and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which updates the pivotal Voting Rights Act of 1965.

But as a voter, how much do you really know about this bill and what it would mean to you? As a refresher, here are the key elements of the bill, no matter how you might hear politicians spin their views of them:

  • Election Day would become a federal holiday.
  • Redistricting process would be uniform nationally.
  • Voter registration would be part of vehicle registration and available on Election Day.
  • States must provide 15 days of early voting before elections, including two weekends.
  • Every voter could request a mail-in ballot.
  • Rules would dictate how voter rolls would be purged and how drop boxes would be offered.
  • Uniform national standards for voter identification would be established and required.
  • There would be enhanced election security, including the construction of voting equipment and paper records and support for nonpartisan election officials.
  • The Department of Justice would resume its oversight of election laws to guard against discriminatory practices.
  • Greater controls of election contributions would eliminate anonymous donations – dark money – to candidates.

Tidbits

  • Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the race to replace retiring Republican U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, this week received yet another major if unsurprising endorsement: from Gov. Roy Cooper.
  • Beasley’s campaign said it would report $2.1 million in earnings for the fourth quarter. Ballotpedia, which tracks campaign finance records, posted that in the last reporting period, which ended Sept. 30, Beasley had nearly $2.8 million in receipts.
  • The three frontrunners for the Republican nomination – former Gov. Pat McCrory, Rep. Ted Budd (R-Advance) and former Rep. Mark Walker – have not updated their fundraising totals since then. McCrory reported in September that he had nearly $2.3 million in the bank, followed by Budd (more than $2.1 million) and Walker (about $540,000). Walker has been encouraged to leave the race and run the House, a move he has said he is considering, which most feel would help Budd.

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