A Big Victory In North Carolina Against Gerrymandering
Sep. 5, 2019
Political districts in North Carolina have been highly gerrymandered. In the 2018 elections, Republican candidates won a bare majority of the votes, but won 10 of the 13 seats. As one Republican lawmaker stated, his party members had settled on this map because “I do not believe it is possible to draw a map with 11 Republicans and 2 Democrats.” This was pure partisanship in its least democratic form.
Democrats and their allies sued and the case advanced to the Supreme Court. In June 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court, by a 5-4 decision, ruled that drawing legislative districts were the responsibility of the state and that it would not interfere with the powers of the states. While no one seemed to contest that gerrymandering was unfair, the court stated that it was the responsibility of the states.
At the time of this ruling, Democrats sharply criticized the court, some even suggested increasing the numbers of justices in order to get results more to their liking. Republicans, on the other hand, praised the decision, primarily because the districts in North Carolina were sharply gerrymandered in their favor.
We have argued that gerrymandering is not a Republican or a Democratic issue. Instead, it is a have-and-have-not issue. The party in power will always try to draw districts in a manner that benefits its partisans and disadvantages its opposition. We have also argued that State Supreme Court decisions in Pennsylvania, among others, and grass roots movements in Michigan, Ohio, Missouri, Colorado, and Utah were having a significant impact on limiting gerrymandering and creating a system whereby districts were drawn by independent commissions instead of by politicians.
On September 2, 2019, the movement against gerrymandering had one of its biggest victories. The Supreme Court in North Carolina ruled that legislative boundaries for the State Senate and House were unfairly gerrymandered. In 2018, the Democrats received more votes than the Republicans, but because of gerrymandering, the Republicans held 54% of the House seats and 58% of the Senate seats. Theoretically, if the Democrats received more votes, they should have obtained more seats; but the Republican-controlled legislature placed the Democrats into a small number of districts so it could maintain its control.
In its decision, the North Carolina Supreme Court stated,
“The object of all elections is to ascertain, fairly and truthfully, the will of the people. (The) …. inescapable conclusion (was that the maps) do not permit voters to freely choose their respresentative, but rather representatives are choosing voters based on partisan sorting.”
With this week’s State Supreme Court decision, all of the districts will have to be redrawn before the next election. While this decision does not impact the U.S. Congressional seats (the case on which the Supreme Court refused to rule), it is very likely that these districts will be redrawn before the 2022 election and after the 2020 census.
In state after state, we are seeing judges and voters rebel against the partisan gerrymandering of their politicians. While the Supreme Court has refused to touch gerrymandering, local court decisions and local grass roots movements are having a huge impact in purple (North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Michigan, Ohio) and red (Missouri, Utah) states.
Of all of the issues that we follow at Reform Elections Now, we believe the fastest progress is being made in the effort to overturn gerrymandering and create fair elections for all citizens.
N.Y. State enacts significant voting reforms in 2019
In January 2019, the N.Y. State legislature passed, and Gov. Cuomo signed, significant legislation making it easier to citizens to vote.
As Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said, “Government should be about breaking down barriers. We need more voices in our democracy, not fewer. Easing access to voting and having New Yorkers exercise their Constitutional right to have their voices heard shouldn’t be partisan or controversial. Other states have taken the lead on issues like early voting, same-day registration, pre-registration, and no-excuse absentee voting. It is time for New York State to catch up, so we can once again lead the way forward.”
The new legislative package includes the following reforms.
- Early voting: Enacting early voting will make voting more convenient for voters with professional or family obligations that make it difficult to physically get to the polls, as well as reduce waiting times and ease logistical burdens for poll workers. The new law provides Early Voting of 10 days, which includes two weekends. Prior to this law, N.Y. was one of only 12 states that did not permit early voting.
- Synchronizing federal and state elections: New York State currently holds separate primary elections for state and federal elections. With the addition of a presidential primary every four years and a general election, this means that in some cases New York is holding four different elections in a year. This can be confusing to voters, wastes administrative resources, and significantly restricts voter turnout. The separate primaries for federal and state offices were a major cause of the extremely low voter turnout in N.Y. State. This bill will unify the federal and state primaries and ensure that voters only go to the polls once to choose their nominees. This change should significantly increase voter turnout.
- Pre-registration for minors: New Yorkers are not permitted to register to vote unless they will be 18 years of age by the end of the year, and by the date of the election in which they intend to vote. This bill will allow 16 and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote, meaning that a voter will automatically be registered on his or her 18th birthday. This should make it much easier for people to register.
- Universal transfer of registration: When New Yorkers move to a different county, their voter registration does not move with them. This requires the voter to re-register with his or her new local board of elections as if he or she were registering for this first time. This bill will ensure that when a voter moves elsewhere in the state, his or her voter registration will seamlessly go with them.
- Closing the LLC Loophole:Individuals and corporations have strict limits to their political spending, but large donors have avoided these limits by donating through LLCs. This new law places the same limit on LLCs as on corporations ($5,000). It also requires the disclosure of direct and indirect membership interests in the LLC making a contribution, and for the contribution to be attributed to that individual.
In addition to these significant improvements, the State Legislature also passed two resolutions for constitutional amendments.
- No-excuse absentee voting by mail: The New York State Constitution currently restricts absentee ballots to individuals who provide a qualifying reason, such as absence from the county on Election Day or an illness or disability. This unnecessarily prevents New Yorkers from being able to vote by mail for reasons other than those currently listed in the constitution, or simply for convenience. This constitutional amendment will make absentee ballots available to any eligible voter, no matter their reason for wanting one, which will help make voting as accessible as possible.
- Same-day registration: The New York State Constitution prohibits voters from registering to vote less than 10 days before an election and still being able to vote in that election. In today’s world with today’s technology, there is no policy or administrative reason to prevent voters from registering to vote on the day of an election. This constitutional amendment will eliminate this outdated but formidable barrier to the ballot box.
Other issues under consideration for 2020 include:
- Making Election Day a holidayso people do not have to take off from work to vote.
- Automatic registrationso people can register to vote when they get a driver’s license or interact with the state in some other official manner.
- Online registrationso New Yorkers can apply to the Board of Elections in the same way they apply to the DMV.
- Ban corporate contributionsto restore power to the people and reduce the power of special interests and dark money.
Reform Elections Now believes the State Legislature and Governor Cuomo have taken important steps to improve democracy in N.Y. State.
VOTERS PROVE LIKE RANKED CHOICE VOTING—BECAUSE THEY SHOW UP AND VOTE
New York is considering putting Ranked Choice Voting for mayor on the ballot. We thought it would be useful to look at turnout in N.Y. as compared to turnout in cities that use Ranked Choice voting.
Based on available data, we find that turnout per population, in cities that use ranked choice voting is twice as high as turnout in the last election in N.Y. There can be no more powerful endorsement of this system than the fact that citizens show up in record numbers and exercise their right to vote.
In the last N.Y. mayoral election, there were 1,092,746 votes. This may seem like a lot of votes, but N.Y. City has a population of 8.623 million. This means that 12.7% of all citizens voted.
In San Francisco, Minneapolis, Oakland, Santa Fe, Portland Maine, and Berkeley Ca., the average voter turnout was 27.8%, more than twice as high as that in N.Y. City.
Compare the results in N.Y. with those of cities that use Ranked Choice Voting.
City Percent Voting
New York 12.7%
San Francisco 21.3%
Santa Fe 24.6%
Portland, Ma. 26.8%
Berkeley, Ca. 48.2%
Average for RCV Cities 27.8%
Why is turnout for Ranked Choice Voting So High?
There are a number of reasons.
• More candidates to choose from.
• Candidates representing broad constituencies
• Less negative campaigning.
• More cooperation and bi partisanship in governing.
Cities with Ranked Choice Voting have over twice the turnout of N.Y.C. Shouldn’t N.Y.C have an election system that its voters will like?
If you want Ranked Choice Voting in New York City, cast your vote in the upcoming election and send your opinion to your representatives.
NYC JUST PUT RANKED CHOICE VOTING ON THE BALLOT
|By Jen Johnson|
Digital Director, RepresentUs
After an impressive show of public support, officials in New York City just voted to put Ranked Choice Voting on the city’s November ballot. If voters approve RCV this November in America’s largest city, it would triple the number of people using RCV.
The vote by the NYC Charter Commission is the latest in a growing call across America for this simple reform that would improve our voting system. How does it work? I’m glad you asked.
How Ranked Choice Voting Works
Right now, voters are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils to avoid what’s known as the “spoiler effect.” As a result, third party candidates are seen as vote-splitters and rarely get enough support to win, leaving us trapped in a two-party system with only two choices.
Ranked Choice Voting, also known as RCV, introduces a simple but powerful change to the way we vote: Instead of voting for the lesser of two evils, rank your top candidates in order of preference. If your first choice is mathematically eliminated, your vote counts toward your second choice. That way, you can vote your conscience without worrying about accidentally electing the candidate you like the least.
Today’s vote to put it on the ballot in America’s largest city is a testament to the increasing interest in this reform across the country.
The building momentum for Ranked Choice Voting
New York City is the latest to put Ranked Choice Voting to the test, but it’s not the first. RCV is already in place in the state of Maine and cities including San Francisco, Santa Fe, Minneapolis, and more.
And while it’s a relatively new reform, Americans have shown it’s one worth defending. After Maine voters passed RCV in 2016, politicians attempted to repeal it. To defend it, volunteers had to collect 80,000 signatures from voters in just 88 days for a People’s Veto – and they did! In June 2018, Maine voters succeeded in their veto and kept RCV.
The campaign to get Ranked Choice Voting on the ballot in NYC
Ranked Choice Voting didn’t end up on the ballot by accident; it was a campaign led by Common Cause New York that involved hundreds of volunteers.
In New York City, ballot questions are approved by a committee called the City Charter Commission – and commissioners are appointed by various city officials.
In advance of the vote, RepresentUs members joined Common Cause New York on an ambitious public engagement campaign to show Commissioners that it’s time to put RCV on the ballot. Volunteers made calls and sent messages to the Charter Commission appointers asking them to go on the record in support of Ranked Choice Voting. They showed up to provide public testimony and submitted online testimony directly to the commissioners.
RepresentUs joined the effort, and submitted legal testimony in support of Ranked Choice Voting documenting its many successes in other parts of the country.
What’s next in the campaign?
The Charter Commission’s vote marks a victory in the first step of this campaign: Convincing city officials to let the voters decide on Ranked Choice Voting. Now it’s up to us – the entire anti-corruption movement – to make sure it passes this November.
RepresentUs is working with partners and volunteers to launch a winning campaign, and we need help from people across the country (yes, that means you!).
The first step in this campaign is public awareness. Most voters don’t know what RCV is, and many don’t vote in citywide elections. To win, we need to make sure New Yorkers know what Ranked Choice Voting is, and that they have a chance to pass it this November.