Democracy & Election

Democracy & Election

Ballot Initiatives

A ballot initiative that would create an independent citizens’ redistricting commission to draw the state’s political boundaries, proposed by Voters Not Politicians (VNP), will go before voters on the November 2018 ballot. Voters Not Politicians founder Katie Fahey hopes a nonpartisan commission will remove politics from the redistricting process, and create a system that “represents voters instead of politicians.”

The group submitted nearly 450,000 signatures to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers in December 2017, overwhelmingly surpassing the amount necessary to place a question before Michigan voters on the ballot in 2018 (315,654).

At the beginning of June, a three-judge panel at the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered for VNP’s measure to be placed on the November ballot, unanimously rejecting a challenge that contended the initiative is too expansive for a constitutional amendment and does not list all to the sections that would be abrogated. The challengers appealed the decision to the Michigan Supreme Court. Learn more about the lawsuit here.

On June 20, the Board of State Canvassers approved putting the proposal on the November ballot in a 3-0 vote.

On July 31, the Michigan Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision, allowing the proposal to be voted on in November.

The proposal has garnered support from a variety of newspapers, including the  and the Organizers have gathered enough signatures to put a proposal that would change Utah’s redistricting process before voters in November.

Better Boundaries, the ballot proposal organized by the bipartisan group, Utahns for Responsive Government, would create a seven-member advisory redistricting commission to advise Utah lawmakers on the redistricting process beginning in 2021. The commissioners, who would be appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, would be required to follow ranked-order criteria to draw the state’s congressional and legislative districts, which would include preserving communities of interest and neighborhoods together. The proposal would also prohibit the commission and the legislature from considering partisan political data unless necessary to comply with other redistricting criteria.

The lieutenant governor certified the group’s signatures in early June.

The proposal is supported by several major newspapers, including the Deseret News and the Salt

Lake Tribune.
Clean PRI is campaigning for a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would mandate the use of a new statistical model for redistricting. The amendment also would give a nonpartisan state demographer responsibility for drawing state legislative lines for state apportionment commissions. If voters approve the measure, PRI would be one of the first states in the nation to require a statistical test to measure partisan fairness in the redistricting process.

The coalition submitted almost 347,000 signatures in May, exceeding the minimum 160,199 signatures it needs for the initiative to appear on the November ballot.
Learn more about the proposal here.

Ballot Initiatives (potential future)
Currently, an apportionment board consisting of the governor, secretary of state, and attorney general draws Arkansas’ state legislative districts while the legislature draws congressional districts. The proposed constitutional amendment would replace the existing process with a seven-member citizens commission that would draw both congressional and state legislative districts. The commission would consist of two Democrats, two Republicans, and three individuals unaffiliated with any political party. The proposal also prohibits drawing districts for partisan advantage or to harm the voting strength of minority groups.

Supporters will need to collect signatures from at least 15 counties totaling 10% of the number of votes cast in the next gubernatorial election to submit to the secretary of state for the initiative to appear on the 2020 ballot.

Represent Oklahoma, a nonpartisan citizens group, is seeking a state constitutional change that would transfer redistricting duties from the legislature to an independent, nonpartisan commission. According to the group’s website, the proposal would provide clear criteria such as ensuring common communities are intact and prohibits drawing districts with partisan motivations. It would also require consensus from each party represented for a plan to pass.

The group hopes to implement a new process before the next redistricting cycle in 2021.

Legislative Proposals (passed in 2018)

In early May, Colorado lawmakers approved two measures that would create a twelve-member redistricting commission with an equal number of Democrats, Republicans, and unaffiliated voters to draw the state’s congressional and state legislative districts. A supermajority of eight members, including at least two unaffiliated members, would be required to approve a map. Cosponsor State Sen. Stephen Fenberg stated, “This makes sure Democrats and Republicans can’t collude and draw maps that are equally good for the parties but bad for unaffiliated voters.” Both of the bipartisan resolutions passed through the legislature unanimously.

Two citizen coalitions – Fair Districts Colorado and People Not Politicians – that previously filed ballot measures implementing similar citizens redistricting commission, are now supporting and campaigning for the new measure, known as Fair Maps Colorado. The proposal will go before voters on the November ballot.

The proposals have won support from several newspapers, including the Denver Post and the Colorado Springs Gazette.

In May 2018, Ohio voters overwhelming passed a ballot proposal that requires bipartisan cooperation in the legislature’s map drawing process for congressional districts.

State Issue 1 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would keep the legislature in charge of drawing congressional maps, but, will restrict politicians’ ability to manipulate district lines for partisan advantage. The proposal would require support from both parties to ensure a map has bipartisan approval and sets new rules for map drawing that were previously absent, such as ensuring districts are compact and rules for preserving cities, townships and municipal corporations in the same district. If the legislature fails to pass a map with bipartisan support, the state’s seven-member redistricting commission would have the opportunity to draw a map. If the commission fails to pass a map with bipartisan approval, the legislature would have a second chance to pass a map, but would be subject to strict rules if it cannot garner significant bipartisan support.

The final amendment was a compromise between Democrats, Republicans, and Fair Districts = Fair Elections, a nonpartisan coalition who prepared a ballot proposal that would have added congressional maps to the state redistricting commission’s duties. The new process will begin in 2021.

Legislative Proposals (potential future)
OneVirginia2021 launched March Forth, a ten-month campaign to build momentum for a constitutional amendment to end gerrymandering in Virginia before voters in 2020. Advocates plan to organize Virginia residents to urge state legislators to enact reform during the 2019 legislative session.

To get a constitutional amendment on the ballot before the next round of redistricting, the General Assembly must pass identical resolutions in consecutive sessions in 2019 and 2020.

Policy Proposals

Threats to our systems of democracy and justice have been intensifying in recent years. The Trump White House has sharply escalated these pressures, smashing through traditions and laws that embody the values of the Constitution. We need a modern reform agenda, outfitted for the circumstances of the 21st century, to fortify these systems and the rule of law under this administration and beyond.

At the Brennan Center, we are well-positioned to play a central role in advancing these affirmative reforms, as our work revolves around crafting innovative policies and fighting for them. We want to ensure every eligible voter can vote. Our signature voting reform, automatic voter registration, now in place in 10 states and the District of Columbia, accomplishes this. We want to ensure no one is unnecessarily incarcerated. Our sentencing reform work underpins The Reverse Mass Incarceration Act and was introduced this year in the Senate and House. We want to curb money’s influence on politics through a small donor public financing systemthat would give ordinary voters a stronger voice in choosing their leaders. From protecting the vote to restoring the rule of law, these policies and initiatives will strengthen norms of democratic governance and the rule of law.

Our country urgently needs to reform and revitalize our electoral, political, and justice systems – and recommit to the rule of law. If we do not fix these systems, we cannot solve the problems created by their dysfunction.

In order to hold political institutions and laws accountable to the American ideals of democracy and equal justice, the Brennan Center devises fresh, practical, data-driven, bipartisan legal and policy reforms backed up by high caliber, rigorous research. The Center works tirelessly to ensure that lawmakers enact these vital policy reforms and advance democracy and justice. Below is a sample of legislation spurred by Brennan Center policy proposals.

Voter Empowerment Act
The Brennan Center has been a leading force in efforts to modernize our voting system, helping shape the Voter Empowerment Act, introduced by Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and other congressional leaders. This federal bill includes steps to modernize voter registration, a proposal first introduced by the Brennan Center in 2008.

Empowering Citizens Act
Introduced by Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) in 2012, the Empowering Citizens Act encourages campaign contributions from small donors through a public matching fund program and greatly reduces the role of big money in politics. The Act builds on proven small donor matching systems like New York City’s public financing law and our proposal, Empowering Small Donors in Federal Elections. The Center has also worked on other small donor public financing bills, including the Grassroots Democracy Act and the Fair Elections Now Act.