Votelaw, Edward Still's blog on law and politics: November 2003 Archives

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November 27, 2003

Florida legislators' secret funds

The Lakeland, FL, Ledger
reports:

Florida legislators, who used a campaign finance law loophole to raise more than $1 million in secret over the last four years, have finally disclosed most of the names of those contributors since the New York Times Regional Newspapers first reported the secret fund-raising two months ago.

But most legislators handed over the names of contributors to the press and not to state election officials -- meaning that the general public still cannot see who is giving large amounts of money to their elected officials.

Senate President Jim King, RJacksonville, vowed again on Wednesday that legislators would change state law during the 2004 session to end the ability of lawmakers to shield the names of their contributors.

"We will make changes that bring about uniformity, clarity and identification of donors," said King.

Published reports in late September pointed out that since 1999 legislators had used campaign finance laws to create socalled "committees of continuous existence" that legislators were using to bankroll their bids for Senate president, House speaker and other legislative leadership posts. Nearly $3 million had been raised for these CCEs during the four-year period.

Alamosa County, Colorado

AP reports:

At-large elections for Alamosa County commissioners don't discriminate against Hispanic voters, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

The Justice Department sued the county in November 2001, claiming at-large elections diluted the voting power of Hispanics and violated the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

An analysis of the county's electoral history by the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division showed that a majority of white voters generally cast ballots in a bloc to defeat Hispanic candidates.

Commissioner candidates in Alamosa County are required to live in a particular district but residents of the entire county may vote in each race. The same at-large system is used in most Colorado counties.

Hispanics make up 31 percent of the county's 14,966 residents and 38 percent of the 10,898 voting-age residents.

If anyone has a copy of the decision (or briefs in the case), email it to me or email me for instructions on where to fax them. The email address is in the upper right corner of the page.

CORRECTION: I have changed the title to reflect that Alamosa County is in Colorado, not Wyoming. Thanks to Richard Winger for the geographical fact-checking.

More separation of England and Scotland?

The Glasgow Evening Times reports, Scots MPs may lose England votes :

SCOTTISH MPs could lose the right to vote on English issues when the Scotland Act is reopened next year.

Labour rebels and the SNP plan to push through amendments which would ban Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs from taking part in England-only legislation.

The move follows the fury last week after Tony Blair's plans for foundation hospitals in England were forced through with the help of Scots votes.

Selma's nuns

AP reports:

Filming has begun on a one-hour television documentary about the Roman Catholic nuns in the Selma-Dallas County area who participated in the voting rights movement in the 1960s.

The production staff recently visited Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma and Wilcox County for the project called "Sisters of Selma: Bearing Witness for Change."

Alabama Public Television is helping with the project that's expected to air on PBS in March 2005, the 40th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery march.

In 1965, nuns participated in the protests in the streets of Selma when many church leaders were reluctant to address the treatment of blacks in the South, according to the filmmakers.

Amen to that.

North Carolina approves redistricting plan

The Daily Tar Heel reports:

After more than two years of debate, multiple court cases and mounting frustration, the N.C. General Assembly approved new redistricting maps Tuesday in time to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday.

The Senate voted 25-23 in favor of the legislative redistricting bill in the 2003 extra session. The House approved it 63-52.

"We can now present to you a map that leaves 88 counties undivided, which is four more than the interim maps," said Sen. Dan Clodfelter, D-Mecklenburg, chairman of the redistricting committee. "This was not done without some difficulty."

The new Senate districts are more compact than past ones, with 12 districts containing two-county clusters, three more than the previous maps, and with fewer split counties. "This more faithfully adheres to the (state) constitution," Clodfelter said.

Clusters occur when a county of more than 67,000 people, which constitutes a district, is divided into more than one district. The divisions are kept within the county or are paired with neighboring counties to keep districts compact.

But not everyone is pleased. the News Observer reports:

New legislative districts approved Tuesday could pit 10 pairs of lawmakers against each other in next year's election, triggering another wave of redistricting-related turnover.

That is, if yet another expected lawsuit doesn't spike the new maps first.

"The courts are going to take care of it," said Sen. Robert Rucho, a Republican from Matthews who is in a district with fellow Republican Robert Pittenger of Charlotte.

The redistricting plan passed the House on a 72-44 vote with mostly Democratic support, though Republicans hold a 61-59 majority. The Democratic-controlled Senate approved the maps on a 25-23 vote. The plan goes to Gov. Mike Easley.

Texas re-redistricting trial nears

The Texas re-redistricting plan is nearing its trial on 11 December. The pretrial motions are coming hot and heavy. The Houston Chronicle reports:

A three-judge federal court has scheduled a hearing Monday on U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay's effort to avoid testifying in a lawsuit challenging Texas' new congressional redistricting plan.

DeLay, R-Sugar Land, and U.S. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Ennis, have filed motions to quash a Democratic subpoena for their sworn testimony.

The hearing will be conducted via conference phone call among the judges and lawyers in the case.

Democrats and minority groups have filed several lawsuits challenging the redistricting plan, which DeLay pressured the Legislature into enacting to increase the number of Republicans elected to Congress.

The federal panel -- including U.S. District Judges T. John Ward of Marshall and Lee H. Rosenthal of Houston and appellate Judge Patrick E. Higginbotham of Dallas -- will begin a combined trial of the lawsuits on Dec. 11 in Austin.

The Hill reported:

Claiming not to trust Rep. Martin Frost, who heads the delegation’s opposition to the GOP-drawn map, two African-American Texas lawmakers have retained their own lawyer to represent them in court challenges.

“I don’t have any basic trust with [Frost] when it comes to drawing maps,” said Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas). She and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) have hired civil-rights lawyer Anthony Griffin to safeguard their interests. Attorney Gerry Hebert represents Frost and most other Texas Democrats.

Also adding to the split are the interests of at least two white Democratic incumbents — Reps. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas) and Chris Bell (D-Texas) — who are eyeing seats in new districts crafted for minority representation.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department is considering whether to preclear the plan. The San Antonia Express-News reports:

A Hispanic civil rights group told the Justice Department on Friday that a newly adopted redistricting plan in Texas would dilute minority strength at the ballot box and violate the voting rights of Hispanics. The League of United Latin American Citizens said the plan decreases the number of minority-majority congressional districts from 12 to nine.

LULAC said minorities have lost their majority status in three congressional districts — in Dallas, Austin and the San Antonio-based 23rd which sweeps from Laredo to El Paso.

"Our position is that we are clearly worse off because we lost three congressional districts," said Rolando Rios of San Antonio, one of four LULAC attorneys who participated in the Justice Department hearing.

November 23, 2003

Vieth v Jubelirer

Sam Hirsch wrote me last week:

The Plaintiff-Appellants filed their Reply Brief today in Vieth v. Jubelirer, which will be the U.S. Supreme Court's first partisan-gerrymandering case since Davis v. Bandemer in 1986. All of the briefs filed in this appeal are now available in .pdf format at this link: http://www.jenner.com/news/news_item.asp?id=000012249825 . Oral argument is scheduled for Wednesday, December 10.

November 18, 2003

Blogging light to non-existent for a while

I have not dropped off the end of the earth, but nearly so. I am in trial and probably will not be able to blog much till after Thanksgiving.

November 13, 2003

Texas judges: be ready for anything

San Antonio Express-News reports,

Three federal judges Wednesday ordered Texas to tell counties they may redraw precinct lines to prepare for the March party primaries, in case a Republican overhaul of Texas congressional districts is upheld.

But the three-judge panel stopped short of tipping its position on the pending legal challenges to the 32 redrawn districts, saying counties "must also stand ready to use the precinct lines already in existence that conform" with existing district boundaries.

The four-page order, citing a desire to reduce election confusion, also postpones the issuance of new voter registration cards from December until January.

Arizona trial finally starts

Arizona Daily Sun reports,

Lawyers representing Democrats and Republicans each accused the other Wednesday of trying to distort the redistricting process to gain unfair political advantage. Paul Eckstein said the Independent Redistricting Commission ignored its constitutional obligation to create legislative and congressional boundaries that are competitive. Eckstein who represents a coalition of Democrats and Hispanics said the results were maps that created many "safe'' Republican districts.

In fact, Eckstein told Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Kenneth Fields during the first day of what could be a six-week trial there actually were more competitive districts in the decade before the commission acted. And those districts, Eckstein said, were created by the Legislature which, unlike the law governing the new commission, had no mandate to consider competition at all.

But Neil Wake countered that the Democrats who pushed for creation of the commission now are unhappy -- and are suing -- because the lines are not to their liking. He represents Arizonans for Fair and Legal Redistricting which is funded by the Republican Party.

(Disclosure: I represent the plaintiffs in the suit against the Independent Redistricting Commission over its Congressional plan. I did not make an opening statement on Wednesday.)

November 10, 2003

Massachusetts redistricting trial begins

The suit against the Massachusetts legislative redistricting plan began today. The Boston Globe reports,

House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran is expected to be among the witnesses called to testify this week in a federal trial during which voting-rights groups and minority residents of Boston and Chelsea will argue that the Legislature's 2001 redistricting plan was drawn up to protect Finneran and other white incumbents.

The trial starts this morning in US District Court before a special panel of three federal judges. They will decide whether the redistricting plan drawn up for the House of Representatives after the 2000 US Census violates the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits discriminatory election practices.

Opponents of the redistricting plan, which was unveiled in October 2001, filed their lawsuits primarily in response to the redrawing of two districts -- Finneran's, which encompasses parts of Mattapan, Milton, and Dorchester, and that of Representative Eugene L. O'Flaherty, which covers Chelsea and part of Charlestown.

As a result of the redistricting, Finneran, of Mattapan, dropped three overwhelmingly minority neighborhoods and picked up three that were at least 95 percent white.

AP reports,

The lawmaker who was in charge of redrawing the lines for House legislative districts said Monday he had done his best to do the right thing, and said he was unaware that the plan had eliminated a majority-minority district in Boston.

Rep. Thomas Petrolati, D-Ludlow, House chairman of the Legislature's redistricting committee, was peppered with questions as trial began in federal lawsuits brought by minority and voting rights activists who claim the way several districts in Boston and neighboring Chelsea were redrawn was illegal and unconstitutional.

The "I was too dumb to know what I was doing" defense.

Complaint against DeLay's PAC

Two groups have filed a complaint with the IRS against Texans for a Republican Majority, according to their press release:

Public Citizen and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) today filed a letter of complaint with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) calling upon the agency to enforce its disclosure requirements regarding contributions made to Section 527 groups originally founded by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).

The complaint calls upon the IRS to require Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (TRMPAC) and its related entity, Americans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (ARMPAC), to comply with federal disclosure laws. It also calls upon the IRS to conduct a forensic audit of those groups.

Both groups operate Section 527 organizations, which permits them to collect unlimited "soft money" donations from corporations and wealthy individuals. The groups have either recently failed to file any financial disclosure statements or filed incomplete statements with the IRS in direct violation of the law.

November 8, 2003

AZ Commission wins against Navajo Nation

AP reports, Judge upholds split districts for Navajos, Hopis:

A judge ruled that the state redistricting commission legally could draw a serpentine line across part of northern Arizona in order to put the long-feuding Navajo and Hopi tribes' reservations in separate congressional districts.

Judge Kenneth Fields' ruling Thursday on dueling pretrial motions by the Independent Redistricting Commission and the Hopi Tribe on one side and the Navajo Nation on the other narrowed a case about to go to trial.

The line overlays the Colorado River for part of its path and then cuts across a sparsely populated portion of the Navajo Reservation, which was placed in the 1st Congressional District, to reach the Hopi Reservation.

The Navajos said a 103-mile narrow corridor drawn to connect the Hopi Reservation to the rest of the 2nd Congressional District violated a state constitutional mandate for geographically compact districts. It also violated a requirement to respect "communities of interest" by putting 42 Navajos in the 2nd District, the tribes' lawyers said.

However, Fields ruled that the commission acted within its constitutional duty.

"The exclusion of the Hopi Tribe from Congressional District 1 and inclusion in Congressional District 2 was a political decision reserved to the IRC so long as it followed federal and state law," Fields wrote.

Judge Fields' decision regarding the Navajo-Hopi issue is here. His denial of other summary jugdment motions is here.

(Disclosure: I represent the plaintiffs in the suit against the Independent Redistricting Commission over its Congressional plan.)

November 7, 2003

Whose Democracy is it?

During this last week many public radio stations have been running shows around the general theme, "Whose Democracy Is It?" Marketplace's contribution has been mostly about money in politics. The general website for the collaborative project is here.

Other shows of interest to this blog include "Whose Votes Count" (on felon disfranchisement), "Does Your Vote Count" on election administration and machinery, and "Mississippi Becomes a Democracy."

November 6, 2003

Felon disfranchisement

TalkLeft has an interesting post on Felons Disenfranchised.

Governor signs bill for AZ Commission money

The Arizona Daily Sun reports,

Gov. Janet Napolitano on Wednesday penned her approval to legislation providing an additional $1.7 million to the Independent Redistricting Commission. Commission Chairman Steve Lynn said the move will guarantee his agency is able to defend the legislative and congressional boundaries crafted after the last census. The commission already has used up virtually all of the $6 million it was given to draw the lines and handle any litigation.

A trial is set to begin this coming Wednesday to hear various legal challenges.

(Disclosure: I represent the plaintiffs in the suit against the Independent Redistricting Commission over its Congressional plan.)

November 5, 2003

Dean on "real campaign finance reform" and opting out

There are two interesting developments in Howard Dean's campaign.

First, as I have reported before, Dean is considering opting out of the public financing system. But what is most interesting is that he is asking his supporters to vote -- yes, vote -- on what he should do.

I am asking you to vote on what kind of a campaign we will conduct from this point forward. No matter how well intentioned both our options are – the choice is difficult: do we choose option (a) to fund our campaign ourselves and decline matching funds, or do we choose option (b) and accept federal matching funds and the spending limits?

Second, he has made a major statement on "real campaign finance reform" and even reform of the electoral system. His points include fixing the presidential campaign funding system, expand public financing to other federal candidates, give tax credits for the first $100 of contributions, provide a 5:1 match for that $100, make free TV and radio time available, and more. Read all about it at Dean for America: "Take Back Our Democracy".

Indianapolis

William Groth, an Indiana attorney, wrote me:

You may know or recall that in March of this year the Indiana Supreme Court drew 25 new districts for the Indianapolis City County Council without regard to incumbency, race or political considerations, nothwithstanding Republican claims that the court's map violated Section 2 of the VRA. See Borst v. Peterson, 786 N.E.2d 668, reh'g denied 789 N.E.2d 460 (Ind. 2003). In the "for what it's worth department", it appears from the elections last evening that Democrats have captured 15 or 16 of the 29 seats on the Council (there are 4 at-larges elected countywide). Subject to one potential recount, the voters elected 6 African-American candidates from the 25 districts (5 Ds, 1 R). All 4 Democratic Party at-large candidates won, 3 of whom are African-American. The County's black population is roughly 24%. This experiment with racially and politically neutral redistricting seems to suggest that majority-minority districts are not needed, at least here in Indianapolis, to elect a proportional number of candidates of choice, and in fact deliberately creating them, as the Republican Council majority wanted to do, would arguably have impaired the ability to elect minority candidates having a realistic opportunity to serve as members of the political majority.

NYC stays partisan

The New York Times reports, City Votes Down an Effort to End Party Primaries:

New York City voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure yesterday that would have instituted nonpartisan city elections, voting to forgo changes in a system of selecting municipal officials that has been in place for nearly a century.

It was a stinging defeat for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who had invested millions of his own fortune in a campaign that bombarded voters with fliers and telephone calls in the days leading up to yesterday's vote. It was the most partisan battle in the 22 months since Mr. Bloomberg became mayor, pitting him against nearly every Democratic leader in the city.

With 100 percent of the precincts counted, the vote was 30 percent in favor of the referendum, known as Question 3, and 70 percent against, according to unofficial returns tabulated by the Associated Press. New York City Board of Elections officials described the turnout as light to moderate.

Thanks to Jeff Wice for the link.

November 4, 2003

The most important Dem: Soros?

Byron York, writing in The Hill, claims, "Democrats throw the spirit of reform out the window." He points out that while the GOP national committees have raised almost 3 times the amount of their Democratic counterparts ($148 million to $55 million) in the 2004 cycle, "in the 2002 cycle, Democratic-affiliated 527 groups spent $185 million — more than twice the $82 million spent by Republican-affiliated groups." Despite the apples and oranges comparisons, it is an interesting point.

Arizona commission gets $

The Arizona Daily Sun reports,

With only a handful of Democrats opposed, the Senate on Monday gave final approval to providing an additional $1.7 million to the Independent Redistricting Commission. Monday's 22-4 vote sends the legislation to the governor who has said she will sign the measure once she reviews it. The House had OK'd the proposal last week on a party-line vote with all Democrats opposed.

The infusion comes nine days before a trial where the commission will be defending the legislative and congressional districts it crafted. Several individuals and groups have filed challenges contending the five-member commission did not follow state constitutional mandates in drawing the lines.

Commission Chairman Steve Lynn ... and his colleagues are not counting on legislators' continued acquiescence to their request. On Monday they voted to have one of their members pursue a deal with Maricopa County to see if the five-member Board of Supervisors, including four republicans, are willing to make some cash available.

The Arizona Republic reports,

Sen. Bill Brotherton, D-Phoenix, one of only four dissenting votes, said the redistricting issue shows how Republicans want to deal with political turf before they tackle children's issues.

"I'm just amazed at how we've been able to expedite appropriating money to pay attorneys and yet we're sitting here in long, tedious meetings reinventing the wheel and not make making sufficient headway in protecting children," he said. "I think the Republicans' priorities are making sure they protect people like (U.S. Rep.) J.D. Hayworth but not protect children."

The special session was originally called to fund Child Protective Services and prisons.

(Disclosure: I represent the plaintiffs in the suit against the Independent Redistricting Commission over its Congressional plan.)

November 3, 2003

Suit against Milwaukee districts

AP reports, "A lawsuit filed in federal court claims the city’s redistricting discriminates against black and Latino voters by diluting their voting strength. "

Texas trial set for 11 December

AP reports that the 3-judge federal court hearing the re-redistricting challenges will begin the trial on 11 December.

More trouble for the AZ Commission

AP reported,

Newly disclosed evidence indicates the state commission which drew new legislative and congressional districts violated a constitutional ban on considering where incumbents live, challengers state in court papers filed for an upcoming trial. One commission-hired expert said in a 2001 e-mail that incumbency had to be weighed in analyzing competitiveness of proposed districts, but an Independent Redistricting Commission lawyer denied in court Friday that the line-drawers considered the information when deciding where to draw lines.

Democrats who are challenging the legislative map have received permission from the trial judge to expand their lawsuit to cover the incumbents issue. The commission argued unsuccessfully that the expansion of the challenge came too late.

(Disclosure: I represent the plaintiffs in the suit against the Independent Redistricting Commission over its Congressional plan.)

November 2, 2003

Vote swapping may be back

The Los Angeles Times has an article, Ballot Busters, about (despite the title) vote swapping in presidential elections.

Thanks to Denise Howell at Bag and Baggage for the link.

The decentralized, electronic campaign

The New York Times asks, Howard Dean's Internet Push: Where Will It Lead?.

Dr. Dean used the Internet to build a base of small donors and fund-raisers, a strategy that transformed a former governor from the 49th-largest state with no national fund-raising network into the best-financed Democrat in the presidential campaign. It has also recast the way many in Washington think about how money is raised. In a world in which the highest-spending candidate wins at least three quarters of the time, the curiosity among politicians and big contributors is understandable.

Many wonder whether Dr. Dean's success has cut a permanent path into politics for outsiders and whether many candidates will be willing to relinquish a degree of control over message and method, the approach that Dr. Dean used to build a decentralized Internet-based campaign.

Dr. Dean's Internet fund-raising presents the first new addition in years to time-tested strategies like direct mail, phone solicitation and events in restaurants and hotels that mix donors with candidates in exchange for a check.

It has many hoping for a new vein of money for cash-strapped party committees or Congressional challengers unable to finance a candidacy otherwise. "If you have the right issues and you can generate some excitement, you can rely on the small donor," said Representative Robert T. Matsui of California, the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Skeptics argue that large numbers of small, anonymous donors will never eclipse high-dollar, face-to-face fund-raising. The story of Internet solicitation, they say, is one of isolated successes, and its current popularity will live or die on the fate of Dr. Dean's candidacy. Many also point to Senator John McCain, who had success raising money online in his 2000 presidential campaign but ultimately lost the race.