In the last couple of weeks, there have been big developments on redistricting reform in three states: California, Ohio and Colorado.In Calfornia, a state judge tossed a Schwarzenneger-backed redistricting initiative off the ballot for a November special election. A federal district judge stayed the order pending a hearing, but it doesn’t look good for the much-hyped but (IMHO) flawed proposal, which mainly relies on a procedural mechanism of turning redistricting over to a panel of retired judges, without much in the way of new guidelines for map-drawing. Ah-nold has been negotiating with Assembly Democrats on a plan to displace the initiative with a legislatively sponsored reform plan, but there hasn’t been much news about that of late.In Ohio, a group of good-government groups and (mostly Democratic) legislators are conducting a frantic and potentially successful petition drive (which must succeed by August 1) to get a package of three initiatives on the November 2005 ballot that includes a redistricting reform plan, along with a campaign finance reform effort and a provision seeking to de-politicize Ohio’s highly suspect election administration system. The redistricting initiative is interesting: in sharp contrast to California’s initiative, it places a very high premium on competitive districts (while respecting Voting Rights Act considerations), and essentially solicits a variety of plans that will be rated according to the extent that they create the maximum number of competitive congressional and state legislative districts, while ensuring overall partisan balance statewide. The package of reforms in Ohio is being fueled by widespread public disgust with the ongoing and ever-escalating news of scandals implicating the state’s entrenched Republican leaders in the executive and legislative branches.And in Colorado, a three-judge federal panel yesterday rejected a suit by Republicans to reinstate a 2001 re-redistricting of congressional districts by what was then a GOP-controlled legislature. And though I haven’t been able to find the opinion yet, it sounds like the judges expressed more than a little contempt for the Republicans’ argument that their First Amendment rights were violated when a court drew an earlier map after the legislature failed to enact a plan, triggering a state constitutional ban on re-redistricting.Meanwhile, down in Florida, my informants say the effort there to get a package of redistricting reforms on the November 2006 ballot is rolling along nicely on a wave of positive newspaper editorial endorsements and a solid petition drive, led by former Education Secretary and Senate candidate Betty Castor. As in Ohio, the Florida reforms would take place immediately upon enactment. And if you recall that Florida and Ohio represent two of the five states (the others being Pennsylvania, Michigan, and thanks to the Great Texas Power Grab of 2003, the Lone Star State) whose peculiar map-drawing has had a lot to do with GOP control of the U.S. House, this is good news on both small-d and big-D democratic grounds.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
As a California voter, I am acutely aware of the state’s very deliberate process for counting votes, and wrote about the latest lesson from June 7 at New York:
Anyone engaged in politics in a state with heavy voting by mail knows that making pronouncements based on early returns is perilous. The danger of rushes to judgment is especially dire in California, which allows mail ballots postmarked by Election Day but received in the next week to count, permits Election Day registration, and goes the extra mile to help voters cure minor errors on their mail ballot. As CalMatters put it in 2020, “the state opts to make it very easy for Californians to vote” and prioritizes voter convenience over the speed or efficiency of vote-counting. There have been many recent elections in the Golden State where the winners on Election Night have turned into losers before very long.
This was all well known prior to the 2022 California top-two primary on June 7. Yet early returns fed a narrative of a conservative law-and-order revolt against the Golden State’s dominant progressives. Newsweek’s take was typical:
“Democratic voters in California took their frustrations to the ballot box on Tuesday, boosting a former Republican in Los Angeles’ mayoral race and removing one of the nation’s most progressive district attorneys from office in an urban revolt …
“What’s happening in the L.A. mayor’s race and in the San Fransisco district attorney race is ‘consistent with the trend we are seeing nationally: that voters feel that the Democratic Party has moved too far left and want elected officials to shift back towards the center,’ Democratic pollster Carly Cooperman told Newsweek.”
Rick Caruso’s early lead in the L.A. mayoral race and what appeared initially to be a three-to-two victory for the effort to recall San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin were wildly overinterpreted, as I pointed out at the time:
“The idea that the primary showed a state convulsed with reactionary tough-on-crime sentiment is an overreaction to what actually happened on June 7. Boudin was happily tossed over the side by much of San Francisco’s Democratic political establishment — who regarded him as an embarrassing and not terribly competent outlier, not a national symbol of criminal-justice reform (as some have treated him). And while Caruso’s emergence as a freshly minted Democrat running a viable race for mayor of L.A. was startling, it took a ten-to-one spending advantage over Karen Bass to make the general election. His best shot at winning may have passed in this low-turnout primary; Bass should be favored to win in November.”
Now, late-arriving results in the primary have made the law-and-order takes not just premature but possibly wrong, as the Los Angeles Times explained:
“[I]n the two weeks since California’s primary, some key races across the state have reshuffled or tightened — turning upside-down some of the early punditry about the message Golden State voters are sending this cycle …
“In L.A.’s mayoral race, Caruso, a billionaire developer who ran on a platform of expanding the city’s police force and clearing homeless encampments, celebrated with confetti on election night as he held a five-percentage-point lead over U.S. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles), whom he will face in the November runoff.
“But two weeks later, he finds himself trailing Bass by seven points.”
I’d say Caruso is a distinct underdog for November.
Boudin was indeed recalled, but the margin of yea-over-nay votes has dropped from 20 percent to 10 percent, and may drop further. And meanwhile, other contests already contradicted the swing-to-the-right narrative on Election Night, as I noted:
“Appointed incumbent attorney general Rob Bonta should have been a prime target for tough-on-crime agitation. As The Appeal noted: ‘Bonta’s record on criminal justice reform, and his ties to groups doing the frontline work to transform prisons and policing, are stronger than either [Xavier] Becerra or [Kamala] Harris,’ his two predecessors. (The former is Joe Biden’s Health and Human Services secretary; the latter is his vice-president.) As a novice statewide candidate, Bonta could have been especially vulnerable, but in a primary against four opponents, he has received almost 55 percent of counted votes — a higher percentage than U.S. senator Alex Padilla and a bit below that of Governor Gavin Newsom.”
Bonta’s lead is exactly where it was on the evening of June 7.
The moral of the story is to resist the temptation to make broad generalizations about California election results until enough of them are in to justify such conclusions. Let’s hope the lesson sinks in by November.