Nearly one year ago, in September 2019, we launched People Powered Fair MapsTM in response to the disappointing Supreme Court decision in Common Cause v. Rucho. Since the ruling, we have seen many attacks on existing fair redistricting practices, and opposition for attempts to restore power into the hands of the people.
Since the launch of People Powered Fair Maps, Leagues across the country have engaged in litigation for fair maps. Here's where we've been fighting.
Daunt, et al. v. Benson
July 2019 the Michigan Republic Party and fifteen Michigan voters filed claims in a federal court stating that Michigan’s independent redistricting commission violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. The initial motion for a preliminary injunction by the plaintiffs was denied by the district court in November 2019. As a result, they filed an appeal in the 6th Circuit in February 2020. The League of Women Voters of Michigan filed an amicus brief to defend the state’s independent redistricting commission’s legality in Daunt, et al. v. Benson. The League argued that:
Michigan has the right to autonomously organize its redistricting commission
Michigan has a compelling state interest in preventing partisan gerrymandering and reducing litigation
Michigan has compelling state interests in avoiding conflicts of interest and promoting competition in its legislative races.
The 6th Circuit upheld the district court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiffs’ preliminary injunction in April 2020. As of today, Michigan’s independent redistricting commission is still in place for the 2021 redistricting cycle.
Jackson v. Fair Maps Nevada, et al.
In November 2019, the LWV of Nevada (LWVNV), alongside Fair Maps Nevada, filed a ballot initiative to create an independent redistricting commission in their state. They were almost immediately met with opposition from state leaders who argued the initiative language was misleading.
In Jackson v. Fair Maps Nevada, et al. Rev. Leonard Jackson sued Fair Maps Nevada arguing that the ballot initiative’s text was misleading. In support of Fair Maps Nevada, LWVNV filed a motion to have the case dismissed. In January 2020, a Carson City District Court judge ruled in the favor of the plaintiff, giving Fair Maps Nevada edits to the initiative that would resolve Rev. Jackson’s concerns. Fair Maps Nevada went back to the drawing board, made the edits, and began collecting signatures.
Unhappy with the edits made to the initiative, on February 12, 2020, Rev. Jackson appealed the court's decision to accept the amendments to the initiative language. As a response, Fair Maps Nevada filed a motion to dismiss which was denied by the courts.
Fair Maps Nevada is allowed to collect signatures while this lawsuit is pending, but their efforts were impacted by a halting stop of in-person activities due to COVID-19.
Fair Maps Nevada v. Cegavske, et al.
Fair Maps Nevada immediately looked for alternatives to collect signatures as the impact of the pandemic set in. They explored the option of collecting signatures digitally using the state’s online voter registration system.
After being rejected by Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the LWV of Nevada, as members of Fair Maps Nevada, filed a preliminary injunction in federal court in May 2020, asking to extend their signature collection deadline and to allow the use of the state’s online system to collect signatures. A federal judge ruled that the deadline should be extended to August but ruled that the court has no authority to grant them access to the online registration portal, but the governor does.
In response, Fair Maps Nevada wrote a letter to Governor Steve Sisolak requesting the deadline extension and access to the online voter registration system to safely collect signatures. They are still waiting on a response.
Cases regarding People Not Politicians (Oklahoma SQ 810)
In coordination with People Not Politicians, the LWV of Oklahoma launched a ballot initiative proposing to initiate a coalition to oversee the redistricting process in Oklahoma. They faced multiple legal challenges to their redistricting initiative in January 2020. The two claims against them were:
The initiative didn’t provide “proper gist” which is a description that is listed at the top of a petition giving the general “gist” of the proposed law to who sign it; and
The initiative violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Oklahoma's single-subject rule.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court immediately threw out the First Amendment claim; however, the “proper gist” claim was won only after People Not Politicians amended its petition following a loss on that claim in the first lawsuit.
Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus outbreak, People Not Politicians have seen little opportunity to have their redistricting initiative listed on the November 2020 ballot. They hope to find new alternatives to get People Powered Fair Maps for Oklahomans.
Miller, et al. v. Thurston
A few weeks before stay-at-home orders were issued, the LWV of Arkansas, with Arkansas Voters First, filed a redistricting reform ballot initiative in the state. As they prepared to go out and collect signatures stay-at-home orders were issued, making it a public health risk for voters to circulate and sign petitions the traditional face-to-face way.
LWV of Arkansas president Bonnie Miller, along with Arkansas Fair Maps and two other voters, filed a federal lawsuit seeking a safe way to allow Arkansans the ability to exercise their constitutional rights to support an amendment for fair and transparent redistricting reform. They argued that voters’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were unduly burdened by the state law’s inflexibility, and the court had the power to urge the state to refrain from enforcing the laws that burdened voters. Additionally, they requested to be able to collect signatures digitally due to the public health risks of collecting signatures face to face.
In May, the federal district court ruled to lift the witness and notary requirements to validate a petition signature for voters during the time of COVID-19, and to extend the signature collection deadline for Arkansas Fair Maps.
Earlier this month, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that they must collect signatures face-to-face despite the health risks to themselves and voters. LWV of Arkansas will not give up the fight to establish an independent redistricting commission in the state and continues to collect signatures.
North Dakota Voters First v. Jaeger
The League of Women Voters of North Dakota with North Dakota Voters First also sought out to collect signatures for their redistricting initiative digitally. North Dakota Voters First filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger asking the court to order that he allow online signature collection.
Due to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the group made the argument that the Secretary of State should allow digital signature collection to preserve voter’s right to propose and vote on legislation without risking their health.
Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Undoubtedly, stay-at-home orders due to the coronavirus outbreak have had a great impact on the right to petition, creating barriers to signature collections.
We'll continue to work with our state Leagues and other voting rights organizations to push for state courts to uphold citizens' right to petition, without having to choose between civic activism and their health.