NATIONAL NEWS

Legal fights over voting districts could play role in control of Congress for 2024

Sep 5, 2023, 9:09 PM

FILE - A map of a GOP proposal to redraw Alabama's congressional districts is displayed at the Alab...

FILE - A map of a GOP proposal to redraw Alabama's congressional districts is displayed at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Ala., Tuesday, July 18, 2023. Democrats got a potential boost for the 2024 congressional elections as courts in Alabama and Florida ruled in the summer of 2023 that Republican-led legislatures had unfairly diluted the voting power of Black residents. (AP Photo/Kim Chandler, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Kim Chandler, File)

Democrats got a potential boost for the 2024 congressional elections as courts in Alabama and Florida ruled recently that Republican-led legislatures had unfairly diluted the voting power of Black residents.

But those cases are just two of about a dozen that could carry big consequences as Republicans campaign to hold onto their slim majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. Another trial alleging racial violations in voting districts got underway Tuesday in Georgia, where Democrats also hope to make gains, while voting rights advocates in Ohio decided to drop a legal challenge to that state’s congressional districts — providing a bit of good news for Republicans.

Legal challenges to congressional districts also are ongoing in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah. And new districts seem likely in New York and North Carolina, based on previous court actions.

Though much remains to be settled, there’s a good chance congressional districts will be changing in numerous states.

It’s likely that “a significant number of voters will be voting for a different person than they voted for in 2022,” said Doug Spencer, an election law professor at the University of Colorado who manages the All About Redistricting website.

Republicans currently hold a 222-212 majority in the U.S. House, with one vacancy in a previously Democratic-held seat.

Boundaries for the nation’s House districts were redrawn in all states before the 2022 election to account for population changes noted in the 2020 census. In some states, majority party lawmakers in charge of redistricting manipulated lines to give an edge to their party’s candidates — a tactic known as gerrymandering. That triggered lawsuits, which can take years to resolve.

The court battle in Alabama, for example, already has lasted about two years since the legislature approved U.S. House districts that resulted in six Republicans and just one Democrat, who is Black, winning election in 2022. In June, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s finding that the map likely violated the federal Voting Rights Act by failing to provide Black residents — who comprise 27% of the state’s population — an opportunity to elect their preferred candidates in two districts.

Alabama lawmakers responded in July by passing a revised map that maintained only one majority-Black district but boosted the percentage of Black voters in a second district from about 30% to almost 40%. A federal judicial panel on Tuesday decided that wasn’t good enough. But Republican Attorney General Steve Marshall’s office said it will again ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review that decision.

Ongoing lawsuits in Georgia and Louisiana are using similar arguments to push for additional districts where Black voters could have more power. Democrats stand to gain because a majority of Black residents tend to vote for Democrats instead of Republicans.

A Florida redistricting case decided Saturday by a state judge also involved race, though it relied on provisions in the state constitution instead of the Voting Rights Act. That judge said the U.S. House map enacted by GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis diminished Black voters’ ability to elect their candidate of choice in northern Florida. The judge directed Florida lawmakers to draw a new congressional map — a ruling that is likely to be appealed before it’s carried out.

The litigation in southern states is “more of a racial representation issue than it is a political representation issue,” said Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Florida who specializes in elections and redistricting. “But we can’t escape the political consequences, because we have a very closely balanced House of Representatives at the moment.”

Though Democrats stand to gain from court challenges in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana, Republicans appear poised to pick up seats in North Carolina, which also has experienced a series of legal twists.

North Carolina currently is represented in Congress by seven Democrats and seven Republicans after the state Supreme Court — under a Democratic majority — struck down the Republican legislature’s map as an illegal partisan gerrymander and instead allowed a court-drawn map to be used in the 2022 election.

While that case was on appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, voters elected a Republican majority to the North Carolina Supreme Court. Those judges in April reversed the previous ruling and declared there was no constitutional prohibition on partisan gerrymandering. The state’s GOP-led legislature is expected to pass new districts that favor their candidates before the 2024 election.

A similar reversal could benefit Democrats in New York, where a state appeals court in July ordered an independent redistricting commission to start work on a new set of U.S. House districts that could be used in the 2024 election.

The New York commission had failed to reach a consensus before the 2022 election, leading to maps drawn by the Democratic-led legislature that were struck down as an unconstitutional gerrymander and replaced with court-approved maps. Republicans fared better under those maps, picking up several suburban New York City seats that could be put back into play if the districts are redrawn again.

Political observers also had been keeping an eye on Ohio, where the state Supreme Court previously ruled that Republican-drawn maps were unconstitutional. Despite that, those districts were allowed to be used in the 2022 election, and Republicans won 10 of the state’s 15 U.S. House seats.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June ordered the state court to take another look at the case. But voting rights groups on Tuesday told the state court that they are willing to accept the current districts in order to avoid “the continued turmoil brought about by cycles of redrawn maps and ensuing litigation.”

Though lawsuits have become common after each decennial redistricting, they can lead to confusion among voters if congressional districts get changed after only a few years.

“It does undermine a little bit the theory of representative democracy if you don’t even know who represents you election to election,” Spencer said. “It’s another reason why these redistricting games are so problematic.”

National News

Associated Press

4 Dallas firefighters injured as engine crashes off bridge, lands on railway below

DALLAS (AP) — A Dallas Fire-Rescue engine crashed off an expressway bridge on Sunday and landed on a railway track below, injuring four firefighters, officials said. The crash happened just after 6 a.m. on the I-345 Expressway, Dallas Fire-Rescue Capt. Robert Borse said. He said it was not immediately known Sunday what caused the accident […]

35 minutes ago

Associated Press

Police: 3 killed, 6 wounded in ‘exchange of gunfire’ during gathering in Philadelphia; no arrests

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Three men were killed and at least six other people wounded in an early morning shootout at a gathering in west Philadelphia, authorities said. Police said more than 100 people were present in the Carroll Park neighborhood when gunfire broke out just after 2 a.m. Sunday. Police said their preliminary information indicated […]

1 hour ago

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., takes a moment to talk with reporters as he arrives at the Democratic Se...

Associated Press

Sen. Joe Manchin, an independent of West Virginia, urges Biden to withdraw from race

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat turned independent, urged President Joe Biden on Sunday to drop his reelection bid and focus on the remaining months of his presidency. “I came to the decision with a heavy heart that I think it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation,” the West Virginia […]

2 hours ago

Members of the U.S. Secret Service look on as Republican presidential candidate former President Do...

Associated Press

The Secret Service acknowledges denying some past requests by Trump’s campaign for tighter security

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. (AP) — The Secret Service now acknowledges it denied some requests by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s campaign for increased security at his events in the years before the assassination attempt on him at a recent rally. In the immediate aftermath of the July 13 attack, the law enforcement agency had denied […]

3 hours ago

Associated Press

Russia says it scrambled fighter jets to intercept U.S. bomber planes over Barents Sea

Russia said Sunday it scrambled fighter jets to intercept two U.S. military long-range bomber aircraft that approached the Russian border over the Barents Sea in the Arctic. “The crews of the Russian fighters identified the aerial target as a pair of U.S. Air Force B-52H strategic bombers,” Moscow’s defense ministry wrote on the social media […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Secret Service Director Kimberly Cheatle attends a news conference, June 4, 2024, in Chicago...

Associated Press

Secret Service chief noted a ‘zero fail mission.’ After Trump rally, she’s facing calls to resign

WASHINGTON (AP) — When safeguard the American president and other dignitaries, she said she would talk to agents in training about the “awesome responsibility” of their job. “This agency and the Secret Service has a zero fail mission,” Cheatle, who is now director of the agency, said in 2021 during a Secret Service podcast called […]

4 hours ago

Legal fights over voting districts could play role in control of Congress for 2024