National Redistricting News

February - July 2002

  • Stateline.org: "Primary Schedule Now Nearly Complete." July 23, 2002

  • Milwaukee Journal Sentinel : "Despite redistricting, few House seats up for grabs." July 14, 2002

  • New York Times: "Justice Dept. Accused of Politics in Redistricting." May 31, 2002

  • Reuters: "Redistricting Sparks Bitter Political Brawls." May 17, 2002

  • New York Times: "Time to Draw the Line." May 11, 2002

  • Associated Press: "Redistricting Challenges Heating Up." May 5, 2002

  • The Economist: "How to Rig an Election." April 25, 2002

  • Washington Post: "House Democrats' Climb Gets Steeper." April 2, 2002

  • Richmond Times: "The Brooding Tensions in Redistricting Law." March 28, 2002

  • News and Observer: "Races for Congress that signify nothing." March 24, 2002

  • Associated Press: "Redistricting Creates Fierce Battles." March 22, 2002

  • Congressional Quarterly: "Remap Action Still Pending in Eight States." March 20, 2002

  • National Journal: "Off to the Races: Partisan Equilibrium." March 19, 2002

  • Wall Street Journal: "It's time to draw the line on gerrymandering." March 13, 2002

  • New York Times: "Redistricting 2002 Produces No Great Shakeups." March 13, 2002

  • USA Today: "Most incumbents safely inside new districts." March 6, 2002

  • Associated Press: "Republicans trim predictions of House gains, Democrats claim a draw." March 5, 2002

  • Roll Call: "Between the Lines (excerpt)." March 4, 2002

  • Associated Press: "Race, History Informs Redistricting." February 21, 2002

  • The Hill: "House women face losses in 2002 election." February 20, 2002

  • New York Times: "In Real Elections, There Is Competition." February 16, 2002

  • Roll Call: "Between the Lines (excerpt)." February 18, 2002

  • Washington Post: "House Democrats Ahead in Finances: GOP Trails in 14 of 22 Key Contests." February 6, 2002

 

  • What's New in Redistricting is a summary of nationwide redistricting activity that is updated weekly.
  • California Congressional Delegation Proposed Districts Maps now online. August 31, 2001
  • Michael McDonald, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois-Springfield has compiled a redistricting scorecard with updated information about the redistricting progress in each state.

 

More redistricting news

Stateline.org
Primary Schedule Now Nearly Complete
By Greg McDonald
July 23, 2002

Courts have finally cleared the way for primary elections to take place in Florida, Kansas, North Carolina and New Hampshire, the last states where legislative redistricting disputes threatened to derail this fallís nominating process for the general election.

But itís still unclear whether the New Hampshire primary scheduled for Sept. 10 will include a full slate of candidates for all statewide races. The state Supreme Court is still trying to resolve a dispute over the 400 House districts and may not issue its remap plan in time to place candidates on the ballot.

As things stand now, the New Hampshire primary will feature party showdowns in the races for U.S. Congress, governor, the state Senate and a handful of other statewide offices. Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlan said there is still a slim chance the state House contests could also be added to a separate ballot in time for voters to make their choices on that day as well, but that depends on when the court finishes redrawing the districts.

If a final plan is issued by weekís end (7/26) there may still be time for candidates to file and to print up the ballots. If not, he said, the state will have to hold a second primary later in September for voters to select their nominees to the state legislature.

ìEach day that goes by makes it that much more difficultÖWeíre really up against the wall,î Scanlan said..

Other states are also facing rushed schedules because of scuffles between Republicans and Democrats over district lines that ended up in court and have recently been resolved.

David Scanlan

North Carolina was the only state to actually have its primary postponed because of redistricting disputes. Elections officials were forced to put the planned May 7 primary on hold while lawmakers feuded in state and federal courts over the shape of legislative districts.

The General Assembly finally approved a new primary date of Sept 10 after the Justice Department signed off on a court-drawn remap plan for state House and Senate seats earlier this month. At the same time, lawmakers voted to scrap a runoff election that would normally occur between the primary and general election in November.

ìWhat weíre looking at is a shortened timeframe (for candidate filing and pre-clearance of ballots through the Justice Department),î said Johnnie McLean, deputy director of administration for the North Carolina Board of Elections.

McLean said she worries that the lack of a runoff election, coupled with the shortened schedule between the primary and general election on Nov. 5, could cause problems if disputes and court challenges arise over recounts or administrative errors.

Normally, a runoff is held when the leading candidate fails to get more than 40 percent of the vote in a race that has three contenders or more. This year, however, the candidate who gets the most votes will be certified as the winner.

ìIíve been here 17 years and Iíve never see anything like this. Can you imagine whatís its going to be like in a real close race. ìWeíve already begun to pray, ëDear Lord, please let them all win big,íî she laughed.

Kansas and Florida came close to postponing their primaries. But now that state and federal courts have resolved fights over their legislative and congressional districts, the elections can move forward. Kansas will hold its primary on Aug. 6, Florida on Sept 10.

At least one other state holding elections this fall ñ Maryland ñ is still awaiting the outcome of a court challenge to redistricting. But the fight in Maryland over congressional boundaries is not expected to interfere with its Sept. 10 primary.

Two other states meanwhile, chose to take the safer route this year of avoiding any potential problems that redistricting could cause for their elections. Maine and Montana opted not redraw their legislative and congressional boundaries until next year.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Despite redistricting, few House seats up for grabs
By Craig Gilbert
July 14, 2002

Like your local congressman?

These days, you haven't got much choice.

None of Wisconsin's eight U.S. House races is expected to be competitive this fall, based on the field of challengers that met last Tuesday's filing deadline. That hasn't happened since the '80s.

Nationally, handicappers put the number of "tossup" races at just a dozen or fewer - out of 435.

The sheer lopsidedness of House elections isn't new; across the country, incumbents won 98% of their races in 1998 and 2000.

But what's galling some observers is that this year was supposed to be different. It's the first campaign under the new congressional lines drawn after the 10-year 2000 census. Redistricting typically creates a surge in contested races as incumbents confront new boundaries and constituencies.

Experts say that this time, both major parties went to special lengths to create safer partisan seats for their own sitting House members.

"In state after state, there were incumbent sweetheart deals," says Michael Malbin, political scientist and executive director of the Campaign Finance Institute, a non-partisan research group here.

The result: Despite an ultracompetitive electorate in 2000 that produced a presidential standoff and a split Senate, House elections are largely devoid of suspense and meaning.

Consider Wisconsin. The state's eight House members up for re-election all enjoy the traditional personal advantages of incumbency, from high visibility to campaign chests that averaged $540,000 at the end of March. None faces a major party challenger with significant money, name recognition or political experience.

Not even Madison Democrat Tammy Baldwin, who was barely re-elected in 2000, attracted a top-tier opponent. The Republican who nearly beat her, University of Wisconsin historian John Sharpless, declined to run again.

His reasons capture why it's so hard to beat a member of Congress. In two elections, he says, he ran up $60,000 in personal debt. He would have to take unpaid leave from his public university job to be a candidate. He points to incumbents' perks such as the ability to send mail free to constituents touting their activities.

"It's all these little things that add up," he says.

Then there's redistricting. Baldwin's already Democratic-leaning 2nd District was made slightly more so under the new map, which was negotiated among Wisconsin House incumbents from both parties. The partisan shift was statistically small, but Sharpless thought it was significant given how close the 2000 race was and how difficult the district is for the GOP. He felt his party should have fought harder for a more balanced district.

"I love politics, and I'd love to run again," Sharpless says. But "boy, it was frustrating," he says of the new district lines. "It will reduce competition. If they say otherwise, they're lying to us."

Signs of balance

One sign of a competitive, balanced district is when it votes one way for president and the other way for Congress. That was true of two Wisconsin seats in 2000: Janesville Republican Paul Ryan's 1st District voted for Democrat Al Gore, and Milwaukee Democrat Jerry Kleczka's 4th District voted for Republican George W. Bush.

But under the new lines, there are no districts that meet that test. Ryan's district became more Republican, and Kleczka inherited a much more Democratic home base.

Does redistricting explain the lack of competition in Wisconsin's House races this fall? That is disputed by party leaders and incumbents.

"Wisconsin has more competitive districts than most states," argues Ryan. He and Baldwin both defend the new map, saying the changes were logical given the state's loss of a House seat and population shifts within Wisconsin.

Mild shift in Wisconsin

Two points should be made. One is that there are clearly other factors at work, including money, name recognition and the status-quo political climate. One-sided races in the state are an old story. While the '90s saw the defeat of three Wisconsin House incumbents (Democratic veteran Bob Kastenmeier and first-termers Jay Johnson and Peter Barca), there were no competitive races of any kind throughout much of the '80s.

"Incumbents are able to strengthen their districts for themselves - you get to know everybody," says Ryan, who dominated his old district even when it leaned slightly Democratic.

Recruiting challengers "is just not easy," says state GOP chairman Rick Graber, who differs with Sharpless over how significant the changes were to Baldwin's district.

The state's Democratic Party chair, Linda Honold, contends it is less the new map than the long wait (until March) for the new lines that made it hard for would-be challengers in both parties.

"It's very difficult to jump into a congressional race that late in the game," Honold says.

Point two: While the new lines in Wisconsin are undeniably helpful to some current incumbents, it would be a stretch to call them a dramatic shift toward unbalanced seats. The new and old maps both feature a mix of non-competitive and competitive districts, some of which plausibly could be won by either party in an open-seat race.

Nationwide effects

The effects of redistricting on competition are actually more stark in many other states.

The Cook Political Report ranks 46 House races nationally this year as "competitive" (a broader category than "tossup"). That's way down from the comparable election in 1992, which also followed a redistricting. Back then, handicapper Charles Cook rated 121 races as competitive.

This time, some of the nation's largest states are virtual contest-free zones. Cook rates only one of California's 53 House races as competitive, one of Texas' 32 and one of Illinois' 19. Iowa, which leaves its redistricting to a non-partisan commission, has a higher number of competitive races than those three much larger states combined.

One sign of the impact of redistricting on competition is that incumbent U.S. senators, who have to run statewide and aren't affected by changes in the political map, aren't nearly the lock for re-election that most House members are. This year, there are 34 U.S. Senate seats on the ballot, and anywhere from seven to 12 are in play. By historical standards, competition isn't suffering in Senate contests.

Risk of polarized parties

What's the consequence of having more House districts dominated by a single party? Aside from lack of voter choice, one legacy could be fewer centrists on Capitol Hill, analysts say. That's because in an open-seat district dominated by either Democrats or Republicans, the winner is going to be decided in a primary, not the general election. Primaries tend to be dominated by more ideological and motivated voters.

"The impact on our politics is disastrous because it forces a polarization of our politics," says Curtis Gans, head of the non-partisan Committee for the Study of the American Electorate.

The narrow playing field also reduces the chances for either party to gain a solid, functional majority in the House. And it tends to lock in the partisan status quo. It is going to make it very difficult for Democrats to regain the majority even though they are only six seats short. That's because they'd have to win a huge share of the small number of available races.

In the long run, the fallout will depend on whether the dearth of meaningful races turns out to be a passing blip or a more permanent feature of U.S. elections. There won't be another redistricting until 2012.

"I just think we're headed into a period where in a typical year, instead of three or four dozen competitive races, there may be one or two dozen, and that is a very important national fact," Malbin says.

Others disagree.

Hope for future

"A lot of people want to rub their hands together and say, 'Woe is me, we'll never see competitive races again.' I don't think so," says Amy Walter, who handicaps House races for the Cook Political Report. She notes that other factors also have helped incumbents, including positive approval ratings for Congress and the fact that both redistricting and the Sept. 11 attacks kept would-be challengers on the sidelines.

Another question is whether the current competitive drought (only nine House members lost in 2000 and seven in 1998) creates public pressure for reform. Congress just concluded a long, fierce battle over campaign finance, but it centered on the issues of corruption and big money, not on competitiveness. In fact, scholars and lawmakers debate if the new McCain-Feingold law helps level the playing field, makes things worse, or is a wash.

"It's a great conversation for reformers to start having, that lack of competition is a problem," says Robert Richie, executive director of the Maryland-based Center for Voting and Democracy, a group that advocates "fairer elections." He notes growing attention to the issue in the media.

What are the remedies?

One step Richie and other reformers advocate is what Iowa and several other states do - transfer the redistricting process from state legislatures to less partisan commissions.

Getting competitive

But the more personal advantages of incumbency may be harder politically to address. Asked what he would do, Ryan answered, "term limits," though the term limits movement has flagged politically in recent years and faces massive obstacles at the federal level. Baldwin says she favors public financing of elections to level the field, a step most Republicans oppose and one that campaign reformers have found to be a legislative non-starter.

But Baldwin also argues that "safe seats" that tilt sharply toward one party aren't necessarily bad. "Is it better to have the vast majority of a congressional district feeling well-represented and in sync with their member of Congress and vice versa, or is it better to have a competitive district where there's a very active dialogue on issues, however with a sizable number of constituents feeling unrepresented by whoever is successful in the election? I think that's a real question."

Sharpless takes a very different view. "Redistricting has been the quiet issue across the country that stifles competition," he says. "The rascals should not be drawing their own map."

New York Times
Justice Dept. Accused of Politics in Redistricting
By David E. Rosenbaum
May 31, 2002

Last winter, the Justice Department took months to decide whether a redistricting plan for Congressional seats in Mississippi that was supported by blacks and Democrats met the requirements of the Voting Rights Act. The effect of the delay was to block the Democratic plan and allow a plan drawn by federal judges and favorable to Republicans to go into effect.

Now, the Justice Department is promising to rule quickly on a Florida redistricting map that was drawn by Republicans. The effect of the speedy decision will be to undermine a main element of a Democratic court challenge to the Florida plan.

Leading Democrats accused the Bush administration today of misusing its authority under the Voting Rights Act to make sure redistricting plans favor Republicans.

"They dragged their feet in Mississippi when it was to their advantage," said Representative Martin Frost of Texas, the chief Democratic spokesman on Congressional redistricting. "Now in Florida, they're turning handsprings to act when that's to their advantage."

Several Democratic senators sent a letter today to Attorney General John Ashcroft saying, "We trust that the Department of Justice will take every precaution to ensure that it allows the law ó and not political considerations ó to determine the outcome of the reapportionment controversy in Florida."

The Justice Department said tonight that politics was not a factor in the redistricting judgments. "The decisions are being made on the facts and the law by career professionals in the Civil Rights Division," said Barbara Comstock, a department spokeswoman.

Under the Voting Rights Act, one of the landmark civil rights laws of the 1960's, states like Florida and Mississippi that have a history of racial discrimination in voting must have certification from the Justice Department that any changes in their election laws and procedures do not discriminate against voters from minority groups. The certification process is known as preclearance.

Florida gained two Congressional seats as a result of the 2000 census, and Mississippi lost one.

The redistricting plans for Congressional seats that follow every census are always fraught with politics. But experts on the Voting Rights Act from both parties said they could not recall another instance when the Justice Department had blocked a plan like the one in Mississippi that was clearly advantageous to blacks.

In the Florida case, the Justice Department said in papers filed in court last week that it would rule next week on the redistricting plan, barely a month after it received the new map from Tallahassee. The map was drawn by the Republican legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush and gives a considerable edge to Republican candidates.

Democrats have challenged the plan in federal court.

Reuters
Redistricting Sparks Bitter Political Brawls
By John Whitesides
May 17, 2002

A bitter showdown next week between Pennsylvania Democrats Frank Mascara and John Murtha kicks off a nationwide series of heavyweight battles between House incumbents thrown together by redistricting.

As a result of the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional boundaries required to even out population changes, 16 incumbents face each other in high-stakes races. Many others opted to retire or run in another district instead.

The match-ups ensure more House incumbents will be booted out of office at the ballot box this year than in either 1998 and 2000. In each of those years, only six incumbents lost.

Most of the resulting campaigns promise to be highly personal slugfests as incumbents turn their usual built-in advantages in organization, name recognition and fund-raising on each other.

``When two incumbents run, you've got two great machines colliding,'' Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia said. ''There are no more vicious battles than intraparty battles, because the candidates usually agree on so many issues.''

That has been true in western Pennsylvania, where the race between veterans Mascara, 72, and Murtha, 69, has become an ugly blood feud. Mascara says Murtha never liked him and schemed with Republicans to draw a map to oust him; Murtha rejects the charges and says Mascara should tell the truth.

Murtha, who has served 15 terms and is the second-ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and ranking member of the defense spending panel, touts his ability to create jobs and get things done for his district.

Mascara, a four-term veteran who reminds voters he lives in a two-story frame house and parks his car in the street, says Murtha has been seduced by special interests.

``It's corporate America versus the working men and women of this district,'' said Mascara, who also made an issue of Murtha's refusal to debate him.

Murtha's campaign staff says he could not work debates into his schedule as he was busy in Washington working on the supplemental spending bill and defense issues. ``Early on we were willing to debate, but the schedules never worked out,'' Murtha spokesman Brad Clemenson said.

Mascara chose to take on Murtha in the new 12th District -- where about 47 percent of the Democrats are from his old district, 43 percent from Murtha's and 10 percent from elsewhere -- instead of running in an adjacent district that is potentially more Republican.

``I'm tough, I don't like people pushing other people around,'' Mascara said. ``At some point I'm going to leave this Congress, but I'm going to leave on my own terms.''

MORE BATTLES AHEAD

More primary battles between incumbents loom in August in Georgia, where Republicans Bob Barr and John Linder square off in an increasingly heated race, and in Michigan, where Democrats John Dingell and Lynn Rivers face each other.

Dingell is a 24-term veteran who is the most senior member of the House, while Rivers has built a strong record of support for abortion rights, the environment and gun safety.

Barr is one of the most combative of the House's conservatives. The more low-key Linder headed the House Republican campaign committee in 1998.

The year's first matchup between incumbents occurred last week in Indiana, where Rep. Steve Buyer, a five-term veteran, defeated freshman Rep. Brian Kerns, who raised little money in a quiet Republican primary with few of the usual fireworks.

Four direct battles between incumbents from different parties are set for November, with the Connecticut matchup between Republican Nancy Johnson and Democrat James Maloney and the Mississippi race between Democrat Ronnie Shows and Republican Charles Pickering leading the way.

In Pennsylvania, Republican George Gekas and Democrat Tim Holden meet in November, while Republican John Shimkus and Democrat David Phelps battle in Illinois.

Both parties claim an early edge. Republican House campaign committee spokesman Carl Forti said each of the districts leans Republican. ``In all four of the races we are probably favored to win at this stage,'' he said.

But Democratic Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, who headed the party's redistricting effort, said the party's candidates were more battle-hardened. Maloney and Shows, whose district lost some of its African-American voting power under the Mississippi map, have triumphed after difficult campaigns in the past.

``Our candidates have all had tough races before and they're all prepared,'' Frost said.

Reuters
Redistricting Sparks Bitter Political Brawls
By John Whitesides
May 17, 2002

A bitter showdown next week between Pennsylvania Democrats Frank Mascara and John Murtha kicks off a nationwide series of heavyweight battles between House incumbents thrown together by redistricting.

As a result of the once-a-decade redrawing of congressional boundaries required to even out population changes, 16 incumbents face each other in high-stakes races. Many others opted to retire or run in another district instead.

The match-ups ensure more House incumbents will be booted out of office at the ballot box this year than in either 1998 and 2000. In each of those years, only six incumbents lost.

Most of the resulting campaigns promise to be highly personal slugfests as incumbents turn their usual built-in advantages in organization, name recognition and fund-raising on each other.

``When two incumbents run, you've got two great machines colliding,'' Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia said. ''There are no more vicious battles than intraparty battles, because the candidates usually agree on so many issues.''

That has been true in western Pennsylvania, where the race between veterans Mascara, 72, and Murtha, 69, has become an ugly blood feud. Mascara says Murtha never liked him and schemed with Republicans to draw a map to oust him; Murtha rejects the charges and says Mascara should tell the truth.

Murtha, who has served 15 terms and is the second-ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee and ranking member of the defense spending panel, touts his ability to create jobs and get things done for his district.

Mascara, a four-term veteran who reminds voters he lives in a two-story frame house and parks his car in the street, says Murtha has been seduced by special interests.

``It's corporate America versus the working men and women of this district,'' said Mascara, who also made an issue of Murtha's refusal to debate him.

Murtha's campaign staff says he could not work debates into his schedule as he was busy in Washington working on the supplemental spending bill and defense issues. ``Early on we were willing to debate, but the schedules never worked out,'' Murtha spokesman Brad Clemenson said.

Mascara chose to take on Murtha in the new 12th District -- where about 47 percent of the Democrats are from his old district, 43 percent from Murtha's and 10 percent from elsewhere -- instead of running in an adjacent district that is potentially more Republican.

``I'm tough, I don't like people pushing other people around,'' Mascara said. ``At some point I'm going to leave this Congress, but I'm going to leave on my own terms.''

More Battles Ahead

More primary battles between incumbents loom in August in Georgia, where Republicans Bob Barr and John Linder square off in an increasingly heated race, and in Michigan, where Democrats John Dingell and Lynn Rivers face each other.

Dingell is a 24-term veteran who is the most senior member of the House, while Rivers has built a strong record of support for abortion rights, the environment and gun safety.

Barr is one of the most combative of the House's conservatives. The more low-key Linder headed the House Republican campaign committee in 1998.

The year's first matchup between incumbents occurred last week in Indiana, where Rep. Steve Buyer, a five-term veteran, defeated freshman Rep. Brian Kerns, who raised little money in a quiet Republican primary with few of the usual fireworks.

Four direct battles between incumbents from different parties are set for November, with the Connecticut matchup between Republican Nancy Johnson and Democrat James Maloney and the Mississippi race between Democrat Ronnie Shows and Republican Charles Pickering leading the way.

In Pennsylvania, Republican George Gekas and Democrat Tim Holden meet in November, while Republican John Shimkus and Democrat David Phelps battle in Illinois.

Both parties claim an early edge. Republican House campaign committee spokesman Carl Forti said each of the districts leans Republican. ``In all four of the races we are probably favored to win at this stage,'' he said.

But Democratic Rep. Martin Frost of Texas, who headed the party's redistricting effort, said the party's candidates were more battle-hardened. Maloney and Shows, whose district lost some of its African-American voting power under the Mississippi map, have triumphed after difficult campaigns in the past.

``Our candidates have all had tough races before and they're all prepared,'' Frost said.

New York Times
Time to Draw the Line
May 11, 2002

Every decade, as America's state legislatures take on the constitutional task of redrawing their political maps, New York's Legislature does its best to protect its beloved status quo. There are feints and dodges, with public maps brandished by the state's political leaders while the real cartography goes on behind closed doors. The self-protection and sneaky gamesmanship are beyond tiresome.

Other state legislatures, fed up with the same shenanigans, have found better, fairer methods for drawing political districts than leaving it to the politicians. In Iowa, for example, a nonpartisan advisory group draws the lines without referring to voter registration or even to where the state's politicians live. The legislature votes it up or down, no amendments. At least a dozen other states allow independent commissions or panels to draft maps that don't come out looking so much like a collection of coffee stains as New York's does.

At this point in the redistricting process, New York's Legislature has spent most of its time working on the thing it cares about most ó protecting its own districts. If there is ever any question why this State Legislature never improves ó why almost nobody ever gets defeated, why political power stagnates year after year ó here is the answer. The Senate leader, Joseph Bruno, a Republican, and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Democrat, have done the job in the manner of their predecessors. The goal is to maintain the current division of party control for the next decade, and to give as many legislators as possible seats so safe that nothing short of a murder indictment could pry them out of power.

The endgame is more complicated when it comes to Congress. Because of a decrease in population upstate, New York loses two Congressional seats this year. Gov. George Pataki, a Republican, has suggested that two Democrats bite the dust. Mr. Bruno, another Republican, apparently likes that idea as well. The Democratic Assembly's plan would get rid of two Republicans, to no one's surprise. The only current hope for fairness and sanity lies in the courts.

A decade ago, when Gov. Mario Cuomo oversaw the previous exercise in redistricting, there was speculation that he would veto the Legislature's work and force some reform. That hope fizzled under the weight of political pressure from the Legislature. Governor Pataki now has the same opportunity, and he should demonstrate more spine. Mr. Pataki should refuse to approve any plan until the Legislature sets up an independent redistricting commission ó if not for this time, then for 2012.

Associated Press
Redistricting Challenges Heating Up
May 5, 2002

The once-a-decade fight over the nation's political lines -- redistricting -- is moving from the capitols to the courts with arguments about race and gerrymandering coming up in state after state as both parties seek an elusive edge for future elections.

All but five states have finished the task of redrawing political districts for Congress and their legislatures, and more than a dozen of those maps have been challenged.

So far, analysts see little in the way of sweeping change as both parties wrestle for control of the U.S. House. Most states produced status quo maps, with at most a slight overall increase in Republican-leaning House districts.

The narrow margin in the House, with the GOP holding an 11-seat edge, adds intensity to the fight for each seat, and now the battle for both congressional and legislative seats has turned to litigation over the newly drawn lines. Issues vary in each state, but minority rights and divided communities are common sticking points.

In California, Texas and Massachusetts, maps were challenged -- so far, unsuccessfully -- by Hispanics who say the states' political leaders drew incumbent-protecting maps that shortchange the Latino population.

In Virginia, where a new GOP-authored map was used for state legislative elections in 2001, a state judge ruled it was racially gerrymandered and ordered new elections for the entire state House. The ruling is on appeal.

Court decisions can have a major impact on elections.

In Pennsylvania, three federal judges ruled the state's congressional map was defective because districts weren't equal in population. Nonetheless, the panel last month said the Republican-drawn map could stand for the 2002 elections, though it promised a review that could bring changes in 2004.

North Carolina's primaries, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, were delayed indefinitely because Republicans claimed counties were illegally split in ways that unfairly divided towns and cities.

There are also legal battles in Florida, Arizona, Michigan, Maryland and elsewhere.

Which, if any, of these legal challenges might change redistricting law remains to be seen. But if the last decade is any guide, courts can dramatically rewrite the legal foundation for political maps.

``The cases that survive beyond (the next few months) will be these more important constitutional issues,'' said Michael McDonald, a political science professor at the University of Illinois, Springfield, who helps states with the redistricting process.

Redistricting is required every 10 years after the census to account for population changes. The electoral maps must be redrawn so districts are equal in population.

Some analysts say the effects of the maps drawn after the 1990 census weren't fully seen until 1994, when Republicans took control of the U.S. House and Senate. Maps with more Republican-leaning voters helped drive that year's upset, analysts said, along with growing conservatism in the South and a backlash to President Clinton's first term.

This time, the new maps are even more likely than usual to protect incumbents, as in California, Texas and Massachusetts. Bigger partisan swings are expected in Pennsylvania and Georgia.

The bottom line: If neither party can gain a wide edge in Congress, they at least don't want to lose what they've got now.

Advocates for minorities, however, say protecting incumbents leaves their interests slighted. In addition to Hispanic lawsuits, Indians have sued in South Dakota and Montana, and blacks have sued in South Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi.

``Race is a critical factor. You have Democrats and Republicans both using blacks to try to maximize their partisan advantages,'' said Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project in Atlanta. ``The level of hypocrisy and disingenuousness is fairly steep.''

The last round of redistricting focused on boosting minority representation. But court rulings during the 1990s said race should be just one factor among many when districts are created.

This time, Democrats have often sought to spread the influence of minorities between districts, arguing that it helps reduce racially polarized voting. Analysts point out that since minorities have a track record of favoring Democrats over the GOP, that strategy also gives Democrats a better chance to win in more places.

Democratic strategists say the Virginia state court decision and a 2001 ruling in New Jersey upholding its legislative maps back up their strategy.

Republicans have often sought to create districts with big majorities of minority voters, arguing it best protects minority rights. While that makes it more certain a district will have a minority representative, analysts say, it also concentrates Democratic voters, leaving adjoining districts more likely to vote GOP.

When all is said and done, some analysts expect redistricting will leave the parties about where they started, pushing back and forth to get the narrowest of advantages over each other.

``If there's any lessons to be drawn from the 2000 maps,'' said Ben Ginsberg, former counsel of the Republican National Committee, ``it is that it's a pretty evenly divided country.''

States where redistricting still faces substantial legal challenges:

North Carolina : State Supreme Court indefinitely delayed May 7 primaries for state and federal seats. Court agreed with GOP claim that legislative map violated state constitution by splitting counties among districts.

Virginia: State judge threw out legislative redistricting map that served for the 2001 elections, ruling some districts in the Republican-drawn plan were racially gerrymandered. Judge ordered new state House elections. Decision on appeal.

Arizona: Legislative and congressional maps in court, where Hispanics and Democrats say maps violate state constitution by creating uncompetitive districts. Testimony showed maps partly based on incorrect data.

Florida: Congressional and legislative maps face federal and state court challenges. Democrats allege racial and political gerrymandering by GOP-controlled legislature.

Pennsylvania: Federal judges allow 2002 elections to go ahead despite GOP-drawn congressional map with too wide a variation in population among districts. Judges will review new map May 8, could order changes for 2004.

Michigan: Candidate-filing deadlines delayed as federal court prepares to hold trial on dispute over congressional map. Democrats allege a GOP gerrymander.

The Economist
How to Rig an Election :
April 25, 2002

In a normal democracy, voters choose their representatives. In America, it is rapidly becoming the other way around

Imagine a state with five congressional seats and only 25 voters in each. That makes 125 voters. Sixty-five are Republicans, 60 are Democrats. You might think a fair election in such a state would produce, say, three Republican representatives and two Democrats.

Now imagine you can draw the district boundaries any way you like. The only condition is that you must keep 25 voters in each one. If you were a Republican, you could carve up the state so there were 13 Republicans and 12 Democrats per district. Your party would win every seat narrowly. Republicans, five-nil.

Now imagine you were a Democrat. If you put 15 Republicans in one district, you could then divide the rest of the state so that each district had 13 Democrats and 12 Republicans. Democrats, four-one. Same state, same number of districts, same party affiliation: completely different results. All you need is the power to draw district lines. And that is what America provides: a process, called redistricting, which, through back-room negotiations too boring for most voters to think about, can distort the democratic system itself.

All countries, in the interests of equal representation, adjust their electoral boundaries to reflect population changes. Most democracies hand over this job to independent commissions, which content themselves with tinkering with existing boundaries. In America, in all but a few states, that idea sounds elitist and undemocratic. So every ten years, after the census, politicians in state legislatures meet to draw new voting maps which are approved by the state governor. Since America's population is both faster-growing and more mobile than that of other old democracies, and since the Voting Rights Act actually requires minorities to have special ìmajority-minority districtsî in order to get an equal chance to elect candidates of their choice (ie, their race), redistricters end up doing a lot more than tinker.

The results are as bizarre as you would expect. Florida's 22nd District is 90 miles long and never more than 3 miles wide. It consists of every beach house lining Route A1A along Florida's Gold Coast from West Palm Beach to Miami Beach. You could say about this district, as used to be said of the old Texas 6th (which was a road from Houston to Dallas), that you could kill most of the constituents by driving down the road with the car doors open. Other districts look like donuts, embryos or Rorschach tests.

But the champion gerrymandering comes from Illinois. Chicago has two Hispanic areas. They are in different parts of the city, but that has not discouraged the good politicians of Illinois from creating a constituency consisting of these two areas only. They lie on either side of a black part of the city like the bread of a sandwich. Worst of all is the state's extraordinary 17th District, which is a crab (see chart). Though most of it lies in the western part of the state, two claws stretch out towards the eastern part to grab Democratic cities in order to make the surrounding 18th and 19th districts more reliably Republican.

Weirdly shaped districts like these are signs that a crime has been committed. Again, start with Florida. This year, the Republican-controlled legislature has proposed a map with 18 Republican-leaning seats and seven Democratic ones. But as the 2000 presidential vote showed, Florida's electorate is split perfectly down the middle. The map has been rigged outrageously to favour the Republicans.

Florida is gaining population and seats. But it is just as easy to rig elections if your population is falling. Michigan, for example, will lose a seat this time. There, the Republican-dominated state assembly has managed to arrange matters so that six Democratic incumbent congressmen will have to slug it out among themselves for only three Democratic-leaning districts. Democrats will probably lose three seats in a state that Al Gore won.

Michigan also provides an extreme example of what clever redistricting can do for an individual. Mike Rogers represents the 8th District around the state capital, Lansing. He squeezed into office by a mere 160 votes in 2000, and had to wait even longer than George Bush for confirmation of his victory. The new redistricting plan tacks on a lot of Republican suburbs to his seat. So, after only two years, the man who won by the narrowest of margins in 2000 finds himself in such a safe Republican seat that no Democrat is bothering to challenge him in 2002.

Needless to say, Democrats are equally partisan. In Georgia they have drawn a map which means they will probably pick upómirabile dictuóboth of the state's new districts. And in North Carolina, long notorious for outrageous reapportionment, the chairman of the state redistricting committee is running for a new congressional seat that he himself mapped out.

And now technology makes it worse

Such things have long been staples of American political life. It would be too much to claim that redistricting has fundamentally altered any nationwide election result. But this year is slightly different, and in some ways worse, for two reasons. First, new software has made it easier to draw more ìreliableî electoral mapsóie, to be more exact in your partisanship. Until the 1990s, legislators had to draw districts using coloured pens on acetate sheets spread out on big maps on the floor. Computers appeared in the 1990s, but only big, sophisticated ones could handle the demographic data, putting the cost beyond all but a few states.

Now the Census Bureau puts out digitised maps, called TIGER/Line files. New geographic information systems for mapping and analysing demographic data cost only a few thousand dollars, work on ordinary Windows operating systems, and can draw up partisan maps automatically. This has turned gerrymanderingósorry, redistrictingófrom an art into a science.

Second, the 50-50 split in the 2000 election has changed what the parties want from redistricting. Under the old plans, you maximised your seats by drawing up districts which you would win narrowly. That was risky, because it gave your opponents a chance. Now the parties have adopted a policy of safety first. Because the House of Representatives is so closely balanced, legislatures try to maximise the number of safe seats for each side, drawing competitive districts only if they cannot avoid it.

In California, the Democrats in the legislature passed up a chance of grabbing risky seats from Republicans, and approved a map with only one competitive district out of 53 seats in Congress. That district is the disgraced Gary Condit's. ìIf the average Californian doesn't like his congressman,î says a Republican adviser, Dan Schnur, ìthe only option is to call the moving vans.î It is a similar story in the other big states that have issued their maps so far.

All in all, reckons Charlie Cook, a political analyst, with four-fifths of the states having issued their new district plans, there will be fewer than 50 competitive races this time (meaning races in which the candidates are only a few points apart) compared with 121 ten years ago. Of those 50, only half will really be toss-ups. This is worsening existing trends. In 1998 and 2000, nine out of ten winning candidates in the House of Representatives won with 55% of the vote or more. That was the lowest percentage of close races of any election year since 1946, save one. In other words, redistricting is becoming a glorified incumbent-protection racket. And that is having all sorts of odd effects.

For one thing, it means the Democrats probably cannot take over the House this year unless a miracle occurs. The House will be decided by the toss-up seats. Roughly half of them are Democratic, half Republican. To overcome their current six-seat deficit, therefore, Democrats will have to take three-quarters of the closest seatsósomething they cannot do unless there is a dramatic change in the national mood.

The 2002 redistricting plans are making an already change-resistant Congress even more immutable. Only six sitting congressmen were defeated in the general election in 2000, a re-election rate of 98%. Such a result, which would hardly shame North Korea, is becoming the norm: the re-election rate has averaged more than 90% since 1952. Not surprisingly, congressmen are reluctant to leave their warm nests. Only 28 have announced their retirements so far, compared with 64 in 1992.

The combination of larger numbers of safe seats and increasingly expensive election campaigns is undermining the quality of American politics. There are now two categories of House races: the overwhelming majority, where the incumbent is a shoo-in and which national parties ignore, and a tiny number of competitive races into which the parties pour all their money and energy. Of course ìall politics is localî. But in the current political arrangement, the local concerns of a handful of seats are inflated by a vast amount of national attention and end up deciding the balance of Congress.

Redistricting is also reinforcing a self-perpetuating quality in American politics. Incumbents anyway find it easier to raise money than challengers (House incumbents outspend challengers by five to one.) If they can make their seats safer by redrawing boundaries, they discourage challengers even more. And that in turn must depress voter turnout. The connection is not direct, since turnout usually depends on the races at the top of the ticketófor president or governor. But it is hard to believe there is no link between America's astoundingly high re-election rates and its astoundingly low voter turnout.

Putting it into cleaner hands

So what, if anything, can be done? Some states already use alternative systems that could be copied. Iowa lets civil servants draw new lines without reference to incumbents or regional voting patterns (rather as in Europe). Five other states hand redistricting authority over to bipartisan commissions, sometimes with a neutral tie-breaker approved by both parties.

Neither system works perfectly. But either would be better than the existing one. Both would limit partisan gerrymandering by removing debates about redistricting from legislatures, leaving them free to get on undistracted with their proper business, such as crafting budgets. Best of all, they do seem to work quite well. Washington and Iowaówhich use alternative systemsósaw more competitive House races in the 1990s, in proportion to their population, than other states.

Extending such practices would not be easy: politicians would naturally be reluctant to cede power. But even this barrier is not insuperable, at least in states which allow people to sponsor referendums. Citizens in Arizona, for instance, demanded a referendum to approve a redistricting commission in 2000, and, to the surprise of most experts, the measure passed. As the campaign-finance battle has shown, it is possible to reform America's electoral system, even if it takes years. And there are still years to go before the 2010 round of redistricting arrives.

Washington Post
House Democrats' Climb Gets Steeper
By Juliet Eilperin
April 2, 2002

Less than two years ago, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) squeaked into office by 111 votes, having had to wait weeks for confirmation that he had been elected. Despite his razor-thin victory, Rogers is a prohibitive favorite for reelection, with a local union's endorsement and a safer district because the state's redistricting process added thousands of Republican voters from a neighboring area.

Even Rogers said he is "a little bit surprised" that no prominent Democrat has come forward to challenge him in November.

Rogers is not alone. Nearly half a dozen freshman Republican lawmakers, who might have expected vigorous Democratic challengers, appear poised to cruise to reelection now that redistricting is nearly complete following the 2000 Census.

The lack of strong challengers in these races highlights one of the main obstacles for Democrats as they try to pick up the six seats they need to take control of the House this fall: Incumbents are stronger almost everywhere, and as a result, a surprisingly small number of the 435 House contests are truly competitive.

A decade ago, there were roughly 100 competitive races following redistricting; this year there will be 30 to 40, perhaps even fewer, which means Democrats would have to win a dauntingly high percentage to achieve their goal.

"It's like a Mount Everest for the Democrats," said Amy Walter, who monitors congressional races for the Washington-based Cook Political Report. "The arithmetic suggests there are just not enough seats out there" for Democrats.

At the moment, House Republicans have the narrowest majority since 1953, having steadily lost seats since the watershed election of 1994 that ushered in former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and the Republican revolution. Democrats nearly won the House back in 2000, falling short when a handful of GOP candidates managed to eke out victories.

Midterm elections traditionally benefit the party shut out of the White House, as voters tend to blame the president's party for the chief executive's mistakes and punish candidates who rode his coattails into office. And a slew of GOP incumbents are facing their toughest races in years, including Henry Bonilla (Tex.) and, more locally, Constance A. Morella (Md.).

Yet while it is certainly possible that Democrats will regain control of the House in November, many close observers of congressional politics consider it a long shot.

A main reason is that redistricting did not significantly alter the political landscape in a way that would benefit Democrats -- though it could have been much worse for them. Republican predictions of an 8- to 10-seat gain evaporated when a court decision in Texas blocked a GOP redistricting plan that would have seriously injured Democrats.

But Democrats also passed up opportunities to put more Republican seats at risk. In California, for instance, Democratic state legislators chose to protect all but one GOP incumbent and created only one new Democratic seat rather than push for bold gains and risk a legal fight. In West Virginia, the two Democratic House incumbents' unwillingness to shed loyal voters actually improved the reelection chances of freshman GOP Rep. Shelley Moore Capito.

Reapportionment has thrown some pairs of incumbents -- one Republican and one Democrat -- into the same district in Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi and elsewhere. But Democrats cannot count on victories in all of these races because neither party has a clear advantage.

Another problem for the Democrats, analysts say, is the lack of a compelling national issue to galvanize voters. With high percentages of the public and Congress supporting President Bush's anti-terrorism efforts, Democrats have struggled to find an issue that cuts their way.

They have attacked the GOP on aviation security, the collapse of Enron Corp. and Bush's tax cut plan, among other things. But polls show Republicans running ahead or even with Democrats on key issues, including the economy and education.

Recently, House Democrats have hammered at Republican plans to dip into Social Security reserves, an issue they say resonates strongly with voters. But Republicans counter that the combination of war and recession gives them little choice but to return to deficit spending temporarily.

Meanwhile, the economic recession is proving to be shorter and more shallow than many had expected, giving Democrats little opportunity to exploit it politically against Bush and his Republican allies.

"While there are good issues out there, there doesn't seem to be a central rallying cry for Democrats yet," said Democratic pollster Alan Secrest.

Matthew Dowd, a senior adviser to the Republican National Committee, says Democrats will need such a cause if they are to reclaim the House majority. "Can they do it?" he said. "Of course they can do it. They would have to have a wave behind them, and right now there's no wave."

The loss of the White House bully pulpit, which President Bill Clinton often used effectively, has complicated the Democrats' task of communicating to voters. AFL-CIO political director Steve Rosenthal said the party is working on crafting a unified message. In the meantime, he said, he has been telling audiences, "I'll buy dinner for anybody who can say what the Democrats stand for. So far nobody's taken me up on it."

Jenny Backus, spokeswoman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the party will be able to portray House Republicans as captive to special interests because they have voted for corporate tax breaks that would have benefited companies such as the now-bankrupt Enron Corp. "With a Republican president, it's a lot harder for moderate Republicans to look as moderate," she said. "The White House has let the Republicans in the House become the bad cop."

Without a galvanizing issue, Democratic activists say, it is all the more important that they field top-drawer candidates in competitive districts. They can point to several prize recruits, such as pediatrician Julie Thomas, who is challenging 26-year veteran Jim Leach (R-Iowa).

Still, several potentially vulnerable Republicans may escape without a fight. Democrats failed to entice two promising candidates to run against Indiana Republican John N. Hostettler, leaving only one viable opponent, who had less than $16,000 cash on hand at the end of last year. Similarly, two Pennsylvania Democrats have declined to challenge freshman GOP Rep. Melissa Hart, including the legislator who used to hold her seat.

Some of the incumbents whom Democrats hope to unseat, moreover, have already amassed sizable campaign funds to fend off challengers. Bonilla had nearly $800,000 in the bank by Jan. 1, while Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.) had close to $1.5 million.

Backus, who noted that the GOP failed to enlist its top choices against freshman Democrats Steve Israel (N.Y.) and Jim Matheson (Utah) and is still seeking Republican challengers for several Texas seats, argued that her party has already put plenty of Republican incumbents on the defensive. "Ask Tom Latham, Robin Hayes, Anne Northup and Connie Morella what they think of Democratic recruiting this cycle," she said. "We are proud of our Democratic candidates who are running, and confident they will be part of our winning effort to build a new House in 2002."

Finally, history may fail Democrats in their bid to retake the House. With few exceptions over the past century, the party out of the White House has gained congressional seats in midterm elections. One reason is that presidents sometimes provide a lift to marginal candidates in a presidential election year. But two years later, with the president absent from the ballot, those freshmen sometimes have trouble winning a second term.

That scenario holds little promise for Democrats this year because Bush had few, if any, coattails in 2000, and the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent war on terrorism have upset traditional political calculations. And while midterm elections often serve as a way for voters to express their dissatisfaction with a sitting president, Bush's popularity could counter that trend.

Several Democratic strategists said they remain optimistic they can win back the House, partly by taking advantage of several newly created districts as well as open seats left by retiring Republicans. They point to contests in Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Maryland, New Mexico, South Dakota and Tennessee as some of their best prospects.

These Democrats also note that the political environment can shift suddenly, leaving Republicans in much worse shape in a matter of months.

"This thing is a tossup," said Steve Elmendorf, chief of staff to House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.). "Nobody can predict what's going to happen between now and November."

Richmond Times
The Brooding Tensions in Redistricting Law
By Mark Rush
March 28, 2002

Judge Pattisall's decision to declare the Virginia legislative and senate districts unconstitutional exposes the brooding tensions-if not contradictions-within voting rights law.

Redistricting and voting rights law have become such a thicket of regulations and constraints that virtually no districting scheme is likely to avoid legal challenge. States must abide by the Voting Rights Act requirements that districts be drawn to create reasonable opportunities for minority representation. They must not be too zealous in seeking to create such opportunities, however, because doing so will run afoul of the 14th Amendment. While there are no federal constitutional requirements concerning compactness and contiguity, there are state-level ones that allow districting plans to be challenged in state courts.

The current controversy in Virginia is based on a strange admixture of concerns about minority representation and the preservation of communities of interest. Until now, it was often necessary to create districts that were comprised of close to 60% minority voters to ensure that they would have a real chance of electing a representative of their choice. Now, it is argued, it is unnecessary to pack that many minority voters into a district because our minority legislators claim that they can draw support across racial lines.

At first this sounds wonderful. It suggests that the Voting Rights Act actually has broken down some of the racial barriers it was designed to remove. On the other hand, it might mean nothing more than that our minority incumbents are able to draw support across racial lines because of their strong records of constituency service and legislative initiatives.

This raises a disturbing question: While Henry Marsh or Bobby Scott or Louise Lucas might be able to win in a district that is comprised of only, say, 48% or 50% black voters, would a rookie minority candidate be able to do so should any of our incumbent legislators retire?

Confident minority rights advocates might argue that this is a risk we must take to advance the long run interests of minority voters. But, in the short run, it risks leaving minority voters without a voice should any of our minority incumbents retire. Would the Voting Rights Act conscience such a risk?

With regard to district shape and community of interest, it is pretty obvious several of the house and senate districts in the Tidewater area seem to have been drawn with the interests of boaters as well as voters in mind. But, one wonders why the current challenge to the district lines focused only on the eastern part of the state. Creigh Deeds' 25th senate district starts north of Charlottesville and follows I-64 to the West Virginia border. It splits Rockbridge County in half and neatly wraps around Lexington. Anyone familiar with Afton Mountain will tell you that this district is "contiguous" only if one has 24/7 access to fog lights and a snow plow. The challenge to the districting plan made no mention of this one.

Thus, there is a bitter irony to the development of redistricting law and the prevailing interpretation of the 14th Amendment. The importance of district shape depends on who benefits from the district. We can draw bizarre districts that cross mountains, but crossing water is a problem. We can draw districts to preserve Irish or Italian or Polish communities of interest. We can draw them to preserve urban or rural communities of interest. But if we draw them to accommodate black or Hispanic voters, controversy erupts. Obviously, there is something wrong with the prevailing interpretation of the 14th Amendment if it allows a bizarre district to be drawn to protect the Irish when a similar one that is one drawn to protect black voters is constitutionally suspect

One way to resolve (or, at least, defuse) the decennial redistricting controversy would be to employ multimember districts once again. Virginia used them just a couple of decades ago and states such as Georgia and North Carolina continue to use them for their state legislative elections.

Like any other political arrangement, multimember districts have their fair share of shortcomings and are criticized mainly by folks who have a vested interest in the status quo. But, the status quo currently entails bizarre districts, racially charged political wrangling and expensive litigation. If we were to draw fewer legislative districts that were represented by 3 or 4 delegates or 2 or 3 senators, there would be correspondingly fewer district borders to fight about. If other states can do this, why can't Virginia? If it makes politics less partisan, more peaceful and makes the districting process less controversial, why not give it a try?

Richmond Times
The Brooding Tensions in Redistricting Law
By Mark Rush
March 28, 2002

Judge Pattisall's decision to declare the Virginia legislative and senate districts unconstitutional exposes the brooding tensions-if not contradictions-within voting rights law.

Redistricting and voting rights law have become such a thicket of regulations and constraints that virtually no districting scheme is likely to avoid legal challenge. States must abide by the Voting Rights Act requirements that districts be drawn to create reasonable opportunities for minority representation. They must not be too zealous in seeking to create such opportunities, however, because doing so will run afoul of the 14th Amendment. While there are no federal constitutional requirements concerning compactness and contiguity, there are state-level ones that allow districting plans to be challenged in state courts.

The current controversy in Virginia is based on a strange admixture of concerns about minority representation and the preservation of communities of interest. Until now, it was often necessary to create districts that were comprised of close to 60% minority voters to ensure that they would have a real chance of electing a representative of their choice. Now, it is argued, it is unnecessary to pack that many minority voters into a district because our minority legislators claim that they can draw support across racial lines.

At first this sounds wonderful. It suggests that the Voting Rights Act actually has broken down some of the racial barriers it was designed to remove. On the other hand, it might mean nothing more than that our minority incumbents are able to draw support across racial lines because of their strong records of constituency service and legislative initiatives.

This raises a disturbing question: While Henry Marsh or Bobby Scott or Louise Lucas might be able to win in a district that is comprised of only, say, 48% or 50% black voters, would a rookie minority candidate be able to do so should any of our incumbent legislators retire?

Confident minority rights advocates might argue that this is a risk we must take to advance the long run interests of minority voters. But, in the short run, it risks leaving minority voters without a voice should any of our minority incumbents retire. Would the Voting Rights Act conscience such a risk?

With regard to district shape and community of interest, it is pretty obvious several of the house and senate districts in the Tidewater area seem to have been drawn with the interests of boaters as well as voters in mind. But, one wonders why the current challenge to the district lines focused only on the eastern part of the state. Creigh Deeds' 25th senate district starts north of Charlottesville and follows I-64 to the West Virginia border. It splits Rockbridge County in half and neatly wraps around Lexington. Anyone familiar with Afton Mountain will tell you that this district is "contiguous" only if one has 24/7 access to fog lights and a snow plow. The challenge to the districting plan made no mention of this one.

Thus, there is a bitter irony to the development of redistricting law and the prevailing interpretation of the 14th Amendment. The importance of district shape depends on who benefits from the district. We can draw bizarre districts that cross mountains, but crossing water is a problem. We can draw districts to preserve Irish or Italian or Polish communities of interest. We can draw them to preserve urban or rural communities of interest. But if we draw them to accommodate black or Hispanic voters, controversy erupts. Obviously, there is something wrong with the prevailing interpretation of the 14th Amendment if it allows a bizarre district to be drawn to protect the Irish when a similar one that is one drawn to protect black voters is constitutionally suspect

One way to resolve (or, at least, defuse) the decennial redistricting controversy would be to employ multimember districts once again. Virginia used them just a couple of decades ago and states such as Georgia and North Carolina continue to use them for their state legislative elections.

Like any other political arrangement, multimember districts have their fair share of shortcomings and are criticized mainly by folks who have a vested interest in the status quo. But, the status quo currently entails bizarre districts, racially charged political wrangling and expensive litigation. If we were to draw fewer legislative districts that were represented by 3 or 4 delegates or 2 or 3 senators, there would be correspondingly fewer district borders to fight about. If other states can do this, why can't Virginia? If it makes politics less partisan, more peaceful and makes the districting process less controversial, why not give it a try?

News and Observer
Races for Congress that signify nothing
By Ross K. Baker
March 24, 2002

There was once a region of the country known as the "Solid South," a vast quadrant that stretched roughly from the Potomac to the Rio Grande, in which Republican members of Congress were as scarce as polar bears.

The legacy of the Civil War and the residual loathing of Republicans who were the party of the victorious North produced elections in which the real contests took place in the primaries, and Democratic incumbents were re-elected with monotonous regularity. So reliably safe were Democratic seats in Congress that the party's Southern incumbents amassed the years of seniority that conferred on them the powerful committee chairmanships.

Now incumbency has become so entrenched in the two major parties and in all quarters of the country that many voters lack any real say in who represents them. Democratic and Republican House incumbents alike share a semi-perpetual easement on their seats that more nearly resembles hereditary entitlement than the competitive politics we associate with a democracy.

How did this happen? Blame redistricting, the process by which politicians carve up territory in response to the rise, fall or redistribution of their population as reported by the census.

And don't expect any changes with the current redistricting, which is almost complete. By some estimates, fewer than 10 percent of the 435 House seats will end up fostering competitive elections.

In each of the 50 states, elected politicians can be trusted to put themselves first. In census after census, roughly 90 percent of all House seats end up so strongly Democratic or Republican that any challenge from the opposing party is largely futile.

For example, this year in California, a state with 53 House seats, only one -- the seat occupied by Rep. Gary Condit, who lost the Democratic primary -- is deemed competitive. The influential Cook Political Report, which tracks congressional races, estimates that nationally only 55 House seats are in play, a number the report says will almost certainly decrease by election day.

This anemic level of party competition does not stop incumbent House members from furiously raking in campaign contributions. The combination of favorable redistricting for those currently holding seats in the House and their nonstop fund-raising contributes to what has come to be known as "the incumbent advantage."

That is quite some understatement.

I have nothing against incumbents. Among them are some of the ablest and most admirable individuals in public life.

But deprived of occasional challenge and competition, even those who walk in the footsteps of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster can come to view their jobs as an inalienable birthright.

The hyper-empowerment of incumbents renders the candidates who challenge them among the most pitiable figures in American politics, unless they are possessed of unlimited personal wealth or incredible luck.

Even those attributes may be insufficient to dislodge well-entrenched incumbents whose party claims the lion's share of a district's voters.

Western Front scenario

This year, because both parties are so evenly divided -- Republicans in the House outnumber Democrats by only 11 -- the fall elections promise to produce a stalemate.

Both political parties will pour vast sums of money into the tiny minority of House races in which there is a real contest, and the 2002 congressional elections will come to resemble the bloody battle on the Western Front in World War I, where hundreds of thousands of troops slugged it out in the trenches with a net gain of territory measured in yards.

Yet the squandering of treasure on these few competitive seats is the least of the unfortunate results of the redistricting. The severest toll is taken by the political system itself. In a district where the incumbent is endowed with a hefty partisan majority, a substantial number of voters of the other party are effectively disenfranchised. The rotation in office that Andrew Jackson defined as a central element in a democracy should come about through elections.

That so many of those elections have become mere formalities does us little credit and promotes a passive and apathetic citizenry.

Ross K. Baker is a professor of political science at Rutgers University.

Associated Press
Redistricting Creates Fierce Battles
March 22, 2002

The redrawing of congressional boundaries each decade often creates desperate and divisive fights for political survival between incumbents that can test party loyalties and fray longtime relationships.

It's particularly difficult when members of the same party face each other in a primary. Some members opt to run for other offices or retire to avoid facing a congressional colleague.

``It invariably ratchets up the personal nature of the contest,'' political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said of battles between incumbents. ``You're members of the same club. The personal overrides any other differences or issues that the candidates may have.''

The primary race in Georgia between conservative GOP Reps. Bob Barr and John Linder is the incumbent battle that has drawn much of the early attention.

``It's pretty intense, it's pretty even and there's likely to be a good deal of collateral damage for all involved,'' Republican pollster Whit Ayres said of the contest over a newly redrawn district in suburban Atlanta.

Political scientist Merle Black at Emory University in Atlanta agreed: ``The race in Georgia has gotten really hot and rather nasty.''

Barr describes the contest as a choice between an insider like Linder who stays in the background and votes conservative and someone who, like himself, who helps define the issues. Linder says people tell him the contest is like ``choosing between a statesman and a politician.'' Georgia Republicans resent having to choose between two popular members of Congress.

The most closely watched race for Democrats is in a southeast Michigan district that stretches from Ann Arbor to the Detroit suburbs.

Democratic Rep. John Dingell, the senior member of the House after serving almost five decades, has the backing of much of the party establishment, while Rep. Lynn Rivers, who entered Congress in 1994, has the support of several national women's groups.

``This is about who has done and will continue to do the best job representing the people of southeast Michigan,'' said Lon Johnson, campaign manager for Dingell, who was elected to the House in 1955. Dingell, ranking member and former chairman of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee, has support of much of the Democratic establishment and the AFL-CIO.

The Rivers campaign claims to have a stronger record in areas like the environment, gun safety legislation and abortion rights, said Martha McKenna, a spokeswoman for Rivers, who's gotten endorsements and is likely to get financial backing from several women's groups that support abortion rights.

Dingell aides say he supports abortion rights and has a solid record on guns and the environment.

Republican and Democratic incumbents are set to face each other in four districts on Nov. 5:

--Democrat Jim Maloney and Republican Nancy Johnson in Connecticut.

--Democrat David Phelps and Republican John Shimkus in Illinois.

--Democrat Ronnie Shows and Republican Chip Pickering in Mississippi.

--Democrat Tim Holden and Republican George Gekas in Pennsylvania.

In another district, freshman Republican Rep. Mark Kennedy of Minnesota has postponed a decision on whether he will face veteran Democrat Bill Luther or move to another district.

As for the intraparty battles, Democrats have the Michigan primary battle Aug. 6 and a primary contest May 21 in Pennsylvania between Reps. Frank Mascara and John Murtha. Two more Michigan Democrats, Dale Kildee and Jim Barcia, currently are in the same district, but haven't announced their plans pending final resolution of the Michigan redistricting plan in the courts.

At this point, Republicans have two primary battles of incumbents -- the Georgia race Aug. 20 and another in Indiana on May 7 between Reps. Stephen Buyer and Brian Kerns. Final redistricting decisions may create more incumbent matchups in other states.

The incumbent matchups within the same party are races usually take place when the opposing party controls a state's redistricting process.

In Michigan, the entire Democratic delegation fought the redistricting that pairs Dingell and Rivers. Dingell campaign manager Johnson said: ``The fact that these two Democrats have to run against each other is a shame.''

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Incumbent Vs. Incumbent Races

Campaigns between House incumbents that have developed as a result of the redrawing of district boundaries required each 10 years because of population shifts. Others may develop depending on the final outcome of redistricting or campaign decisions by other incumbents.

Democrats vs. Republicans

CONNECTICUT: Democrat Jim Maloney against Republican Nancy Johnson. This is the most closely matched of the districts pairing incumbents from both parties.

ILLINOIS: Democrat David Phelps and Republican John Shimkus. The new district in south-central Illinois went for President Bush in the 2000 election. Democrats looking for conservative-leaning candidate to be competitive.

MISSISSIPPI: Democrat Ronnie Shows and Republican Chip Pickering. New central Mississippi district leans Republican and Democrats acknowledge it will take a skillful campaign by their candidate to make it a race.

PENNSYLVANIA: Democrat Tim Holden and Republican George Gekas. New central Pennsylvania district leans Republican. Democrats hoping an energetic campaign by the younger Holden could cut the advantage.

Democrats vs. Democrats

MICHIGAN: John Dingell and Lynn Rivers. Dingell, senior member of the House, has the backing of Democratic establishment in this southeast Michigan district against a determined challenge by Rivers, who will get financial backing from national women's groups.

PENNSYLVANIA: Frank Mascara and John Murtha. The winner of the primary in this western Pennsylvania district will be heavily favored in November.

Republicans vs. Republicans

GEORGIA: Bob Barr and John Linder. A closely matched race in heavily Republican district in suburban Atlanta between two conservative congressman who are popular within their party.

INDIANA: Stephen Buyer and Brian Kerns. The two join a crowded field, including a state senator, to run in this heavily GOP district.

Congressional Quarterly
Remap Action Still Pending in Eight States
By Jonathan Allen, Mary Clare Jalonick and Gregory L. Giroux
March 20, 2002

Completion of redistricting in Minnesota on Tuesday means that only eight states must still complete redistricting for this year's elections.

Overall, 42 states with multiple congressional districts are required to redraw their lines this year based on population figures from the 2000 census. Maine, which has two districts, will do its remap in 2003; the seven other states have only one congressional district each.

Florida: The state is picking up two seats as a result of congressional reapportionment, and the Republicans' control of both the state House and Senate suggest that a map strongly favoring the GOP will be produced. The legislature's chambers, however, have been at odds over how to carve up the districts, slowing the process. A plan passed by the state House would create two Republican-leaning open seats and weaken the bases of Democratic incumbents Karen L. Thurman and Allen Boyd. The Senate was considering its own plan Tuesday night. Republican Gov. Jeb Bush would be expected to sign a plan that cleared both chambers. The state's filing deadline is May 17 for the Sept. 10 primary.

Kansas: With both legislative chambers controlled by Republicans, the state Senate is debating a plan that passed the state House on March 18. The plan would weaken the political base of the state's one Democratic congressman, Dennis Moore, by splitting the city of Lawrence between the 2nd and 3rd districts. All of Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, is now in Moore's 3rd District. While the Senate is expected to pass a version of the House-passed plan, some members prefer to keep Lawrence in one district - though not necessarily the 3rd. Republican Gov. Bill Graves is likely to sign the bill that passes the Senate. The filing deadline is June 24 for the Aug. 6 primary.

Maryland: Democratic Gov. Parris N. Glendening has forwarded a plan - which would weaken the bases of Republican Reps. Constance A. Morella and Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - to the state legislature, and both chambers are controlled by Democrats. Though the final legislation is expected to follow Glendening's guidelines, no action has yet been taken. The filing deadline is July 1 for the Sept. 10 primary.

New Hampshire: Minimal changes are expected when New Hampshire's two districts are adjusted. Republicans control the legislature, where the Senate has passed a plan but the House has not yet acted. Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen has veto power, so GOP lawmakers are unlikely to attempt any partisan mischief. The filing deadline is June 14 for the Sept. 10 primary.

New York: New York is losing two districts to reapportionment, but there is little indication as to which incumbents will be most affected by the remap. The legislature, divided between a Republican-controlled state Senate and a Democratic-controlled state House, has been preoccupied with other matters - including a furious battle over new state legislative district lines - and has not even issued proposals on congressional redistricting. The governor, George E. Pataki, is a Republican. The filing deadline is July 11 for the Sept. 10 primary.

Oklahoma: Oklahoma is losing one of its six seats to reapportionment. Yet Democrats, who control the legislature but only one seat in the current congressional delegation, favor a plan that would give them a second seat while eliminating two Republican incumbents, including the retired Wes Watkins. A May 13 court date has been set in the event that no action occurs, though courts could step in sooner if the legislature passes a plan and Republican Gov. Frank Keating vetoes it. The filing deadline is July 10 for the Aug. 27 primary.

South Carolina: Action appears imminent in South Carolina, where a three-judge panel is expected to release a plan Wednesday. However, that will delay the scheduled March 30 filing deadline for the June 11 primary; the deadline will be reset for 17 days after the court panel releases its plan. The remap is expected to make no dramatic changes to the districts currently held by the state's four Republican and two Democratic House members.

Wisconsin: All that remains in Wisconsin is for Republican Gov. Scott McCallum to sign the redistricting bill cleared by the legislature last week. With the state losing one of its nine seats to reapportionment, the Democratic-controlled state Senate and Republican-controlled House agreed to carve up the Milwaukee-based 5th District represented by Democrat Thomas M. Barrett, who is running for governor. The filing deadline is July 9 for the Sept. 10 primary.

National Journal
Off to the Races: Partisan Equilibrium
By Charlie Cook
March 19, 2002

An enormous contradiction is developing in the 2002 midterm election -- one that may indeed end up becoming a political trend in this decade. On the one hand, the country is as evenly divided as it has been in modern history. Just look at the last election: A presidential race was settled by 537 votes in Florida, and the 2000 election resulted in a Senate split 50-50 and the House divided 51 percent Republican to 49 percent Democratic. Of the 99 state legislative chambers, 48 are in Democratic hands, 47 in Republican hands. Each party controls both state legislative chambers in 17 states; the rest have split control.

In the latest two waves of the Cook Political Report/Ipsos-Reid national survey, comprising 1,612 interviews with registered voters this month, 46 percent called themselves Democratic, 44 percent Republican. While Republicans still have a big lead in governorships today, the numbers are likely to be more evenly divided after this election. In short, the country is in a state of partisan equilibrium, suggesting a period of unusually high competition between the two parties.

On the other hand, the level of competition in the House is lowering significantly. At this point in spring 1992, the Cook Political Report rated 121 House races as competitive, toss-up, lean Democratic or lean Republican. Today, only 55 are in this category. That number is expected to decrease, as the remaining quarter of districts get their new redistricting maps finalized, filing deadlines pass, and some seats that should be competitive drop from the list. In the end, the number of seats that stand a very real chance of going over to the other party might well end up around four dozen.

It is true that the number of competitive districts in 1992 was artificially high. A combination of congressional scandals -- including the House bank and post office scandals -- inflated the numbers, on top of the increased level of competition that usually comes with the first election after the decennial census and remapping.

A record number of 65 legislators retired that year, while this year only 31 have done so. Still, the number of competitive races this year could have been between 80 to 100 instead of the 55 districts today that look likely to see competitive races.

One reason for the lack of competitive districts is that state legislatures, responsible for drawing the new lines in most states, opted to maximize their states' seniority and clout in Washington by drawing incumbent protection plans, rather than drawing lines that probably would result in more competitive races.

Take the first three states -- California, Illinois and Texas, with approximately 24 percent of the House's 435 congressional districts among them -- whose congressional filing deadlines passed in December and early January.

At this point, only two congressional seats among them are competitive, with another district that may become more competitive.

In California's 18th District, where Democratic state Assemblyman Dennis Cardoza defeated Democratic Rep. Gary Condit in the March 5 primary, Republicans are planning on strongly contesting this now-open seat with their nominee, state Sen. Dick Monteith.

In Illinois, which lost a seat in reapportionment, two incumbents -- Democratic Rep. David Phelps and Republican Rep. John Shimkus -- now face each other in the 19th District downstate.

Democrats are favored in California, while Republicans are ahead in Illinois.

In Texas, Democrats hope to make inroads with their nominee, former Secretary of State Henry Cuellar, against five-term GOP incumbent Rep. Henry Bonilla in the heavily Hispanic 23rd District. Having never faced a serious re-election fight, Bonilla starts off with a hefty bank account.

Perhaps most alarming about this decline in competition is that, typically, greater competition and turnover characterize the first couple of congressional elections after redistricting. Then legislators settle into their new districts and the level of competition goes down until new maps are drawn. If the competition is this low in the first election after a redistricting, imagine what it will be like by 2008 and 2010.

The flip side of the coin is that the House might be locked into a heightened level of competition between the two parties for this decade. This could make it harder for either party to build a working majority in the House, because each has so many safe or relatively safe seats.

Wall Street Journal
It's time to draw the line on gerrymandering
By John Fund
March 13, 2002

Every census sets off a new round of political mischief called gerrymandering. For the past few months, state legislatures have been redrawing their own districts along with those for their state's congressional delegations--ostensibly to make sure each district has the same number of people. When one party controls the entire process (as is the case in 20 states this year) it routinely engages in blatant gerrymandering. When control over redistricting is split, both parties usually conspire in crafting pro-incumbent gerrymanders. We are now in danger of creating a system that allows elected officials to choose their voters, rather than the other way around.

Elbridge Gerry (whose name was pronounced "Gary") gave gerrymandering its name in 1812 when, as governor of Massachusetts, he drew a district that his opponents said resembled a salamander. But Gov. Gerry's handiwork is child's play compared with what the latest computers can do. New software allows politicians to draw districts so partisan that the only way for an incumbent to lose is by alienating his party. In Michigan, a GOP-controlled legislature has created a congressional gerrymander that stuffs six Democratic incumbents into three seats. In Georgia, Democrats controlled the mapping pens and drew a congressional plan that pushed four GOP incumbents into two districts.

This kind of partisanship has long been tolerated by voters who view it as just politics or so much inside baseball. It's time they woke up. The new, computer-driven gerrymandering is now dramatically reducing political competition to the point that most voters will have no effective choice at all at the polls. In 2000, more than 20% of House members had no major party challenger. George W. Bush won Florida by only 537 votes, but 10 of the 21 Florida House incumbents ran unopposed. Political analysts in both parties agree that there will is significantly less competition under new district lines in 2002. Only some 30 of the 435 House seats will competitive this November.

In North Carolina gerrymandering is clearly predetermining political competitions. Last year, the Democrats rammed through a redistricting plan that effectively locks in their legislative control for the next 10 years. Nonpartisan analysts say that in the 120-member state House the number of safe Democratic seats has increased to 87 from 58. The number of "swing" or competitive districts was reduced to 20 from 46. In other words, less than one in five districts is winnable by either party barring extraordinary circumstances.

Would-be candidates pondering a run for state Legislature bailed out in droves once they got a look at gerrymandered districts. When filing closed earlier this month, a record 49 seats had only one candidate on the ballot. In the state Senate, 24 of the 60 seats will offer voters no choice this fall. So a stunning 43% of the North Carolina Legislature has, in effect, already been elected. Two years ago, only 19% of legislative elections in the House and Senate were uncontested.

Elections in many semifree Third World nations routinely offer more choices than many North Carolina residents will have. In the county that includes Charlotte, the state's largest city, only three of the 13 state legislative incumbents will face an opponent in the fall. In Greensboro, a freshman House Democrat named Katie Dorsett is running for a vacant state Senate seat and will be unopposed in both the primary and general election.

Courts have traditionally avoided becoming involved in challenges to gerrymanders, usually ruling that the process is inherently political. But last month, a North Carolina state judge, Knox Jenkins, ruled that the gerrymander was unconstitutional because it unnecessarily divides counties in violation of the state constitution. Lawyers for the Legislature argue that the need for the state to comply with the federal Voting Rights Act trumps the state constitution. But many other states have been able to square their state constitutions with the Voting Rights Act without having to draw absurd gerrymanders.

On Thursday North Carolina's Supreme Court unanimously enjoined the state from conducting its May 7 state legislative primaries pending a full hearing on Judge Knox's ruling next month. Yesterday the state's Board of Elections postponed all voting on that day, including the U.S. Senate primary.

Judge Knox will consider a request by several Republicans to have the gerrymandered districts redrawn. Throwing out the plan under which candidates have already filed would be unusual. Since the alternative Republican-drawn plans have their own clearly partisan tilt, the court would have to go through the arduous process of drawing its own maps.

But it's possible the court will find that this time the gerrymanderers in North Carolina have simply gone too far. Back in 1787, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional an attempt by the state Legislature to take away the right of trial by jury. The court noted that if the Legislature could do that, "they might with equal authority . . . render themselves legislator of the State for life, without any further election of the people."

Two hundred fifteen years later, incumbents are using high-powered computers to create lifetime sinecures for themselves. That kind of privilege and protection is certainly not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they overthrew a monarchy to form a republic.

New York Times
Redistricting 2002 Produces No Great Shakeups
By Alison Mitchell
March 13, 2002

With Congressional redistricting almost complete, the once-a-decade redrawing of the nation's political map is turning out to favor incumbents to an unusual degree, making many of the House's swing seats into safer territory for one party or the other.

Political analysts say the cautious tilt toward the status quo has been driven by the excruciatingly close balance of power in the country; a shift of just six seats in the House of Representatives could swing it from Republican control to Democratic.

"Because the House is so close, the legislatures approached redistricting with this rule of thumb: Do no harm, win our own seats," said Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of The Rothenberg Political Report, a nonpartisan election newsletter.

Some states broke the mold, with Michigan and Pennsylvania drawing maps that sharply favor Republicans and Georgia returning the favor on behalf of the Democrats.

In Iowa, where a nonpartisan bureau proposes the lines, four House seats were made quite competitive.

But a number of states, and courts, chose to keep the districts of legions of incumbents intact or even to shore them up with more like-minded voters. Party control of the nation's state legislatures is also sharply divided, giving neither Republicans nor Democrats a significant edge in the overall process.

As a result, many political analysts and strategists say that the fierce, multimillion-dollar struggle for control of the House this year will probably come down to 35 to 55 competitive races, with only two dozen of them true tossups.

Ten years ago, Charles E. Cook Jr., editor of The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan chronicle of elections, says, he tracked 121 competitive House races. This year, he has rated only 55 races competitive and expects the number to drop. Thus, for all the intense competition between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, many voters will not see a robust battle of ideas this fall.

"There's no real opportunity for them to participate in the process because they are in lopsided districts where there's hardly a challenger who is noticed," Thomas E. Mann, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, said of most voters.

While the trend toward fewer competitive House races has been building for decades, political analysts generally rely on the reconfiguration of House lines every 10 years to provide an initial period of ferment and more political opportunity.

With lines being redrawn to reflect population changes, openings are made for challengers. New seats are created without incumbents, and some lawmakers must run against each other. The flux can even cause some House members to retire.

But with about three-quarters of the states' redistricting plans complete, the process is producing less than the expected upheaval and only a small set of races that could be highly competitive.

One indicator is that so far, only 28 House members are retiring, 18 Republicans and 10 Democrats. In 1992, 64 House members retired, though along with redistricting, the House banking scandal played a role.

Judging which races are competitive this early in an election year is as much art as science, depending on the partisan makeup of districts, the number of open seats, the quality of candidates. New political currents can develop late and substantially change the dynamics of an election. Right now, though, experts call the lack of competitive races significant.

"One of the patterns you normally see is that at the front end of the decade there's more turnover, more competition and it goes down during a decade," Mr. Cook said. "The scary thing is if you start off the decade with a low number."

The situation carries disappointments for both parties, which are locked in furious battle, because power is so closely divided. The House now has 222 Republicans, 211 Democrats and two independents.

The Republicans had predicted that population changes and the shift of 12

Congressional seats to the Sun Belt would let them cement their majority, gaining 8 to 10 new seats through redistricting. Texas, Florida, Arizona and Georgia each gained two seats. California, North Carolina, Colorado and Nevada picked up one new seat apiece.

Republican leaders still say their forecasts will bear out. But most independent analysts say Republicans will pick up only a few seats through redistricting alone. Democrats say they fought the Republicans largely to a draw on remapping.

"The point is, when this is over, this will be dead even or close to even," said Representative Martin Frost, Democrat of Texas.

The Democrats face difficulties of their own. Strategists say that the comparatively few competitive races mean that the Democrats will have fewer opportunities and little room for error in their quest for control of the House.

"It gives them an uphill climb," said Representative Thomas M. Davis III of Virginia, who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Undaunted, some House Democrats insist that as many as 60 House seats are competitive, giving them a field large enough to win control.

A stark example of the year's trend can be found in California. Democrats have picked up eight seats there since 1996 and were hoping that with a Democratic governor and majorities in the State Legislature they would surely win more.

But to the dismay of some national party strategists, state officials took a conservative approach. While the state's redistricting plan gave Democrats one new seat and eliminated the seat of a Republican ó Representative Steve Horn, who has announced he will retire ó the plan largely shored up the existing House districts. As a result, of 53 House races in California, only one is considered competitive, the district where Representative Gary A. Condit was recently defeated in a Democratic primary.

"If the average Californian doesn't like his congressman, the only option is to call the moving vans," said Dan Schnur, a Republican strategist.

In fact, Representative Ellen O. Tauscher, a Democrat, has no Republican opponent at all, even though Ms. Tauscher first eked out victory by only 4,000 votes in 1996. After California's redistricting plan shifted a substantial number of new Democratic rural constituents into her district, Republicans basically conceded the race. Ms. Tauscher had a token primary challenge and faces only a Libertarian candidate in November.

"My staff and I were standing in my kitchen and afraid to open a bottle of Champagne because we were afraid someone made a mistake," Ms. Tauscher said of the day the candidates' filing deadline passed. Asked how she felt, she said, "I think the term is stunned."

Similarly, West Virginia, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee and New Mexico largely protected incumbents through maps drawn by legislatures or the courts.

Republicans saw their hopes falter in Texas, the home state of President Bush, where they once thought they could use their political strength to make large gains. When the Legislature could not agree, redistricting was handled by a panel of three federal judges. It protected the incumbents, 17 Democrats and 13 Republicans, and created two seats expected to go Republican.

Still some states bucked the trend. The Michigan map, drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature, is supposed to help the party gain two new seats and strip Democrats of three. And Pennsylvania could give Republicans two new seats while forcing Democrats to lose four.

Democrats returned the favor in Georgia, squeezing out two Republicans and creating the possibility that the party could pick up four new seats. And Maryland is considering a map that could leave Representative Constance A. Morella, a moderate Republican, highly vulnerable.

The numbers are not large, but the year has produced some high-profile retirements and primary battles. Representative David E. Bonior of Michigan, the Democrats' House whip, chose to run for governor instead of Congress.

If the Michigan map survives court challenges, it will force a primary face-off of Democratic incumbents: Representative John D. Dingell, who has served in Congress since 1955, against Representative Lynn N. Rivers, a former school board member who won her seat in 1994.

Another intense matchup is in Georgia, where two conservative stalwarts, Representatives John Linder and Bob Barr, are competing for a district near Atlanta.

The general election will also pit some incumbents against each other and see still others fight for political life in substantially new districts.

Representative John M. Shimkus, a Republican, and Representative David D. Phelps, a Democrat, have been set against each other in Illinois's 19th District. Representative Nancy L. Johnson, a Republican, will face Representative James H. Maloney, a Democrat, in Connecticut. And while a court fight is still under way, Representative Charles W. Pickering Jr., a Republican, could face Representative Ronnie Shows, a Democrat, in Mississippi.

USA Today
Most incumbents safely inside new districts; Big gain unlikely for either party
By Tom Squitieri
March 6, 2002

The once-a-decade process of redrawing the nation's congressional districts is nearly complete, and the big winners are those already in office.

Republicans and Democrats, using computers, commissions and courts, have fought to a near-draw in their efforts to seek political gains from population changes recorded in the 2000 Census. Although Republicans predict they can win up to 10 seats from redistricting, Democrats claimed Tuesday that they will win simply by breaking even. Most independent observers say any gain by the GOP will be minimal.

''I don't think either side will be able to jump onto the podium and lift their arms up,'' says Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report. ''Nobody is getting the gold medal in redistricting except incumbents.''

Redistricting decisions in the 43 states with more than one congressional district are critical in the battle for control of the House of Representatives, which has 222 Republicans, 211 Democrats and two independents. If Democrats win a majority in November's elections, House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt will become speaker and Democrats will take charge of the committees that determine the fate of legislation. President Bush would face more difficulty passing his agenda.

Traditionally, the party not holding the White House -- Democrats in this case -- gains seats in midterm elections. Republicans, who control a majority of governor's offices, had hoped to blunt that trend by drawing lines favorably for their side.

But now that 31 states have finished redistricting, affecting 325 House districts, those gains have not materialized, experts say. Seven states have only one House district; the others remain unfinished.

Nowhere is the trend more clear than in California, which held party primaries Tuesday. The Democratic-controlled Legislature drew a plan that gave Democrats the state's one new seat and eliminated the seat of a retiring Republican. But the districts of 50 House members were made easier for them to retain. Other states, including Ohio, New Jersey, Tennessee, New Mexico and West Virginia, drew similar ''incumbent protection plans.''

''We set out a year ago to get a break-even in redistricting, and we have been successful,'' says Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, who heads the Democrats' redistricting effort. Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe adds, ''The net result of redistricting is parity.''

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., who heads the National Republican Congressional Committee, has been predicting that redistricting would net 10 new Republican seats. He says Democrats won't make major gains in states where they control the map-making process, or where Republican and Democratic incumbents have been drawn into the same district.

As a result of the 2000 Census, 12 congressional seats shifted states. Arizona, Florida, Georgia and Texas each gained two seats; California, Colorado, Nevada and North Carolina each gained one seat. Of those 12 new seats, only three -- one each in Arizona, Colorado and Nevada -- are considered tossups. Losing two seats each were Pennsylvania and New York. Losing one seat each were Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Ohio, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

Redistricting highlights:

The biggest gain for either party came in Pennsylvania, which lost two seats because of population shifts. Republicans approved a plan that would force six Democrats into three districts and pit another Democrat against a favored Republican. They hope to turn an 11-10 GOP advantage into a 13-6 majority.

Republicans also stand to gain in Michigan, which lost one seat. Four incumbent Democrats were placed into two districts; the district of retiring Democrat Rep. David Bonior, who's running for governor, was tilted toward Republicans.

Democrats are likely to gain in Georgia, which added two seats. The plan, now under review by the Justice Department, would give Democrats the edge in the two new seats and put two Republicans together in the same district.

Democrats also are expected to gain a newly created seat in the Raleigh area of North Carolina.

In Texas, two new seats are expected to go to Republicans, leaving Democrats with a slim 17-15 edge.

In Ohio, which lost one seat, Republicans opted to protect incumbents. The only Democrat targeted was renegade James Traficant, now in court on racketeering charges. Traficant plans to run as an independent against a fellow Democrat.

Says Tim Storey of the National Conference of State Legislatures: ''It is safe to say there will not be any big shifts in control of the House because of redistricting.''

Associated Press
Republicans trim predictions of House gains, Democrats claim a draw
By David Espo
March 5, 2002

Republicans appeared to scale back their predicted gains from redistricting of the House on Tuesday, while Democrats insisted the result of the nationwide reapportionment will be a draw.

At dueling news briefings, officials agreed, though, that redistricting will create a series of highly competitive House districts that will help determine which party holds control of the House after this fall's elections.

Many will be in southern and western states with Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Alabama among them.

Under the Constitution, the apportionment of 435 House seats among the states must be adjusted every decade to account for population shifts. Additionally, district boundaries must be redrawn within individual states.

"The point is when this is over, this will be dead even, or close to even," Rep. Martin Frost (news), D-Texas, told reporters. "There are a lot of opportunities that have been created" for Democrats to pick up the six seats or seven they need to gain control.

He said Republicans had failed in their strategy of reaping huge gains in a few states like Texas, while Democrats had picked up one or sometimes two seats in several states.

Republicans responded a few hours later. Jack Oliver, deputy chairman of the Republican National Committee (news - web sites), told reporters his party would have "between a three- and eight-seat gain when all the dust settles" from redistricting.

That's less than the 14 that Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House campaign committee, forecast over a year ago, and slightly lower than the eight-to-10 seat pickup that the Virginia Republican has lately been forecasting. Steve Schmidt, spokesman for the committee, said later he still expects gains in the eight-to-10 seat range.

Ohio provides an excellent case study in the unpredictability of redistricting ó first to the sorrow of Republicans, lately to the embarrassment of Democrats.

The GOP once had high hopes for gains of as many as three seats in the state, even though its delegation in the House is due to shrink from 18 seats to 17.

But officials in both parties said Democratic Rep. Sherrod Brown (news) threatened to challenge GOP Gov. Bob Taft if his district was carved up. Then the GOP-controlled legislature waited so long to act that leaders needed the votes of Democrats in Columbus to beat a deadline.

The result was a plan that strengthened the districts of nearly all the incumbents in both parties ó not exactly what GOP leaders in Washington had in mind.

The only exceptions were Rep. Tony Hall (news), a Democrat looking to leave the House, and Rep. Jim Traficant, a man of uncertain party and political future.

Traficant is on trial in federal court on federal corruption charges, so eliminating his district seemed a straightforward decision. Except that while he's nominally a Democrat, he votes with Republicans when it comes time to elect a speaker. Elimination of his seat actually brought Democrats one step closer to their goal of taking control of the House ó also not what the GOP leaders in Washington had in mind.

Hall's district around Dayton was made more Republican, and soon afterwards, he accepted appointment as U.S. ambassador to U.N. food and agriculture agencies in Rome.

He's not expected to retire before his Senate confirmation, though, and Democrats once talked optimistically of being able to win a special election for his seat.

But to their dismay, their preferred candidate to replace Hall declined to run ó a development that now has some Democrats hoping that Hall's confirmation will be put on a slow track.

Democrats got some additional bad news when the filing deadline passed.

Three Republicans ó Reps. Steve Chabot, Bob Ney and Paul Gillmor ó will have no Democratic opponent this fall.

Chabot, Ney and Gillmor joined a growing list of lawmakers without major party rivals ó 13 Republicans and 11 Democrats so far.

Others recently added to the list include Democratic Reps. Alan Mollohan and Nick Rahall of West Virginia and Tom Udall of New Mexico.

GOP Reps. Walter Jones and Howard Coble of North Carolina drew no Democratic rivals, and are assured of new terms.

Democrats also failed to field a candidate in an Indiana district where two Republican incumbents ó Reps. Steve Buyer and Brian Kerns ó were thrown together in redistricting.

Roll Call
Between the Lines (excerpt)
By John Mercurio
March 4, 2002

Democratic Spin

Nearing the end of the latest round of redistricting, House Democrats this week are planning to mount a new spin offensive to portray the state-by-state process as a Democratic success.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe plans to hold a press conference Tuesday with Democratic Caucus Chairman Martin Frost (Texas) and Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Nita Lowey (N.Y.) to highlight the DNC's financial commitment to redistricting and to spin the party's success at creating a "level playing field" in the latest remap.

The press conference is scheduled to take place Tuesday morning at the DNC headquarters on Capitol Hill.

Associated Press
Race, History Informs Redistricting
By David Espo
February 21, 2002

Republicans and Democrats are battling in state and federal courts over a single Mississippi House district, a dispute that blends race, irony and politics and stirs memories of the presidential recount of 2000.

``This is Florida at the congressional level,'' says Republican Rep. Charles (Chip) Pickering, Jr., thrown together with Democratic Rep. Ronnie Shows (news) in a new district with unsettled boundaries.

Democrats charge President Bush (news - web sites)'s Justice Department (news - web sites) with trying to dilute the voting strength of Mississippi blacks, much as they charged Bush's campaign with disenfranchising blacks in Florida.

``Instead of enforcing the voting rights act, they are carrying the water of Chip Pickering and the Republican Party,'' alleges Rob McDuff, a lawyer in the case.

Agency officials and other Republicans dispute the charge. ``One judge from one county shouldn't draw the plan for the entire state of Mississippi,'' Henry Barbour, Pickering's campaign manager, said in an interview. ``This ought to be about all 2.8 million people in Mississippi.''

As was the case in Florida, Republicans and Democrats filed suit in different courts. And as a result, there are two court-drawn redistricting plans.

And in an irony acknowledged by all sides, one argument central to the civil rights struggle of a generation ago has been reversed. Democrats accuse Republicans of trampling ``states' rights'' by going into federal court to deny blacks their rights.

One redistricting plan, with 37.4 percent black voting age population, was issued by a local judge, is backed by Democrats and - to their anger- has been awaiting approval under the Voting Rights Act at the Justice Department for more than six weeks.

Under the law, the agency must make sure there is no backsliding - the legal term is ``retrogression'' - when new congressional district maps are drawn.

In this case, though, lawyers raised questions about approving a statewide plan drawn up by a local judge.

The other plan, supported by Republicans, includes 30 percent black voting age population in the contested district. It was advanced by federal judges who say they will intervene if the Justice Department hasn't acted by Monday on the rival map.

Democrats on Wednesday asked the U.S. Supreme Court (news - web sites) to step in, with a March 1 filing deadline approaching for the two men at the center of the dispute.

Pickering, 38, is a conservative third-term lawmaker and protege of Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott. In one of numerous ironies in the controversy, his father, U.S. District Judge Charles Pickering, is at the center of another racially charged dispute. Nominated by Bush for a seat on the appeals court, he faces opposition from Democrats and national civil rights groups.

Shows, 55, won his seat in 1998. A conservative Democrat, he parts company on several issues with more liberal national party leaders. In both his campaigns, he suggested he might not vote for Democratic leader Dick Gephardt as speaker, although he did in the end.

The presence of two incumbents on the ballot guarantees both parties will focus on the contest in their struggle for control of the House this fall.

But first comes the current dispute, rooted in national population trends requiring Mississippi to give up one of its five House seats. The Democratic-controlled Legislature deadlocked in its efforts to draw new districts.

Democratic lawyers then won the early rounds in court.

The state Supreme Court ruled that a local judge had authority over statewide redistricting, despite an assertion from Democratic Attorney General Mike Moore that ``under current precedent ... a chancery court has no subject matter jurisdiction'' in such matters.

Next, Hinds County Chancery Court Judge Patricia Wise approved a map backed by Democrats. Moore forwarded it to the Justice Department in December and requested swift approval.

The GOP went to federal court, where three federal judges advanced a map more favorable to Pickering.

This time, Democrats objected. ``The plan drawn by the federal courts is a direct assault on states' rights and the state of Mississippi, argued Shows.

Wise was elected in a nonpartisan election from a district that is Democratic. The three federal judges were appointed by Republican presidents.

Now, in another irony, Democrats argue that Bush's Justice Department is turning the law upside down by delaying approval of the plan that maximizes black voting strength in the new district.

Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd met recently with several Democratic lawmakers at their request. Department spokesman Dan Nelson said Boyd told them that review of the Mississippi controversy ``will be guided solely by existing law and the facts presented.''

The Hill
House women face losses in 2002 election
By Allison Stevens and Sarita Chourey
February 20, 2002

The number of women in Congress could decrease for the first time in more than two decades, as this election year is shaping up as yet another ìYear of the White Male.î

At the same time, African Americans could also see their congressional strength dwindle over the course of the decade as a growing Hispanic population in districts now represented by African Americans is likely to seek representation by Hispanics.

The situation dismays many women and minority groups, which had hoped that this midterm election would mirror 1992, when they made historic gains in Congress.

Such gains were achieved in part due to an unusually large number of retirements, the enactment of new voting rightsí laws and a redistricting process that created plenty of new majority-minority seats.

This year, at best, women and minority groups can hope to pick up only a handful of seats in November. In fact, there are so many woman House members who plan to retire next year or else are politically vulnerable that they could actually lose ground.

The disappointing political landscape comes after a banner year for Democratic women in the House and Senate. Newly elected Minority Whip Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) now holds the highest elected position of any woman in history. And last year, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) became the first women ever appointed to chair the Democratic Congressional and Senatorial Campaign Committees.

Those realities are a far cry from the heady predictions of success that women and minority groups made at the onset of this election cycle. At the time, minorities pointed to substantial population gains in their communities, while womenís groups saw the prospect of as many as 100 competitive seats as an auspicious omen for another banner post-redistricting election year.

ìWe thought there would be more open seats,î said Gilda Morales, program coordinator of information services at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University. ìBut that hasnít materialized. It was a bit disappointing. Incremental changes are going to continue on the order of two or three seat pickups.î She added later, ìThere is a possibility that [women] could lose one or two seats.î

Minority groups echoed those sentiments.

ìFor the most part, weíre pretty disappointed about the number of opportunities [for Hispanic candidates],î said Larry Gonzalez, co-director of the National Association of Latino Appointed Officials. ìThis round of redistricting was disappointing because it really was about incumbent survival, to the detriment of our community.î

Such other ethnic groups as Asian-Americans, Native Americans and Middle Eastern-Americans have also been virtually shut out of the wider debate on increasing minority participation in Congress. Their numbers remain negligible.

In 1992, a record 24 women and 26 minority candidates ó eight Hispanics, 16 African-Americans and two Asian-Americans ó won office for the first time. After decades of incremental gains, women picked up a net 19 seats, nearly doubling their ranks from 28 to 47.

Minority caucuses also swelled. The Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) picked up 13 new seats, growing from 25 members to 38; the Congressional Hispanic Caucus grew from 11 members to 17; and Asian Americans doubled their numbers from two to four.

Since then, however, women have seen only incremental gains while minorities have seen their ranks plateau.

The 1992 election year importantly featured 91 open seat races, creating the most promising opportunities for women and minority candidates in history. This year, however, political observers expect that there will be roughly 40 open seats upon completion of the redistricting process. The relatively small number makes life more difficult for challengers because incumbents, being mostly white men, are notoriously difficult to unseat.

In 1992, 22 women won open seat races. And 13 blacks and six Hispanics won in new districts drawn specifically to help elect minorities. All but one of the new majority-minority districts sent a minority member to Congress.

This year, however, Democrats have shifted their remapping strategy in an attempt to take back the control of the chamber that they lost in 1994. To do that, Democratic state legislators created few new majority-minority districts. They also sought to unpack districts that had a high concentration of minorities.

They succeeded in the former goal but met with limited success in the latter one.

The close party division in Congress has also produced far fewer competitive districts than anticipated while encouraging members to stay in office rather than retire. The series of redrawn district maps aimed at protecting incumbents and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks have also swayed some otherwise fence-sitting members to seek another House term.

This year, only 24 incumbents have said they will retire ó far fewer than the average number of retirements in the past six post-redistricting election years. On average, about 40 members have retired in post-redistricting election years. The number peaked in 1992, when 65 incumbents (41 Democrats and 24 Republicans) retired. The surge of retirements came in the wake of a House banking scandal that involved checks cashed in underfunded congressional accounts and amid the controversial Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings.

Women especially are more vulnerable than they have been in recent years.

Two of them ó Reps. Eva Clayton (D-N.C.) and Marge Roukema (R-N.J.) have said they will retire at the end of the 107th Congress. Two more ó Reps. Lynn Rivers (D-Mich.) and Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) ó will face tough races against male incumbents.

Several more vulnerable woman members are in danger of losing their seats. These include Reps. Anne Northup (R-Ky.), Connie Morella (R-Md.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.). In addition, Heather Wilson (R-N.M.), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Melissa Hart (R-Pa.) could have tougher races this year than they faced in the past.

Nonetheless, womenís groups are banking on Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris (R), who is considered a slam-dunk winner in 2002. They also see several promising candidates who are running strong campaigns in crowded primaries as possible victors.

On the Democratic side, they include state Rep. Martha Fuller Clark of New Hampshire; state Sen. Elaine Richardson of Arizona; state Supreme Court Justice Margaret Workman of West Virginia; state Rep. Nancy Kaszak of Illinois; attorney Stephanie Herseth of South Dakota; and Janice Cole of Georgia.

Republicans see as potential prospects Candice Miller of Michigan, Lynette Boggs-McDonald of Nevada, Sydney Hay of Arizona, Marilyn Musgrave of Colorado, Christine Ferguson of Rhode Island, Ginny Brown-Waite of Florida, Carolyn Grant of North Carolina and Melissa Brown of Pennsylvania.

The 38-member Congressional Black Caucus and the 18-member Congressional Hispanic Caucus are unlikely to lose members this year because most come from relatively safe Democratic districts.

But they are highly unlikely to make the gains they had hoped for when a 2000 census showing high population growth in minority communities was released.

Moreover, African-Americans could see losses over the course of the decade, according to Rob Ritchie, executive director of the Center for Voting and Democracy.

Population growth among Hispanics in districts held by black members of Congress ó such as those held by Reps Julia Carson (D-Ind.) and Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) ó could lead to losses in the Congressional Black Caucus. ìItís going to take more [majority-opportunity] districts to maintain their numbers through the decade,î Ritchie said.

Indeed, both groups will be lucky if they pick up only a handful of new members. Still, pending lawsuits against state legislatures that rejected minority groupsí efforts to create more majority-minority seats could alter their election-year prospects for the better.

Hispanics can count on picking up Californiaís newly drawn district near Los Angeles, where the top three candidates ó Linda Sanchez, Sally Havice and Hector De La Torre ó are Latinos.

They can also bank on an ethnic pickup in Arizonaís newly drawn 7th District, where at least five Hispanic candidates have expressed interest in running.

State legislators in Florida are also expected to draw a majority-minority district near Latino-rich Dade County, where GOP state Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, brother of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.), is expected to make the race.

Democrats Dario Herrera (Nev.) and Dennis Cardoza (Calif.) are poised to win their partyís nominations, although neither is running in majority-minority districts. Hispanics Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) and Sam Martinez (D-Ariz.) are also running in districts with sizable Latino communities.

The African-American community, however, has fewer opportunities to pick up new members.

Georgiaís newly drawn 12th District features four black Democratic candidates. They are Robert Finch, Charles Walker Jr., state Rep. Ben Allen and Merwin Scott, the chief of staff to Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga.). Two or three white candidates may also enter the race for the heavily African-American district.

New York Times
In Real Elections, There Is Competition
By Samuel Issacharoff
February 16, 2002

To no one's surprise, the Republicans in Albany's Senate majority have just gerrymandered themselves once again into districts designed to last for life, while the Democrats controlling the Assembly have done the same. The next, inevitable step is legal challenge by legislators or groups on the losing end of the fight - with taxpayers picking up much of the tab.

A simple question arises every 10 years, with each replay of redistricting: Why should political insiders be able to conjure up cartographic fantasies to keep themselves in office? For political insiders, the result is to lock in political power. For voters, it is dreary elections without meaningful competition.

Real competition, where a challenger to an incumbent might have some actual chance of winning, is evidenced in elections that are won by margins of less than 10 percent of the vote. Those results are notably absent in New York legislative races. In 1996, for example, 201 of the state's 211 legislative seats were won by margins of more than 10 percent.

Races for Congress - with districts drawn by state legislatures working to guard party interests - are also overwhelmingly noncompetitive. In 1996, of the 113 members of Congress who were first elected in the 1980's, all 113 won - 109 of them by at least 10 percent and 75 by 30 percent or more.

Despite the fashionable worry about low voter turnout, the wonder is that anyone bothers to participate at all in such hollow elections.

The redistricting process will not be reformed from within. No politician has incentive to change a system by which he or she obtained office and that dramatically enhances the prospect of remaining there.

In some states, voter initiatives have changed things. Arizona, for example, passed a proposition in 2000 setting up a nonpartisan redistricting commission and directing it to work without reference to partisan information and without regard to incumbent political bases. In New York and most other states, however, there is no initiative process allowing voters to bypass the legislature.

Court challenges to political control would seem a promising path to reform, but unfortunately, current constitutional doctrine does not reach partisan gerrymandering unless it "consistently degrades" the political process - an exacting standard never once reached since it was announced by the Supreme Court in 1986. Court oversight is allowed only for questions of numerical equality of voting districts and impermissible considerations of race. Nowhere does the court address partisan-inspired, systemic degradations of the competitiveness of the political process.

Where voters do have access to the initiative process or are able to mobilize politically and force legislative action, self-interested redistricting is often a target. Already, 12 states have created special tribunals or administrative processes to handle redistricting away from the direct control of the legislature. These systems vary in their effectiveness, depending on who chooses appointees to the redistricting bodies and how insulated they are from political oversight. Hawaii and Montana go so far as to make commission plans final without any legislative review. Iowa relies upon an administrative, nonpartisan agency, the Legislative Service Bureau, much like the Boundary Commissions that handle redistricting in Britain. In order to prevent improper political considerations, the Iowa agency conducts redistricting without reference to voter registration data, partisan election results or the residency of incumbents. (The main criteria used are contiguity, compactness, and municipal and county lines.)

But the states using these commissions remain a minority. Unless courts are prepared to address the competitive integrity of the electoral process as a constitutional issue, New York voters and most voters in this country will remain captives of rigged political systems.

Samuel Issacharoff is a professor at Columbia Law School and an author of "The Law of Democracy."

Roll Call
Between the Lines (excerpt)
By Chris Cillizza
February 18, 2002

Self-fulfilling Prophecies?

The electronic war of words between IMPAC 2000 (the national redistricting arm of the Democratic National Committee) and the National Republican Congressional Committee over potential GOP gains resulting from the decennial line-drawing process got even uglier last week with an IMPAC e-mail accusing the NRCC of "Enron-like" tactics.

The Democratic group took umbrage with a recent spate of e-mails sent by the NRCC, titled "Redistricting: A Closer Look," which IMPAC claims are moving the Republican argument from "bad spin to simple falsehoods."

"These e-mails show that the Republicans have cooked the books all along," said IMPAC 2000 spokesman Greg Speed. "Their redistricting accounting is positively Enron-like."

At issue are claims made in NRCC e-mails detailing advances and setbacks across the country, which Republicans say back up their assertions of an eight- to 10-seat net gain in redistricting.

Steve Schmidt, communications director for the NRCC, dismissed Speed's claims as a "desperate barrage" from "a party that has no new ideas and is constantly looking to attack and disparage because that's their only option when confronted by fact."

A Feb. 13 NRCC release on Nevada, which gained a seat following the 2000 census, predicted the post-redistricting delegation will feature two Republicans and one Democrat. The current two-Member House delegation is split between the parties. The release states that the new 3rd district, which has nearly equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans, "trends Republican in turnout."

After putting the new seat in Nevada in the Republican column, the NRCC release has the national redistricting scoreboard at Republicans: plus five seats, Democrats: minus four seats.

Speed believes that already claiming a seat as competitive as Nevada's 3rd district shows the GOP's desperation to make their redistricting predictions come true.

"They get to eight to 10 seats by taking some of the most competitive races in the country, like Connecticut's 5th district, Nevada's 3rd and Indiana's 2nd, and calling them gimmes," said Speed.

"Those are extremely competitive seats where Democrats are well positioned and will be hard fought right up to Election Day," he argued.

Republicans fired back, pointing out that Democrats employed similar counting methods in Georgia, which gained two new seats in reapportionment and where Democrats have claimed one of their most significant redistricting victories.

"Using their philosophy they shouldn't be able to count Georgia as a plus four for them and a minus two for us," Schmidt said. "Georgia has two tossups and two lean Democratic seats" in play in November, he added.

Washington Post
House Democrats Ahead in Finances: GOP Trails in 14 of 22 Key Contests
By Thomas B. Edsall
February 6, 2002

In the competitive districts likely to determine which party will control the House after November, Democratic candidates began this election year in better financial position than their Republican adversaries.

In 22 competitive races in which the nominee of each party is generally agreed upon, Democratic incumbents had a strong financial edge in 10, and Democratic challengers were financially competitive in four, according to reports recently filed with the Federal Election Commission. GOP incumbents held solid cash advantages in four, and Republican challengers were financially competitive in four, for an overall 14 to 8 Democratic advantage.

Political strategists predict that about 30 to 50 of the House's 435 races will be competitive.

The financial findings are preliminary, excluding many races in which one side or both still have a substantial primary fight. Also, there is still considerable time for all candidates to raise large sums of money. Within these limits, the following trends emerged:

Democratic incumbents have done a better job than GOP incumbents of financially outdistancing challengers. New York freshman Rep. Steve Israel (D), for example, had $719,766 in the bank, while his best-known possible opponent, Rick Lazio (R) -- who held the seat until 2001 -- is carrying $1.8 million in debts from his failed Senate campaign. Arkansas freshman Rep. Mike Ross (D) began 2002 with $502,349, compared with the $29,921 held by Jay Dickey, a former GOP House member who may run again.

Conversely, a number of Republican House members have about the same amount of campaign cash as their likely challengers -- if not less. Rep. Jim Leach (R-Iowa), according to the FEC, had $68,009 in the bank but almost as much, $57,000, in debts. His likely Democratic opponent, Ann Hutchinson, had $83,297 in the bank, with a debt of just $5,000.

In Maryland, Rep. Constance A. Morella (R) had a respectable $574,524 in the bank, with no debts. But that amount was dwarfed by the $1.2 million held by Maryland Del. Mark K. Shriver, a possible Democratic opponent. Another Democratic hopeful, Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, had $560,574, with a debt of $125,000.

The GOP is in good financial condition in three of the four races pitting incumbent Democrats against incumbent Republicans in new districts created by redistricting. In the three races, the Republicans have substantial advantages.

The most lopsided case is in Connecticut, where Reps. Nancy L. Johnson (R) and James H. Maloney (D) have been thrown into the same district. Johnson began the year with $1.3 million, more than four times Maloney's cash on hand, $295,613.

A similar but not quite as extreme tilt can be found in Mississippi, where two incumbents, Reps. Charles W. "Chip" Pickering Jr. (R) and Ronnie Shows (D), are expected to go head-to-head. Pickering began the year with $1.1 million, compared with Shows's $369,357.

In Illinois, where Rep. John M. Shimkus (R) faces Rep. David D. Phelps (D), Shimkus began the year with a solid cash edge, $626,846 to Phelps's $370,366.

The one case in which the Democratic candidate had the solid lead in cash on hand was in Pennsylvania. Rep. Tim Holden (D) had $346,965 in the bank, compared with $92,036 for Rep. George W. Gekas (R). The relatively slow fundraising pace of Gekas, 71, has raised speculation that he might not seek reelection.

Such retirement speculation has been more intense around Rep. Tony P. Hall (D-Ohio). He raised just $16,012 last year while spending $44,778, leaving a cash balance of $103,160. Without Hall as the Democratic nominee, a Republican would be favored to take the seat.

In what may be the nation's most closely contested House race, former GOP candidate Jon Porter Sr. and Democrat Dario Herrera are locked in a tough fundraising battle to win a new Nevada seat. Herrera started the year with $479,140, compared with Porter's $415,951. Porter had a $173,886 debt.

In another likely close open-seat contest, Candice Miller, Michigan's Republican secretary of state, had $650,638 in the bank, compared with $223,749 for Carl J. Marlinga (D), a prosecutor.

The only Republican challenger who had almost as much money in the bank as the Democratic incumbent was Trent Matson, a conservative seeking to oust Rep. Brian Baird (D-Wash.). Matson had $208,552 and $16,392 in debts, compared with Baird's debt-free $230,794.



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