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Democrats Seek to Prevent Gerrymandering With Updated Voting Bill

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Senate Democrats are seeking to address gerrymandering in the latest version of their voting bill.

The Freedom to Vote Act seeks to give judges more power in rejecting redistricting maps that unfairly give a significant advantage to one political party, The Hill reported Tuesday.

The Democrats’ legislation also establishes tests that courts would use to immediately block the use of extremely gerrymandered maps. The goal is to avoid lengthy legal battles during which the maps would remain in place.

“It essentially puts states on notice that if they go overboard in enacting egregiously unfair congressional redistricting plans, that federal courts would have clear direction for how to deal with those situations,” Jeffrey M. Wice, a senior fellow at the New York Census & Redistricting Institute at New York Law School, told The Hill.

“We’re at a point now where we expect a number of states to begin enacting congressional plans that could be by far worse than what we saw after 2010 where a number of states created heavily lopsided plans favoring one party.”

Overall, the latest version of the voting legislation has been scaled back compared to the original For The People Act as Democrats try to secure 60 votes in a Senate split evenly along party lines.

The Freedom to Vote Act, however, appears to be tougher on gerrymandering. The bill would require courts to immediately toss a map that doesn’t pass two tests.

The Hill said the Democrats’ bill is designed to address the 2019 Supreme Court decision in Rucho v. Common Cause that determined that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.”

Under the bill, within 15 days of a court challenge, new maps would have to be evaluated in how they compare to four recent elections. Courts immediately could block those shown to be too partisan.

The legislation gives courts two tests on which to evaluate maps.

The “efficiency gap” comprises a score based in part on the number of votes “wasted” by the winning party — votes received beyond the 50% needed to win each district.

The “partisan bias gap” looks at the percentage of seats each party would win in a hypothetical election in which the same number of Democrat and Republican votes were cast statewide.

Maps that are blocked by the courts would force that state to conduct elections under its previous map while litigation progresses.

The bill also funnels redistricting cases to the district court in D.C. — something that could decrease the Supreme Court’s involvement in redistricting litigation.

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