July 31, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Off-Year Elections Mean Redistricting Head Start for Four States

Redistricting in Mississippi seems unlikely to be as complicated as it may be in other states. It will retain all four of its seats and be subject to the approval of a Republican governor and a Democratic state Legislature, as well as preclearance from the Department of Justice.

After Democratic Reps. Travis Childers and Gene Taylor lost in the 2010 general election, the only Democrat left in Mississippi’s House delegation is Rep. Bennie Thompson. His minority-majority west-central 2nd district needs to gain population, and Republican Rep. Alan Nunnelee’s northern 1st district needs to lose population.

Mississippi lawmakers would prefer to finish Congressional and legislative redistricting in the same process, but they do not have to get them done at the same time. The state Legislature has two bicameral committees made up of the same members; one handles Congressional redistricting, while the other handles legislative redistricting. The two bills will be passed into law in slightly different ways. Legislative redistricting will be passed by a joint resolution that Republican Gov. Haley Barbour can’t veto, but Congressional redistricting will be passed by a general bill that he could veto if he finds the new lines unacceptable.

Mississippi is well-prepared for the redistricting process. Ted Booth, general counsel for the two committees, said the state has held 16 public hearings since August and lawmakers are hoping to pass both Congressional and legislative redistricting plans during the regular session.

Mississippi legislators serve four-year terms and don’t have term limits, so it seems unlikely they would be more motivated to run for higher office because of redistricting. 

During the last round of reapportionment, Mississippi lost a seat, and the state Legislature had so much trouble drawing lines that the process moved to the courts. Ultimately, its Congressional delegation went from three Democrats and two Republicans to two Members from each party. The two newest Members of the delegation, then-Reps. Chip Pickering (R) and Clifford “Ronnie” Shows (D), faced off in northern Mississippi, and Pickering won with
64 percent of the vote.

This year marks the first time that a Democrat has been at the helm of the Department of Justice during a redistricting year since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Some Republican-leaning states are considering bypassing the DOJ to take their plans straight to court for approval; however, Booth said Mississippi is not likely to do so.

New Jersey

New Jersey officials will redraw state legislative districts by late spring, but the process of reshaping the Garden State’s Congressional districts likely won’t begin until early fall. And when it does, expect things to go slightly more smoothly than they will in other states, even as New Jersey struggles to eliminate one of its 13 Congressional seats because of population shifts.

New Jersey is one of a handful of states that handles reapportionment through bipartisan commissions balanced with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. The commission, which often uses an objective tiebreaker appointed by the state Supreme Court, eliminates some of the political wrangling that complicates such efforts elsewhere and ensures a relatively speedy timetable once the process begins.

But it will be a two-part process.

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