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Between the Lines: States With 2011 Races Get Early Redistricting

Editor’s Note: Every decade the states redraw district lines following the release of the U.S. Census. This column will explore redistricting news on the ground as it develops.

New York: Lee’s Old District on the Chopping Block

Even before Rep. Chris Lee (R) resigned last week under embarrassing circumstances, there was talk that state officials might decide to wipe away the western 26th district as part of the reapportionment process.

The Empire State, after all, will lose two Congressional seats before the 2012 elections because of population losses. But Lee’s former seat becomes an even more likely target after his sudden departure. 

Other districts that have been consistently part of the conversation include the 29th district, typically a reliable GOP seat although it was recently occupied briefly by disgraced former Rep. Eric Massa (D). Another is the 23rd district, a seat held by a Republican for a century until won in a special election by its current occupant, Rep. Bill Owens (D). (Owens won a full term in 2010.)

The decision won’t be known for several months. The divided Legislature will decide how to reshape the 29 districts into 27. 

Because the chambers of state government are divided — Republicans control the Senate and Democrats the Assembly — expect a trade, in which one Republican seat and one Democratic seat are eliminated. 

Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to outline the timing for a special election to fill Lee’s seat. State law gives the governor wide latitude over whether and when to do so.

— Steve Peoples

Nebraska: Electoral March of the Cornhuskers

A legislative committee next week will hear a bill that would give all the Cornhusker State’s presidential electors to the candidate who wins the state. The bill has broad support in the Republican-dominated unicameral Legislature and would rob President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign of a chance to capture the one electoral vote of the Democratic-leaning Omaha-based 2nd district.

The bill, written by Republican Sen. Beau McCoy, would remove a section that called on electors to support the candidate picked by voters in each Congressional district. Instead, all five electoral votes would go to the candidate who wins statewide. 

The bill is expected to fly through committee after its Feb. 23 hearing, then get the approval of the entire Legislature and Republican Gov. Dave Heineman.

In 2008 the Obama campaign took the unusual step of targeting the 2nd district in hopes of picking up one electoral vote that could make a difference in a tight contest, and his win there marked the first time Nebraska ever split its electoral votes. 

The Republican-leaning state would be unlikely to be contested at the presidential level if the bill becomes law.

— Tricia Miller

Nebraska: New Chairman for Redistricting Panel

The Legislature this month formed its nine-member committee on redistricting and chose Republican Sen. Chris Langemeier as chairman. That group is made up of three members from each of the Cornhusker State’s three Congressional districts. Though the Legislature is officially nonpartisan, five Republicans and four Democrats make up the committee. 

The Government, Military and Veterans Affairs Committee will also consider an unlikely-to-pass bill that would allow for a president to be elected by popular vote. Two more bills have been introduced to change the number of Members in the Legislature: One would reduce the membership from 49 Members to 45, and the other would increase it to 50 Members.

— T.M.

Louisiana: Post-Mardi-Gras Fun With Early Deadlines

As one of four states that will hold state legislative elections in 2011, the Pelican State is on an accelerated timetable for redistricting. Because the Voting Rights Act requires that new maps be cleared by the Department of Justice, the state is under pressure to get it done sooner.

After getting precinct-by-precinct data from the Census Bureau earlier this month, the state is moving forward with its first public hearings on redistricting in Covington and New Orleans on Thursday. Those will take place throughout the state through the beginning of March. 

Starting on March 20, Louisiana will hold what the state has dubbed an “extraordinary session” to draw lines for districts as small as school districts to as large as Congressional districts.

By early May, the state has to submit its plan to DOJ. It’s likely the first map won’t be the final map. If DOJ asks for changes, the lines will have to be redrawn, and eventually a panel of judges may convene to draw the lines. It must be done by Aug. 29 so local elections can be held this fall.

The other states holding 2011 elections are Virginia, New Jersey and Mississippi.

— T.M.

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