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Between the Lines: The Last Two Redistricting Holdouts

What’s the matter with Kansas?

Along the same lines, what’s the matter with New Hampshire, too?

Congressional redistricting should be a simple task in these two states, which experienced minimal population changes during the past decade.

But over the past few months, what were supposed to be easy redraws became complicated, and now New Hampshire and Kansas are the only states left that haven’t started redistricting in earnest this cycle.

In the Sunflower State, lawmakers might not pass a new map until April or May, said Ronnie Metsker, the chairman of the Johnson County Republican Party. He said there as many as 80 different proposals circulating on how to redraw the state’s four House seats.

“It’s very much in limbo,” Metsker said. “Currently, it’s in a logjam in the Kansas Legislature.”

Under the new map, the rural, western 1st district must gain population and the suburban, Kansas City-based 3rd district must shed population.

“If we could figure out a way to transpose 57,000 people from district 3 to district 1, we’d be all hunky-dory,” Metsker quipped.

But those districts don’t border each other, so state lawmakers are working on more creative ways to draw the lines.

One proposal would extend Rep. Tim Huelskamp’s (R) already large 1st district through the northeast corner of the state and south to pick up a couple of northern Kansas City suburbs from Rep. Kevin Yoder’s (R) 3rd district. Another would make Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ (R) 2nd district more competitive by switching around precincts.

The stakes are high for Kansas, which has had one or two competitive House races in recent cycles. Both the 2nd and 3rd districts changed party hands at least once in the past four years.

Similarly, in New Hampshire both House seats have flipped party hands a couple of times in the past few cycles.

But in the Granite State, mapmaking is more complicated because there are two Republican Members — and one of them will suffer if the new map makes the other district safer.

As of this week, Reps. Frank Guinta and Charles Bass are locked in a stalemate over the single line dividing their districts, according to the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Technically, the GOP-controlled state Legislature determines redistricting. But the chambers unofficially delegated the mapmaking decisions to Bass and Guinta.

Only a few hundred people need to shift between the districts. But Bass, the more endangered of the two, is pushing for more dramatic changes — presumably to make his district safer. Guinta, meanwhile, wants only slight changes to his district.

New York: Could This All Be Over In a New York Minute?

It ain’t over till it’s over. And the Empire State’s circuitous, drawn-out Congressional redistricting process ain’t over.

But how it ends will largely be determined by the deadlocked split-control state Legislature. Both parties want to protect vulnerable Members and avoid giving up the once-in-a-decade power of the pen to a court, but those desires have not yet been enough to force a compromise.

If the Democratic state Assembly and the Republican state Senate can come to an agreement in the next day or two, a map drawn by the Legislature might be possible. Otherwise, the plan will end up in the hands of a court.

A federal magistrate judge is mulling over objections to a draft map she released Monday, which shored up some Members and imperiled others. Next week she’ll send a final version of a map to a federal three-judge panel that could decide to enact the map, tweak it or give the legislators more time to come up with a map of their own.

The judiciary is generally inclined to give the legislative branch as much leeway as possible so it can draw the lines.

In 1977, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote in a key redistricting case that “the federal courts … possess no distinctive mandate to compromise sometimes conflicting state apportionment policies in the people’s name.” Only in the wake of a legislature’s failure, he wrote for the court, is a “federal court … left with the unwelcome obligation of performing in the legislature’s stead, while lacking the political authoritativeness that the legislature can bring to the task.”

But with the Congressional filing deadline in New York this month, the courts have been moving at warp speed to enact a map of their own to protect voters’ constitutional rights.

The magistrate judge released her draft map a week early, surprising Albany insiders.

“The reason that they came out on this quickly is that they’re trying to prod the Legislature to take action,” one longtime New York Democratic consultant said.

If the prodding pays off, the Legislature will soon come to a deal, likely one templated on the judge’s map. But whoever draws the final lines, New York’s painfully long process — one of the last outstanding in the nation — will be over soon.

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