Mark Ballard: Courts will be the ultimate decider of congressional races | Mark Ballard

“Time is running out” on America’s democracy that socialists are working tooth and nail to destroy, at least so claims a fundraising appeal emailed last week by incumbent U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, a Republican who has represented Lafayette, Lake Charles and surrounding parishes in the U.S. House since 2017.

A bit over the top, true, but the plea for money is perfectly aligned with any Louisiana political campaign, just like candidates rolling through festivals with hearty handshakes and tossing red meat to the party faithful at grassroots luncheons.

The focus of this campaign season, however, is more on court decisions that ultimately will determine which voters are part of which districts that elect U.S. representatives.

In just the past week a district court in Kansas rejected that state’s legislative attempt to send more Republicans to Congress by dividing Democratic strongholds among GOP-leaning districts. And New York’s highest appellate court tossed election maps drawn to favor Democratic candidates in more than 85% of the congressional races — even though President Joe Biden won the state with 61% of the vote in 2020.

Sixty-eight cases have been filed challenging congressional and legislative maps in 24 states as racially discriminatory and/or partisan gerrymanders, says the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School.

The issue is not what policies voters prefer, despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, but the slim Democratic majority in the U.S. House coinciding with the decennial redistricting task. Of the 435 House members, 221 are Democratic, 209 are Republican and five are vacant. Redrawing a few maps that favor one party over the other could determine control of Congress.

On largely party line votes, both chambers on Wednesday overrode Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of a congressional redistricting bill,…

Courts already have sent lawmakers in seven states back to the drawing board. Two of the 49 cases pending at trial or on appellate levels are in Louisiana.

Chief U.S. District Judge Shelly Dick, of Baton Rouge, is scheduled in the next couple of weeks to consider a plea to toss congressional maps the GOP-majority Legislature enacted to ensure that Louisiana continues to send five Republicans and one Democrat to the U.S. House for the next decade.

Regardless of her decision, the loser likely will appeal to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans, said Jared Evans, who serves as policy counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., which represents voters challenging the Louisiana congressional maps that were enacted last month when the Legislature overturned Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto.

The 55-page lawsuit challenging Louisiana redistricting notes that while Black residents make up 31% of the state’s voting age population, Black voters are in the majority around 17% — or one of six — of the state’s congressional districts. White voters make up 58% percent of the population but form a majority in 83% — or five of six — of those districts.

Federal lawsuit challenging redistricted congressional maps

Left unsaid is that with 77% of Louisiana’s 940,966 Black voters registered as Democrats, the addition of a second minority majority district could turn one of those safe Republican congressional seats Democratic.

Until the maps are confirmed, congressional candidates don’t know on which doors to knock, where to send their fundraising appeals, and how to parcel out their advertising.

Congressional primary contests for the Nov. 8 election are being held in 11 states during May and 19 other states in June. Louisiana has a little more time to sort out its maps as qualifying for the races is scheduled for July 20-22.

Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin is the named defendant in the challenges and didn’t want to comment.

Minutes after the Louisiana Legislature overrode Gov. John Bel Edwards’ veto of a congressional map that he had labeled an egregious violation…

But the Center for Election Innovation & Research, in Washington, D.C., said the uncertainty mostly impacts the folks who put on the election — parish clerks and registrars of voters, under Ardoin’s direction in Louisiana’s case.

Educating voters on who exactly is their congressperson after the precincts have been rearranged by redistricting is one hurdle. The biggest problem, however, is that the Secretary of State’s Office needs time to assemble and publish the ballots for each of the 3,934 precincts.

“That’s the real challenge,” said David Becker, CEIR’s executive director. “But just like 2020 (during the pandemic, local elections officials) are handling every single challenge that is thrown to them.”

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