Monday, January 16, 2012

Redistricting Court Challenge: Voting Rights Expert Handley

This is really hard to write about.  I didn't post more from Friday though I started to.  For now let me just say that Executive Director Taylor Bickford, under cross examination began to falter Friday.  I think that he was probably thinking too much.  My sense is that he's basically a good guy who was trying to do a good job under difficult conditions.  But the plaintiff's attorney, Mike Walleri wanted to remind the court that Bickford was a partisan Republican.  But Bickford wouldn't admit to anything that he thought might be used against him. It was like he was pausing and thinking, "What are the implications of this questions and my answer?" and then he would try to create a teflon answer.

He wasn't partisan, he just worked for Republicans.  It was just a job.  It had to be one party or the other, and just happened to be Republican.  Even when he worked as  the 2010 Republican Victory Director for State Republican Chair Randy Ruderich.  He wouldn't even acknowledge that he knew Anchorage Mayor Dan Sullivan was a Republican.  "I don't know that."

Given that most anyone in Anchorage who is at all politically aware knows that Sullivan is a Republican, when the Republican Victory Director claims not to know that, it raises questions about how honestly he's answering other questions.  You could hear that his normal calm, that was evident when he was being questioned by the Board's attorney, was gone.

But I had lots of other things to do this weekend so I didn't feel I was ready to write about the substantive results of the testimony.

This morning, I was surprised - and plaintiff attorney Walleri objected - when witness Lisa Handley wasn't going to be the first witness as scheduled.  Walleri learned last night that the Defense wanted to put Eric Sandberg on first.  He promised the judge that it would only take 30 minutes (it took 40) and then Eric wouldn't have to wait around for Handley's much longer testimony.  Eric was the GIS expert for the Board and his testimony was calm and forthcoming.

Then Dr.  Handley came on.  I really haven't had time to go over my notes, but here are a few things that come to mind.

One issue already raised, was that the terminology used when she advised the board - majority districts, equal opportunity districts and influence districts - had changed after the board completed the their plan.  And there were also questions, because of this, whether the third party plans could have had the right number of districts because they were working on wrong assumptions about what the benchmark was because of the nomenclature.  Were they required to have 4 effective (majority) districts and 2 Equal Opportunity and 1 influence, as Handley had said earlier, or were they required to have 5 Effective districts?

Much of the discussion was on the terms and what they meant and why they changed and when she found out and how she found out.  She also was using a term I didn't recall from the meetings last spring - Protected districts.  Was I missing something?

Toward the end of the morning, Walleri asked about this term and said it hadn't been in her report or deposition.  It seems it comes out of the Texas redistricting case that she's working on and goes to court next week in DC.

There was also a long hypothetical about a district where the minority was unable to elect the candidate of their choice in the primary, but could in the general.  Would this be an effective district?  Handley gave lots of caveats and I don't recall ever said yes or no.  But when the hypothetical became the proclamation district 38, and Goldstream and Ester were named as white Democratic districts with the highest primary turnout in the state and some of the Native districts with low primary turnout, I think she said this would still be effective, because they would get the candidate of their choice in the general, but I'm not sure.   I was waiting for Walleri to ask, "If they got a suburban Fairbanks candidate elected in the primary instead of a Native area candidate (this is an 'effective native district")  would it still be effective, even if a non-native was elected.

So what has been established is that Handley had used terminology lingering from the 2000 redistricting that allowed for a continuum of highly to less effective districts and now DOJ has said (it's not clear whether the person who told Handley this can be seen as speaking for the DOJ on this) a district is either effective or not.  Though Handley said that within the "Yes - Effective" side, there was room for a continuum.

All this matters because it gets to whether the argument of the defense - that there were no third party plans that met the benchmark of 5 effective house districts and 3 senate districts, thus the Board couldn't be expected to both meet the VRA benchmark standard AND meet the Alaska Constitutional requirements for compactness and contiguity, etc. as well  - because if the third parties weren't trying to meet the 5 house benchmark number because they were told 5-2-1 (effective-equal opportunity-influence), then it's not a fair comparison.  Sorry I should revise that, except it's almost 1:30 and the court is coming back into session.  This is just to give people some idea of what's happening.

I would also mention that Handley is also having trouble remembering some things.  It seems to me if you are being paid to be an expert witness, you really ought to have your calendar with you so you can check the dates of when you did things.  But what do I know?

This is going up without much correction because I don't have time.  So you are getting currency but sacrificing detailed accuracy and style checking. 

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