Democratic nonprofit files suits in three U.S. states as redistricting battle begins

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A sign is seen during a promotional event for the U.S. Census in Times Square in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

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April 27 (Reuters) - A national Democratic redistricting group has brought a trio of lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Louisiana, asking courts to prepare to step in if the divided government in each of those states fails to agree on new legislative maps.

The litigation, filed after the U.S. Census Bureau released data on Monday showing how many congressional seats and Electoral College votes will be allocated to each state for the next decade, is the first salvo in what will likely be a sprawling national court battle over redistricting.

The nonprofit National Redistricting Action Fund, which is affiliated with former Attorney General Eric Holder's National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), brought the lawsuits on behalf of several individual voters in each state.

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"While these are the first lawsuits of this new election cycle, let me make this point: these are not going to be the last," said attorney Marc Elias, who represents the group and last year led the legal campaign to defend Joe Biden's presidential win.

Both Pennsylvania and Louisiana have Democratic governors who can veto maps produced by their Republican-controlled legislatures. In Minnesota, Democrats hold the governorship and the state House, while Republicans control the Senate.

The lawsuits ask state courts to set a schedule to take over the process and draw new maps in the likely event that state officials reach impasse.

Elias noted that the redistricting process is compressed this year due to months of delays at the Census Bureau, and said the intent of the suits was to ensure courts have enough time to produce fair maps.

Adam Kincaid, the executive director of the Republican counterpart to the NDRC, the National Republican Redistricting Trust, dismissed the litigation.

"The lawsuits are expensive press releases that likely aren't going anywhere," he said in an email.

Both parties are readying for a fierce contest over redistricting, the once-a-decade process by which states redraw their electoral maps for congressional and state legislative districts based on the census count.

Texas, Florida and North Carolina - all states where Republicans have pursued gerrymandering, in which one party deliberately manipulates the map to create political advantages - gained a total of four seats in the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday, when the Census Bureau released its initial 2020 data.

During a briefing for reporters, Holder explicitly tied the coming fight over redistricting to the ongoing conflict over Republican efforts to install voting limits in dozens of states.

“I have no doubt that the same Republican legislators who have pushed these bills will now try to use the redistricting process to illegitimately lock in power for that party for the next decade,” he said.

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Reporting by Joseph Ax Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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