Congressional Democrats introduce bill to end gerrymandering

Tea-Publicans in the Arizona legislature currently have pending before the U.S. Supreme Court an appeal, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, that seeks to overturn the will of the voters of this state in enacting the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission by a citizens initiative, Prop. 106 (2000).

The_Gerry-Mander_EditThe argument is that only the legislature can redistrict congressional district lines under the U.S. Constitution, and that the citizens of Arizona do not have the authority to divest the legislature of this power and to assign it to an independent redistricting commission that largely cuts the legislature out of the congressional redistricting process.

Attorneys for the state of Arizona effectively conceded at oral argument that the citizens of Arizona do have the authority under the Arizona Constitution to divest the legislature of the power to redistrict state legislative districts, and to assign it to an independent redistricting commission that largely cuts the legislature out of the state legislative redistricting process.

This case was argued on March 2, 2015, and a decision is expected before the end of June.

Democrats in Congress last week took an opposite tack, introducing a bill to end gerrymandering of congressional districts that largely relies on the creation of independent redistricting commissions, like the one  we have here in Arizona. Democrats introduce bill to end gerrymandering:

A group of Democrats introduced legislation Thursday to overhaul and streamline the way the nation’s 435 U.S. House districts are redrawn every decade to reflect population shifts determined by the U.S. Census. The Redistricting Reform Act of 2015 (.pdf).

“What we see now is too often a troubling reality in which politicians choose their voters instead of voters picking their elected officials,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a lead sponsor of legislation she says would create “a more transparent electoral process.”

The cumulative effect [of gerrymandering] over time has resulted in a U.S. House where today only about two dozen of the 435 seats are considered competitive by non-partisan election analysts, and Republicans — who controlled more state legislatures in 2012 when the current maps were approved — are favored to maintain control of the House until the next reapportionment round ahead of the 2022 congressional elections.

The bill, with 19 original co-sponsors, would require each state to establish an independent, multi-party commission tasked with redrawing the state’s congressional maps. Commissioners would have to prove they have no conflicts of interest and would be charged with redrawing lines so they comply with voting rights law and be “geographically contiguous and compact.”

Some 21 states already rely on redistricting commissions in some form to draw the lines, but this legislation would create one, uniform process nationwide.

With Republicans in control of both chambers of Congress, the Democrats’ bill is unlikely to gain momentum unless it can bring on GOP sponsors and support. While gerrymandering has critics in both parties, Republicans are unlikely to support weakening the states’ role in the process.

Tea-Publicans benefit from the current dysfunctional system. They have little incentive to make redistricting fair and more competitive, any more than they support a “fix” to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to safeguard the franchise to vote. Sen. Grassley: No Need To Fix Voting Rights Act Since ‘More Minorities Are Already Voting’:

Grassley dismissed the idea that there’s a need to act.

“It depends on what you want to fix,” he said. “If you want to fix more minorities voting, more minorities are already voting.”

“Plenty of lawmakers think it’s crucial to restore the law, and they’ve put forward a bill that responds to the Supreme Court’s directive: It updates Section 4 so it applies to states and jurisdictions that have had voting violations in the past 15 years. Supporters have had a hard time getting Republicans to sign on, though, which prevented the measure from advancing in the last Congress. This year, the House bill has a handful of GOP co-sponsors. A forthcoming Senate bill has none.”

3 responses to “Congressional Democrats introduce bill to end gerrymandering

  1. Bill Astle

    Nice try Congressional Dems, but probably pointless.
    Redistricting Commissions are probably a little better than leaving it to Legislatures but they are still vulnerable to partisan manipulating.
    There is no sure fire way to establish criteria that makes every Congressional district “competitive”. This is a mathematical fact for every state that does not have an exact balance between R’s and D’s. (That would be all of them!) On the other hand there are schemes that can make more or fewer districts close to competitive. These should be encouraged!
    Part of the problem stems from our system of having one house (the U.S. Senate) based on equal representation for each state and the other house (the House of representatives) based on equal representation for each person. Note that this is each person not each registered voter.

    • Bill, please explain your comment when you said “there are schemes that can make more or fewer districts close to competitive” — if you have an idea on how this could be achieved I’m listening. What is certain is that the current system of legislatures drawing the lines does not work.

      • Bill Astle

        One scheme for making more competitive districts is as follows:
        Suppose there are R Republicans in a state and D Democrats and that R is greater than D. (AZ for example.) Calculate R-D and call it E (for excess). Put all E in one district. This leaves you R-E Republicans and D Democrats; two numbers which are equal or maybe differ by one. At this point you have one district that is very unbalanced and all the rest can have equal numbers from each party. This is pretty simplified and gets more complicated when you bring in “third” parties or have an extremely unbalanced state to begin with, but the same concept can be used.
        Note that concepts like “community of interest” and “compactness” may suffer but that they could at least be partially recognized when drawing the map for all but that one very unbalanced district.
        One of the ancillary advantages is that with every district, except one, being 50/50 it should be possible to get very good candidates because they all know they have a chance.