Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Forget $$, Redistricting is the Real Scandal

It's often said that voters no longer choose their representatives, instead representatives choose their voters. Both parties have conspired to use redistricting to protect as many incumbents as possible and reduce the number of competitive seats. This is the biggest reason that Democrats are considered no better than 50-50 to retake the House this year: there are no more than 30 competitive House seats. The

Congressman John Tanner (D-TN) has introduced legislation to reform the process, and Roll Call covers it here (subscription required):

Redistricting Reformers Renew Push
July 18, 2006
By Steve Kornacki,
Roll Call Staff

When Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) introduced legislation aimed at depoliticizing the redistricting process, it was, not surprisingly, met with indifference from leaders of both parties.

But that was before the Supreme Court stepped in last month and largely upheld the mid-decade gerrymandering that Texas Republicans used to radically reshape the partisan makeup of their state’s Congressional delegation. The political dust storm kicked up by that ruling has brought some new attention to the wonkish and typically publicity-starved issue of redistricting.

“Hopefully, this latest Supreme Court ruling opens the door for the Congress to take action,” said Tanner, whose bill has so far attracted 47 co-sponsors, two of them Republicans. He also recently picked up a Senate supporter, Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), who introduced companion legislation in his chamber.

...Tanner will be joined by an unusual collection of allies at a news conference today, an effort to gin up public support for a plan that would set national standards for how Congressional lines are drawn and ban tinkering between censuses. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), former Rep. John Anderson (R-Ill.), the national chairman of FairVote and a one-time presidential candidate, and Pete Sepp of the National Taxpayers Union will call for Congress to take up Tanner’s Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act.

Under the Tanner plan, each state’s Congressional boundaries would be redrawn once every 10 years — after the federal census — by an independent commission, which would be equally represented by appointees of Democratic and Republican state legislators. As a safeguard, panel members would be compelled to foreswear running for Congress for the entire time their map is in effect; additionally, anyone who has sought office or been employed by a political party in the four years before the census would be prohibited from serving on the redistricting committee.

Tanner’s bill would make Iowa’s current redistricting procedure — enacted in 1980 and generally lauded by good government-types for producing balanced, competitive districts — the national norm. The state commissions specifically would be instructed to not consider the partisan makeup of a district or its voting patterns. Lines also would be drawn without regard to where incumbents reside.

The legislature would have veto power, but if no plan were adopted by Nov. 1 of a redistricting year, the state’s highest court would then choose one...

The Hill wrote about this bill a few months ago, and the story is reproduced here.

I'm not positive that Tanner's proposal is precisely the way to go, but it'd probably be a lot better than the current system. Among other things, I'm not comfortable with a federal system governing what has traditionally been a state responsibility. And I'm not sure whether it's better or worse that it does not apply to state legislative redistricting, which is usually as bad as redistricting at the federal level.

In a larger sense though, I'm not sure it matters. Voters have rejected redistricting reform initiatives like this one by wide margins each time they've come up (in California and Ohio as ballot initiatives). And it's not as if 'redistricting reform' pops up among the most important issues in polls. Until the issue gains greater salience, I don't think bills like this one will be going anywhere.

Back to the top.


Philo-Junius said...
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Philo-Junius said...

The only way to make it possible that the commission not consider demographic data available to anyone at the click of a mouse is to make such research a crime, and I don't believe empowering the ignorant is a positive solution to any problem.

The Editor at IP said...

All I can say is that the proposal is the same as the current system in Iowa. I do not know why the Iowa system works, but it produces a lot of balanced districts. Perhaps the balance of Republicans and Democrats prevents the commission from adopting plans with one-sided districts. Or maybe the Iowa commissions have simply 'gotten lucky.'