Should the Federal Government Push Non-Partisan Redistricting?

In an editorial, the Washington Post says yes: Gerrymandering of congressional districts is an old skill that has been perfected with the advent of computers. ...
by | August 18, 2008
 

In an editorial, the Washington Post says yes:

Gerrymandering of congressional districts is an old skill that has been perfected with the advent of computers. Technology allows the drawing of increasing numbers of increasingly safe House seats after each decennial census. The problem has been exacerbated by moves in several states -- most notoriously Texas -- to engage in mid-cycle redistricting. Safe districts tend to drive candidates to the extremes, since their biggest worries come from primary challengers, not the general election.

...

The remedy would be to put redistricting in independent hands; to require that districts be drawn without regard to partisan concerns; and to prohibit redrawing between censuses. A dozen states have some form of nonpartisan commission or other process to draw district lines; nearly half ban mid-cycle redistricting.

But the problem is serious enough to justify federal action. In anticipation of the 2010 Census, a few thoughtful lawmakers -- Mr. Tanner, Reps. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) -- have introduced measures to this end.

The Post goes on to argue that political dynamics make it unlikely that Congress will take up this cause. Why would lawmakers want to alter the line-drawing process that allows for so many easy reelections?

But, I think that Congress is actually a (somewhat) more likely place for redistricting reform than the states. In state legislatures the situation always seems the same. The party in the minority wants redistricting reform, but the party in the majority doesn't.

That's because legislatures also draw state legislative districts, which is akin to allowing the hen to guard the worm house. The majority party usually would rather have line-drawing power in its own hands than turn it over to unpredictable independent bodies. In a few states, good government sentiments have been strong enough to overcome this dynamic, but usually the majority party has its way because, of course, it's in the majority.

What's intriguing about federal redistricting reform is that it doesn't benefit one party in particular. Democrats would have to give up their line-drawing power in California, for example, but Republicans would have to cede Florida and Texas. Compromises are always a bit easier when it's unclear who benefits, although, truth be told, they're also a bit tougher when Congress is involved.

Josh Goodman
Josh Goodman  |  Former Staff Writer
mailbox@governing.com

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. You can enter an anonymous Display Name or connect to a social profile.

More from Politics