Hindsight for 2020
Wednesday, November 20, 2013 9:00 PM
The League of Women Voters has declared Friday a day of action to encourage state legislators to support an amendment to the Indiana constitution to establish an independent commission in place for the redistricting cycle that will take place after the 2020 Census is completed.
Both partisan redistricting and arguments against it date back to the earliest decades of U.S. history. In fact, the term "gerrymandering" - now used to describe any redistricting plan that is driven by an ulterior motive - comes from a political cartoon mocking the awkwardly shaped districts drawn by the Jeffersonian Republican-controlled legislature in Massachusetts in 1812. Two centuries later, many states still leave redistricting up to the partisan vagaries of the legislative process. Especially as the major parties have grown increasingly polarized in recent decades, the result has been a rapidly rising number of non-competitive congressional seats, which decreases incumbents' attentiveness to voter concerns and increases public alienation from the political process.
Nevertheless, some states have begun experimenting with ways to make redistricting more impartial and take decisions about district lines out of the hands of the politicians whose constituencies they define. To date, seven state constitutions have been amended to give independent redistricting commissions primary authority to draw the lines for both congressional and state legislative districts. Another six states use commissions to draw state legislative district lines only, and seven more have commissions that serve only in advisory or back-up capacities.
The seven states that rely on commissions for both congressional and state legislative redistricting are Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey and Washington. They represent a mix of "red" and "blue" states, as well as different regions of the country. Hawaii and Montana have used redistricting commissions since the 1970s. Washington joined them two decades later, and Arizona, Idaho, and New Jersey all had their first commissions in place for redistricting after the 2000 Census. California is the newest addition to the list, having amended its constitution in 2008 (for state legislative redistricting) and 2010 (for congressional redistricting) - just in time for the most recent redistricting cycle.
These seven states vary in the size and composition of their commission memberships and in the thresholds they require for a redistricting plan to pass. For example, Arizona's Independent Redistricting Commission has five members: two Republicans and two Democrats and an independent chair. A redistricting plan is adopted if a simple majority of three commission members votes for it. In contrast, California has a fourteen-member Citizens Redistricting Commission made up of five Democrats, five Republicans, and four independents or members of third parties. A supermajority of nine votes, which must include at least three Democrats, three Republicans, and three independents or third-party members, is needed to approve a redistricting plan.
The next redistricting cycle is nearly a decade away, but the long process ahead necessitates action now. It will take votes by two separately elected General Assemblies, followed by a popular vote on the ballot the following November to pass an amendment establishing an independent redistricting commission in Indiana. As the examples presented earlier suggest, decisions regarding an independent commission's configuration will need to be made to maximize the efficiency, fairness, and transparency of its future work.
The LWV urges Senator Phil Boots and Representatives Dr. Tim Brown and Sharon Negele to support an amendment to establish an independent redistricting coming in Indiana!
The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan, multi-issue political organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join LWV where hands on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information about the League, visit the website www.lwvmontco.org or send a message to LWV, PO Box 101, Crawfordsville, IN 47933.>