Reviews | Voters wanted a fair redistribution. They can get Gerrymandering instead.


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Democracy has been tested this year by conflicting voting and election administration laws in states like Georgia and Texas.

But these are not the only state actions that are straining our democracy. From Arizona in 2000 to California, Michigan, Colorado, Missouri, Utah and Virginia since then, voters have taken it upon themselves, through voting initiatives, to set up independent commissions for the 2021 redistribution cycle. The clear message: keep politicians and supporters as far away as possible from drawing districts and tilting the legislative and congressional maps of states in their party’s favor for the next decade.

Yet, as a new cycle begins, polling initiative efforts and independent redistribution commissions appear to have been undermined by supporters. Operators have successfully exploited the loopholes and in some states have shredded the very notion of fair cards before a single line has been drawn.

These disheartening efforts to thwart the will of the people – combined with Congressional inaction on the free vote law and the 2019 Supreme Court decision to close federal courts to partisan allegations of gerrymandering – suggest he could there are few brakes on gerrymandering.

To ensure our democracy and fair elections, there may be only one way available – reforming the very structure of House elections.

Opinion debate
Will Democrats face a mid-term erasure?

In recent weeks, the efforts in Arizona, Ohio, Michigan and Virginia have been a bitter wake-up call for those who hoped the commissions could strike a balance.

The weak construction of an independent five-member constituency commission made it vulnerable to partisan hijacking. The Republican effort to wrap him up since Gov. Doug Ducey took office in 2015 has been particularly cheeky. The commission has two Republicans and two Democrats. The tiebreaker is a registered “independent” (and former Republican) who has nonetheless donated tens of thousands of dollars to predominantly Republican candidates (including Mr. Ducey) over the past decade. Major board decisions typically ended in a 3: 2 vote, with the president siding with Republican members, including hiring a mapping company that has come under heavy criticism for drawing lines unfavorable to Latin American communities (the company denied the criticism).

In 2015, Ohio voters toughened the rules for redistributing state legislative maps, and in 2018, redistributing lawmakers and reformers compromised on modest safeguards that made it harder for the party majority to dominate and redraw the cards of Congress without bipartisan input. Not difficult enough, however, for Republicans. The 2015 constitutional amendment – ratified by more than 70 percent of Ohioans – insists that the cards neither favor nor disadvantage a political party and should “closely match the preferences of voters at the state level”, based on the election results of the previous decade. That would suggest a split of around 54-46, with Republicans in the majority.

But in the new maps, Republicans have an advantage in 70% of State Senate races and 62% of State House clashes. This would provide qualified veto-proof majorities. Republicans in the State Senate justified this by citing Republican victories in 13 of 16 statewide races in the 2010s; they said it entitled Republicans to up to 81% of the legislative seats. Even Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, a Republican who voted for the cards, conceded they could be more “clearly constitutional”. The ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice and national democratic organizations have already challenged the cards in court.

In 2018, more than 60% of voters changed the state constitution after nearly a decade in which Democratic candidates for the State House have consistently won more votes, but Republicans have consistently won more of seats. Jeff Timmer, the Republican cartographer who was involved in drawing these lines then apologized for the extremism his work helped unleash.

Voters wanted supporters to leave the room – but they still found a way in. When it came time to hire a litigation lawyer, the constituency commission ended up with a company, BakerHostetler, which has previously championed extreme partisan gerrymandering in North Carolina. , Pennsylvania and Ohio. He won’t draw the cards (and he said Republican clients won’t influence his defense of the commission’s work). Still, the commission’s congressional map projects suggest a strong Republican bias. On Twitter, Mr. Timmer wrote that he “wouldn’t have dared to make public something so brutal.” I know, because I drew cards with this gerrymander and we buried them in a drawer.

The presence of Republican and Democratic lawmakers on the Virginia Redistribution Commission bogged down early meetings in such bitter partisanship that they couldn’t agree to hire a single law firm or cartographer – so they chose two. , one for each party. (A potential compromise map was recently offers.)

“I think that’s not what the citizens voted for when we launched this process,” said Greta Harris, co-chair of the committee. Last week, an analysis by the Princeton Gerrymandering Project showed that maps drawn by both parties would reduce the number of districts where minority voters could influence elections.

There are similar concerns in Colorado, where earlier this month the Campaign Legal Center and the League of United Latin American Citizens called on the commission to rethink a congressional map that they said would help Republicans and dilute them. Latino votes by spreading them over three districts.

Democrats are not entirely immune from these games in states where they could control the process. In New York, with full party control in Albany, Democrats would have been attempted abandon the work of the state’s independent redistribution commission and draw their own deeply gerrymandered congressional map.

Part of the problem is that there is too much riding on these lines. Republicans must to return to only five seats to regain control of Congress. With few swivel seats remaining, both sides will be looking to make gains by all means.

If these commissions falter, the consequences could reverberate for years. A congressional card gerrymandered in Arizona, for example, could give Republicans up to three additional congressional seats and bolster the party’s rapidly shrinking edges in State House and the Senate.

This abuse of independent commissions has reinforced the arguments in favor of a invoice (from Representative Don Beyer of Virginia) who would structure voting in the House into multi-member constituencies and voting in order of priority. This approach involves districts that are much larger than our current tiny congressional districts, and each would elect more than one person at a time to represent the area. Reinventing a system based on single-member districts might be the only way to reduce the importance of individual lines and curb the worst gerrymandering.

Voters wanted partisan manipulation to end. What they have instead are supporters in too many states turning redistribution commissions into something akin to old back rooms, determined to continue to distort legislative maps – and democracy itself – into something almost unrecognizable.

David daley (@ davedaley3) is the author of “Not rigged: How Americans Fight to Save Democracy ”and senior member of FairVote.


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