Districts Only a Politician Could Love

 

Sam Wang’s op-ed in the New York Times builds on a steady stream of recent analysis that the 2012 redistricting process… well, it sucked, for the most part.  When incumbents draw their own district lines, the district maps we are stuck with reflect hyper-partisan manipulation, extreme incumbent protectionism, and in some cases, ugly racism. 

There are three takeaways from Sam Wang’s excellent article:

1)    “Start with the naïve standard that the party that wins more than half the votes should get at least half the seats. In November, five states failed to clear even this low bar: Arizona, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.”  The good news is that on-the-ground Common Cause staff are working in 4 of these 5 states (Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) to push for reforms.  In the other five states cited by Sam Wang as being out of whack, Common Cause is active in efforts to litigate the maps and reform the process in Ohio, Florida, and Illinois.  We’ll need to raise resources for these states, but we believe that we can lead the change that will bring a more transparent and fair process.

2)    “Surprisingly absent from the guilty list is California” – It’s no secret that California Common Cause led the five year campaign (and longer) to push for the Citizen Redistricting Commission to draw the lines of the congressional delegation.  In California, it was Democratic congressional members who could not see past their own noses on the issue and tried to derail reform efforts.  In the end, a citizen-led process produced maps that reflected the state’s demographic changes and input from over 20,000 Californians.  Sam Wang notes that California’s Congressional delegation ended up exactly reflecting the partisan balance of voters’ choices in the Congressional elections.  The lesson from California is that we have to build a strong bi-partisan/non-partisan coalition, be prepared for a multi-year battle, and ready to seize opportunities when they come.  It’s a model that we think works in other states.

3)    “SOME legislators have flirted with the idea of gerrymandering the presidency itself under the guise of Electoral College reform.”  By contrast, Common Cause is actively working on a campaign to effect real Electoral College reform by successfully organizing states to support the National Popular Vote compact.  As of April 2012, the compact has been joined by eight states and the District of Columbia, representing 132 combined electoral votes or 49% of the 270 votes needed for the compact to go into effect.  We have also been pushing back successfully against false reforms that seek to engineer wins by tipping the scales for partisan advantage.

Now is the time to invest in these reforms – while the sear of recent gerrymanders is still hot in people’s minds, but before the end of the decade hardens the grip of incumbents on the process once again.  This is not an issue that belongs to Democrats or Republicans.  Redistricting will only be fair when we make it for, by and of the people.

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