Redistricting

 

The dominant system allowing Congressional and legislative districts to be drawn by state legislatures does more to protect the interests of incumbents than serve voters.

 

For decades partisan wrangling has led to gerrymandered redistricting maps, collusion among the major political parties to create safe Congressional and state legislative districts, and the packing and splitting of concentrations of voters to weaken or strengthen their influence to gain partisan advantage.

 

In recent years, advances in information and mapping technology has enabled a level of precision in district drawing that in effect, enables legislators to choose the voters they wish to represent and makes it difficult for voters to hold their elected officials accountable.

In 2011, each state will redraw its boundaries for state and congressional districts. Common Cause supports redistricting reforms such as creating independent commissions to conduct redistricting, establishing criteria for how districts must be drawn, requiring a fair and transparent process for conducting redistricting, and creating “shadow” commissions to present their own recommendations.

 

Prop 11: The California Success Story

 

In 2008, California Common Cause helped lead the successful effort to pass Proposition 11, which creates a qualified, diverse, and balanced independent commission to draw legislative districts and would require that both congressional and state districts be drawn according to criteria that prioritize the Voting Rights Act and preservation of communities of interest, neighborhoods, cities, and counties. For more information, please visit www.commoncause.org/CA.

 

Federal legislation

 

Common Cause and a coalition named Americans for Redistricting Reform that includes the Campaign Legal Center, the League of Women Voters, and others have asked Congress to hold hearings on proposals from Rep Lofgren (HR 2248), Rep. Tanner (HR 543 and HR 1365), and Rep. Wamp that would require each state to use an independent commission to draw congressional lines.

 

State-based reform efforts

 

Colorado:  Senator Ken Gordon moved a bill through the Colorado Senate in 2008 to add competitiveness to the criteria that the legislature must use when it draws political boundaries in 2011. Colorado Common Cause pushed to include provisions for greater public input and transparency during the redistricting process that would have required at least 12 public hearings and require that data and mapmaking software be made available to the public. These provisions were eventually dropped from the bill which passed the Senate but did not pass the House. Colorado Common Cause will look for further opportunities to move legislation in 2009, and will be active in monitoring the redistricting process itself in 2011.

Florida: Common Cause Florida is a member of a coalition, Fair Districts Florida, that is collecting petition signatures with a goal of placing two proposed constitutional amendments on the 2010 general election ballot. One petition addresses congressional redistricting; the other petition addresses legislative districts. The petitions would require that congressional and legislative districts not be drawn to favor or disfavor incumbents or political parties, that they not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice, and that they be compact and, when possible, utilize existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Indiana:  In 2009, Common Cause Indiana will promote a plan to have redistricting carried out by the Legislative Services Agency staff and using principles of compactness, contiguity, competitiveness, and preserving communities.

Minnesota:  A coalition led by former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Governor Arne Carlson has proposed creating an independent 5 person commission to perform redistricting. Four legislative leaders would each appoint a member and these four would jointly agree upon a fifth.

Pennsylvania:  Common Cause Pennsylvania worked with the League of Women voters in 2008 to support redistricting reform bills to amend the state constitution. The bill cleared a Senate committee vote by a margin of 8-3. The bill establishes criteria for the legislature to use when drawing districts that include preserving local government boundaries as well as geographic contiguity and compactness. It also prohibits the use of incumbent addresses as criteria and requires the legislature to conduct public hearings on redistricting. While the legislature remains in session, it is now too late to enact a constitutional amendment in time for 2011 as this requires passage on two successive ballots. We are now continuing to work for a constitutional amendment that would be in place for the 2012 redistricting while switching to a statutory approach to require the legislature to follow a more transparent and fair process in 2011.