Redistricting Wins and Gerrymandering Losses Determine Who Controls the Country for the Next Decade
Voters were forthright on one democracy issue this election season. Ordinary people, not politicians, should draw the voting boundaries that determine the fate of elections.
Four statewide and two local ballot measures about redistricting passed by as much as 71 percent, stripping the power to draw city, state and congressional lines away from politicians and giving it to various forms of nonpartisan map drawers.
The move toward independence was in stark contrast to states like North Carolina and Maryland. Neither have a ballot initiative process, so citizens can only use litigation to challenge gerrymandering. Both have legal battles headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
And though more Democrats than Republicans voted nationwide on Tuesday, the “blue wave” was contained to 30 flipped House seats, compared to 63 in the first midterm after Barack Obama was elected.
The redistricting ballot measures were inspired or influenced by the California Citizens Redistricting Commission, which was established in time for the 2011 redistricting cycle. The commission’s five Democrats, five Republicans, and four unaffiliated members draw state and congressional maps that respect communities and are prohibited from favoring any party or candidate.
“In California, we used to have a system where politicians went behind closed doors, decided where the lines were drawn and discriminated against communities of color, women interested in running for office, and challengers to incumbents. We put a stop to that insider game and showed that redistricting is something that regular people can not only understand, but frankly, be better at,” said Kathay Feng, the national redistricting director for Common Cause and architect of the initiative that established the California commission.
“This Tuesday, the people spoke. Politicians beware – the days of insider trading of our communities and our political future are over. If you abuse our trust, We the People will organize to build a more representative and inclusive democracy,” she added.
Round Up of the Successful Redistricting Measures Supported by Common Cause
Redistricting on the Ballot Nationwide
- In Colorado, Amendment Y (congressional redistricting) passed with 71 percent of the vote and Amendment Z (legislative redistricting) passed with 70.6 percent of the vote. These amendments establish independent redistricting commissions, make commission meetings subject to open records and open meetings laws, and create a map drawing process that prioritizes communities of interest. Credit to the Colorado Fair Maps coalition, in which Colorado Common Cause actively led public education efforts.
- In Michigan, 61 percent of voters voted in favor of Proposition 2, which establishes an independent citizen redistricting commission to draw congressional and state legislative districts using nonpartisan standards, increased transparency, and opportunities for meaningful public input. Voters Not Politicians led this grassroots movement to victory. Common Cause played a role in helping to develop the policy proposal in the early stages of the campaign.
- In Missouri, nearly 62 percent of voters voted in favor of Amendment 1, a package of reforms that included a nonpartisan demographer and better standards for redistricting, ethics, transparency, and campaign finance reforms. Congrats to the Clean Missouri coalition.
- In Utah, Proposition 4 holds slim lead of 50.4 percent for and 49.6 percent against as of Wednesday. Proposition 4 would establish a redistricting commission made up of people appointed by elected officials that would recommend maps to the legislature and establishes strict criteria for how redistricting must be accomplished. This was a truly bipartisan effort headed by Better Boundaries.
Gerrymandering Is Still a Serious Problem
Outside of the half dozen states that have a citizen commission, and the seven states that have created more accountable redistricting processes, most states still have district lines drawn by legislators and party operatives. Compared to the 2010 Tea Party “wave” elections which happened on a set of less manipulated maps drawn in 2001, we see a stark difference in results:
- In 2010, GOP U.S. House candidates won more votes (a difference of 6.7%), which translated into 63 new seats for the Republicans.
- In 2018, Democrat House candidates won more votes (a difference of 7%) than Republican House candidates, but this translated into a pick-up of only 30 seats, largely because of gerrymandered district lines.
U.S. Supreme Court Could End Partisan Gerrymandering
Some of the states with the most severe partisan gerrymanders have no initiative process for citizens to create alternative processes, so litigation is the only route for redress.
- In North Carolina, the GOP won 10 out of 13 seats on November 6, 2018, exactly as Republican leadership planned, when they proudly proclaimed they were drawing the districts to “give a partisan advantage to 10 Republicans.” A three-judge panel declared North Carolina’s partisan gerrymander of congressional districts to be unconstitutional in Common Cause v. Rucho and LWV v. Rucho, which may be heard by the Supreme Court in spring 2019.
- In Maryland, the Democratic Party held seven of eight congressional seats, none of which changed party hands, even in a year when Maryland voters re-elected a Republican governor by an overwhelming margin. On November 7, 2018, a three-judge panel declared Maryland’s partisan gerrymandering, which packed Republican voters into a single district, to be a violation of the Constitution in Benisek v. Lamone. This case may also be heard by the Supreme Court.
When the Courts Draw the Lines
- In Pennsylvania, where the unconstitutional partisan gerrymandered congressional map was redrawn by a special master this year, the congressional delegation that had been made up of 13 Republicans and five Democrats, is now made up of nine Republicans and nine Democrats. The 2018 results are more consistent with the statewide percentage of U.S. House votes each party won. Advocates on the ground are still fighting to reform the redistricting process before the 2020 redistricting cycle.
Redistricting Continues in California
- In Long Beach, 59 percent of voters favored Measure DDD, which establishes an independent redistricting commission for city races. With this victory, five out of 10 of California’s largest cities now have independent commissions. Common Cause and Equity for Cambodians in Long Beach were the main organizations leading the way for this reform.
- In Santa Barbara County, Measure G has received 52 percent of the vote. Assuming the lead holds, the measure will establish an independent redistricting commission to draw County Board of Supervisors districts.