Republican politicians are preparing to use redistricting to serve their own interests and ignore the public good. Although the ramifications largely escape public notice, the influx of Republican governors in the 2010 midterms will significantly influence redistricting. Republicans will control the redrawing of over 200 House districts, compared to only a few dozen for Democrats. This will make it even more difficult to get electoral support for President Obama’s agenda, including energy and climate change.
Every 10 years, legislative district lines are redrawn, ostensibly to reflect demographic changes revealed by the census. The redistricting process is also the single most important lever for states to influence the composition of Congress. Ultimately redistricting determines electoral and legislative outcomes. With the exception of a handful of states, these decisions are made with little or no public input or accountability.
There are a total of 36 states on track for redistricting. While the number of Congressional seats is determined by population, each state has its own redistricting process. In 42 states the processes is done in the state legislature and then confirmed by the governor, sometimes the state supreme court. There are seven states that operate on commission systems that includes a review by other governing bodies. However, Arizona’s commission of non-elected residents does not need final legislative input or approval. The other seven states have just one Congressional district.
The midterm election of 2010 included three state ballot initiatives that dealt with redistricting decisions through independent commissions. California approved Proposition 20 and Oklahoma voters approved State Question 748.
Florida voters approved constitutional amendments requiring Congressional and state legislative districts to follow city, county, or geographical boundaries. The amendments also stipulate that districts must have similar population distribution, be compact, and must not favor or disfavor a political party or incumbent or disenfranchise any racial or ethnic group.
Republicans control approximately 204 districts, but the passage of Proposition 20 in California means 53 more seats are off the table for Democrats. The control of 27 districts in Florida depends on the outcome of litigation. Democrats control 47, as it stands, with another 27 in the New York State Senate, another 20 in Oregon, Minnesota, and Colorado and another 2 depending on the role Rhode Island governor elect Lincoln Chafee decides to play in the process. North Carolina counts toward the Republican total, as the governor has no sway over redistricting.
Controlling a governorship can often be a boon to a party in a presidential race. Politicians use redistricting as an opportunity to cut unfavorable constituents and potential challengers out of their districts. Incumbents can also use redistricting to move favorable constituents into their districts.
Transparency is the only way to hold politicians accountable for their redistricting efforts. Scholars at the Brookings Institution along with the American Enterprise Institute have consulted with an array of experts in redistricting issues to provide a set of principles for transparency and public participation.
The new slate of Republican governers are planning to gerrymander legislative lines behind closed doors and this does not bode well for America’s democracy or the war against climate change.
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