In 2015, the Supreme Court decided in Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Redistricting Commission that the voters of a state could use the initiative process to take the power to draw election maps out of the hands of the Legislature and give it to an independent commission. This was the latest battle waged over an issue that is as old as our Republic – gerrymandering.
In 1812, the Governor of Massachusetts signed legislation that created a new set of boundaries for state legislative and Congressional districts. Some of these districts were oddly shaped, and the resulting map favored the Governor’s Republican party in the following elections. So began the process of distorting election maps for political gain. Over the next two centuries, politicians became more sophisticated at it – learning to pack voters, crack voters, and skirt the boundaries of the Voting Rights Act.
The first part of this deliberation focuses on the fundamentals of this process – what is gerrymandering and how it is done. Through Part 1, you’ll learn what you need to address the first question: Should state legislatures be allowed to draw congressional district boundaries in such a way that the majority party in the state may gain an advantage?
Over the last twenty years, a new development has changed the debate around gerrymandering. If you accept that the mapmaking process is political, the best solution may be to take it out of the hands of politicians. Several states, starting with California, have done just that. They’ve created independent commissions to draw election maps. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to force every state to follow suit, although thus far it hasn’t had much success.
The second part of this deliberation focuses on this question – Would independent commissions improve the redistricting process?