On February 4th, I participated–via Zoom– in a panel discussion on gerrymandering sponsored by Indiana’s League of Women Voters. The program concluded with several questions still pending, and the moderator subsequently sent me the ones we hadn’t had time to address.
There were some I couldn’t answer: what is meant by a “paper trail,” for example. I rather imagine it varies depending upon the technology being employed, but I have no helpful information. And I have no data on the number of voters who found themselves moved to new legislative districts during the last round of redistricting.
Some of the “questions” were really comments: one person bemoaned the generational effects of safe seats–the reluctance of “long in the tooth” politicians to address issues (marijuana reform, for example) that are relevant to younger voters, and another was concerned with the dominance of rural representation and the lack of genuine home rule in Indiana. A third emphasized the importance of the courts. I agree with all of them.
As for the questions: I have previously explained why the Fairness Doctrine would not be applicable to most sources of today’s disinformation. The study that found Indiana to be the fifth most gerrymandered state was conducted by scholars at the University of Chicago. Cases challenging the constitutionality of gerrymandering have indeed been filed–and have lost at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Someone asked what incentive might appeal to both parties to end the practice, and someone else wondered how HR 1 proposed to provide that incentive, especially since states like Indiana have constitutional provisions requiring legislative line-drawing. To answer that question, I am turning the remainder of this post over to the Brennan Center.
The biggest change under H.R. 1 would be that all states would be required to use independent citizen commissions to draw congressional districts. These 15-member commissions would include five Democrats, five Republicans, and five Independents or members of smaller parties, ensuring that all interests are represented equally when lines are drawn. Strong conflict of interest rules would prevent lobbyists, staffers, and political operatives from serving on the commission, and screening processes would ensure that qualified commissioners are selected.
The process for approving a map also would be transformed. In contrast to the current practice in most states, maps could no longer be approved along party lines. Instead, for a map to become law, it would need to win support from Democrats, Republicans, Independents, and members of third parties on the commission
Partisan gerrymandering would be expressly banned
H.R. 1 would give voters an important advantage by creating the first ban against partisan gerrymandering in federal statutory law.
This statutory ban would let voters use H.R. 1 to challenge gerrymandered maps under H.R. 1 instead of having to rely, as is the case presently, on claims brought under various parts of the Constitution. Having a statutory remedy could be an especially important tool for voters given uncertainty about how far the Supreme Court will go in allowing partisan gerrymandering claims brought under the Constitution.
Importantly, the ban could be implemented for maps drawn in 2021, even the passage of H.R. 1 does not come in time for independent commissions to be set up.
The rules for drawing maps would be made uniform across the country
H.R. 1 would create a comprehensive, uniform set of rules for mapdrawing
H.R. 1 would create a comprehensive, uniform set of rules for mapdrawing.
Currently, the only requirement in federal law for drawing congressional districts is that states must use single-member districts. Some states impose additional requirements in their own laws, but many do not. This has created an unlevel playing field and opened the door to all kinds of manipulation.
Under H.R. 1, mapdrawers are required to avoid the unnecessary division of communities, neighborhoods, and political subdivisions. Protections for communities of color also would be strengthened to ensure that the political power of those communities is not undermined by mapdrawers.
Mapdrawers also would be required to issue written reports evaluating proposed maps’ compliance with these rules before any voting on maps could commence.
As with the ban on partisan gerrymandering, these rules could be put in place for 2021 even if passage of H.R. 1 does not come in time for implementation of commissions.
HR 1 would give the public the right to review the maps, and the right to mount an expedited challenge.
Constitutional provisions giving the legislature responsibility for redistricting can be met by having the legislature adopt the maps drawn by the commission. That provision was included in previous–unsuccessful– Indiana bills that addressed gerrymandering.
HR 1 is one of the most important measures currently pending in Congress. It would go a long way toward restoring a system that encourages, rather than discourages, voting–and an even longer way toward allowing voters to choose their representatives rather than keeping the gerrymandering that currently allows representatives to choose their voters.