Redistricting Reform


The redistricting process in this country is almost completely determined by political considerations.  The result is legislative districts that often splinter communities and pack together members of each party, essentially predetermining the outcome of the general election.  Powerful computer technology now allows partisans to totally control the demographic and political composition of districts.  And in recent years we have seen some states engage in mid-census redistricting with the explicit purpose of benefiting the party in power.

Gerrymandering may help selected incumbents, but it lowers voter turnout across the board and therefore cuts the overall number of progressives likely to be elected to office. Progressive leaders can help restore responsiveness and accountability to government by supporting independent redistricting commissions established with a strong mandate to compose districts that serve the people and not politicians. This is a strategy that has even garnered the official support of the American Bar Association.

Fostering fair redistricting requires carefully constructing the redistricting commission and establishing rules such as requiring supermajority support and balancing membership between partisans and unaffiliated members. Common Cause has produced a comprehensive set of guidelines for establishing effective commissions.  Another important reform is banning mid-census redistricting.

Several states have redistricting procedures that are independent of legislators, and some have seen redistricting reforms advance in the past few years.  
  • Iowa uniquely has legislative staff draft districts under a list of statutory mandates that seek to make the process apolitical.  The state has enjoyed a high percentage of competitive elections compared with the national average.
  • Arizona voters approved a move to independent redistricting in 2000.  Their system picks commission members from a pool nominated by a pre-existing body that handles appellate court appointments. The district map is mandated to begin as a grid, and to be adjusted to meet certain requirements such as compliance with the Voting Rights Act, equal populations, and compact and contiguous districts.
  • California, Florida and Ohio have all seen recent drives to establish independent redistricting as well.
NCSL — Redistricting Commissions
NCSL — What is a Competitive District, What is a Community of Interest?
American Bar Association — Redistricting Resolution
Brookings Institution — The Competitive Problem of Voter Turnout (podcast)
Americans for Redistricting Reform
Common Cause — Redistricting Guidelines
FairVote — Redistricting Reform
League of Women Voters — Redistricting
Brennan Center for Justice — Redistricting
Campaign Legal Center — Redistricting
Arizona Redistricting Law
Legislative Guide to Iowa Redistricting