Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Posts Tagged ‘Congressional districts’

Redistricting reform is long overdue

Posted by sanityinjection on July 24, 2009

Continuing my series on Democrats with common sense and good ideas, meet Congressman John Tanner (D-Tennessee). For the third time, Rep. Tanner has filed legislation to change the way Congressional districts are drawn, taking the power away from partisan state legislatures and giving it to independent bipartisan commissions.

Every ten years after the national census is held, Congressional districts must be redrawn to reflect population shifts. (This also happens for state legislative districts.) However, through a process called “gerrymandering” (after Vice President and Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry), state legislatures design the districts so as to protect the party in power, often creating bizarrely shaped districts grouping communities that have little in common. Often race has been an issue, with legislatures being sued by those who claim that the gerrymandered districts are designed to benefit or harm voters of one race or another, causing courts to throw out some states’ redistricting plans.

More broadly, what gerrymandering does is protect incumbents by ensuring that their districts contain as many supporters from their party or demographic group as possible. This makes it harder for newcomers to challenge a sitting Congressman, on top of the advantages incumbents usually enjoy in fundraising and media coverage. Tanner also argues that, by creating “safe” Republican or Democrat districts, gerrymandering benefits candidates who appeal to┬ápartisan extremes rather than to the center – contributing to the sense of increased partisan antipathy in the House of Representatives (The Senate has always been less partisan and this is one reason why.)

Rep. Tanner’s proposal would require the legislatures to nominate independent commissions with equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats. The commissions would then redraw the maps, but would be prohibited from taking politics into account in doing so. Unfortunately, Tanner’s bill probably stands a zero chance of passage because so many of the people who will vote on it depend on their gerrymandered districts for re-election. That’s too bad, because it’s a common sense reform and one that is long overdue.


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