Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Redistricting Watch: Updates from the States

Just as with stem cells, while I've been focusing on redistricting reform at the national level (see the list of prior posts below), efforts in several states around the country to change the way congressional district boundaries are drawn have (mostly) been making headway. Here's a sampling:

Ohio: Supporters of redistricting reform in the Buckeye State, coalescing under the banner of Reform Ohio Now (RON), seem to have succeeded in a petition drive to put a constitutional amendment (text here, in PDF) mandating redistricting reform to a statewide vote this November. This week, reform backers submitted nearly 521,000 signatures to the Ohio Secretary of State's office, dwarfing the requirement of 322,889 (ten percent of the total number of voters who participated in the most recent gubernatorial election). The redistricting amendment - one of three backed by RON - would wrest control of the district-drawing process from a partisan state Apportionment Board and put it in the hands of a five-person board appointed by a judge. Plans for districts could be submitted by any citizen of Ohio, and would have to meet certain criteria, including compatibility with the Voting Rights Act, as well as placing premiums on competitiveness and maintaining a "statewide partisan balance."

Ohio's political structure is in a bit of turmoil right now, with its Republican Party embroiled in a series of scandals and their opponents sensing opportunity. This proposal, as well as the others proposed by RON, has a very decent chance of success this fall, although court challenges and the p.r. campaigns remain to be fought.

I have three major concerns with the proposal as it's currently phrased. One, while I hold competitiveness to be a key component of any reform plan, I think it is ridiculous to seek a "statewide partisan balance." If voters in Ohio want to elect a congressional delegation full of Republicans, they should be able to. If they want to elect Democrats, they should be able to. If they want to elect Greens, or Bull Moose, or Libertarians, or - well, you get the idea - they should be able to. Congressional districts should be based on geography and compactness ... not some scheme designed to "balance" the delegation. That just means more of the same, someone else picking your representatives rather than you.

My second concern is the makeup of the "independent commission" charged with creating the districts. According to RON, the five members would be selected in the following way: the first by "the state appeals court judge with the longest continuous service;" the second by "the next senior appeals court judge from a different political party;" the third, fourth and fifth by the first two, "including one member not affiliated with a political party." This is not independent redistricting - this is partisan redistricting with a mask on (and an "independent tiebreaker" thrown in).

Third and finally, the proposed amendment would allow a redrawing of congressional districts prior to the 2008 election cycle. I strongly oppose partisan mid-decade redistricting (witness Georgia and Texas in recent years) in any form, and this provision in the bill gives me serious pause.

I worry that RON's efforts are little short of an attempt by "reformers" to capitalize on current upheaval in Ohio to push through a redistricting Trojan horse, a scheme that would do little to actually put non-partisan concerns ahead of scoring political points.

The success of the Ohio petition efforts have been covered widely in the national press over the last couple of days: articles have appeared in the New York Times and the Associated Press, among other outlets.

California: The most recent turn in the quest for redistricting reform in the Golden State is a decision from a state appeals court tossing Governor Schwarzenegger's plan, Prop 77, from the November ballot. Prop 77 (text here), which would have turned district-drawing over to a panel of three retired judges (picked by lot after a complicated nomination process) - and also calls for mid-decade redistricting- requires consideration of population equality, contiguity, existing geographic and political boundaries (i.e. county lines), and compactness.

I have less issues with the California plan than I do with Ohio's, although I would prefer that the drafting panel be comprised of more than three people, and obviously the mid-decade redistricting provision remains repugnant. Now that it appears, however, that Prop 77 will not be on the ballot in November, it is incumbent (no pun intended) on Governor Schwarzenegger and leaders in the state legislature to work together to develop a redistricting plan - either passed through the normal legislative channels or by referendum at the earliest possible date.

The latest on CA redistricting, from the LA Times.

Florida: The Committee for Fair Elections - made up of groups including Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, the Florida Conservation Alliance, several labor unions and other groups - has proposed a series of three amendments to the state constitution for a referendum to be held in November, 2006. They need 750,000 signatures by February 1, 2006 to qualify for ballot access; as of August 4, their website indicated that 140,940 signatures had been collected.

The first amendment (text of all three here) would create a 15-member commission for drawing districts: the commission's members would be selected by the president of the state senate (3), the speaker of the state house (3), the minority party in the senate and house (3 each), and the chief judge of the state supreme court (3, all not registered with a political party). The amendment also provides strict limits for those who can be made members of the commission.

The second amendment establishes criteria for the commission to use when constructing districts: it requires that "districts shall be compact and, where practicable, utilize existing political and geographical boundaries; that districts, where practicable, preserve communities of interest; that districts not be drawn to favor an incumbent, political party or other person; that competitive districts should be favored and that districts not consider the residence of any individual, except to comply with the constitution or laws of the United States. Competitive districts should be favored where to do so would create no significant detriment to the other goals."

Finally, the third amendment - and the only one which I would not support - allows for the creation of a redistricting commission to redraw boundaries for the 2008 election cycle. Since this is a separate issue from the other two portions of the plan, it would be a simple matter to support the other legs and oppose this unncessary addition.

Massachusetts: A redistricting reform effort is just getting underway in the Commonwealth that recently became my adopted home - backed by Common Cause, the NAACP, Citizens for Limited Taxation, other advocacy groups, and state senator Richard Moore, who drafted the plan. Moore has tried to push a state constitutional amendment through the legislature, but it died in committee there. So reformers are going to try the referendum route: they must collect 66,000 signatures, and the bill must be approved by two constitutional conventions. The earliest it could go before voters is the fall of 2008.

Moore's plan (text here) would create a seven-member independent commission, with members to be chosen by state and legislative leaders using strict guidelines. The commission "would strive to group communities of like interests together in compact districts that do not dilute any groups' voting strength when redrawing state Senate, state representative, Governor's Council and U.S. congressional districts," according to a MetroWest Daily News article on the subject. No mid-decade redistricting is provided for.

Will the original home of the "Gerrymander" give up the practice? Who knows, but this is a step in the right direction.

Other States: In several other states, 15 or so, legislative measures have been introduced to create independent redistricting commissions. None seems to be on the fast-track to adoption in the near future, however.

I'll be keeping track of all these and other redistricting reform efforts, along with continued focus on the national attempt being pushed by Rep. John Tanner and forty others in the House of Representatives (more on that in the links below). As we move forward, the key thing to remember is that redistricting should not be a partisan issue: no politicians, regardless of party, should be in charge of drawing political districts so that they can keep themselves and their friends in power. Voters should choose their representatives, not the other way around.

Previous Redistricting Watch posts:
- "Updates on Several Fronts" (7/28)
- "Cosponsors Update" (7/22)
- "How Exactly do you Gerrymander a Birthday Cake?" (7/20)
- "Happy Birthday Mr. Gerry" (7/19)
- "Federal Authority in Historical Perspective" (7/16)
- "Blue Dogs, on the Scent" (7/12)
- "Cosponsors Update" (7/1)
- "Links, News, and Views" (6/24)
- "Polarization & Collegiality" (6/24)
- "Centrist Action on Redistricting Reform" (6/23)


At 10:10 PM, Anonymous ArchTeryx said...

Charging RINO, you really need to look into the spambots that have invaded your site. The faux comments and Trojan Horse links are getting old. :/

At 10:13 PM, Blogger JBD said...

I know, I'm sorry. I try to go through at least once a day and delete them all. They're really annoying but I'm not sure there's a way to stop them without disabling comments, and I really don't want to do that.

At 9:11 AM, Anonymous ArchTeryx said...

I wish I knew more how to help you. I don't want to just be an unhelpful critic. but the bigger blog sites like DailyKos DO seem to have a way to keep these spambots out. Maybe I can put out some inquiries for you.

At 4:50 PM, Blogger Clint Carrens said...

Great post. I knew about the reform efforts in Ohio and California, as well as my home state of Texas, but not elsewhere. Very informative.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger BSPblogger said...

Ok, I followed the link... I'm here... What do I win? Cat Furniture?


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