Thoman E. Mann, writing in today’s New York Times opinion page, applauds the defeat of “Election Reform” ballot initiatives in Ohio and California on Tuesday. Both initiatives “would have required a round of redistricting in the middle of this decade” and, Mann claims, “any initiative requiring mid-decade redistricting smells like a power grab by the ‘out’ party.”
A better way to reform the system is to constrain the line-drawers by forcing them to show that the map they adopt will not only comply with federal law (the “one person, one vote” rule and the Voting Rights Act) but will also minimize partisan bias and increase competitiveness. An unbiased districting plan would treat both parties roughly the same, relative to their statewide vote totals – not guaranteeing proportional representation, but creating a fair chance for both parties to convert a majority of votes into a majority of seats. And to increase competitiveness, redistricters should have to show (again, using recent election returns) that their plan creates a reasonable number of districts that are closely balanced between Democrats and Republicans.
The evils of gerrymandering cannot be cured simply by drawing districts that follow county or municipal boundaries, or by increasing the geometric compactness of district shapes, or even by transferring the power to redraw lines from politicians to an independent commission. Rather, it requires a careful effort to create districts that will be fair and competitive.
LINK to Mann’s piece at NYTimes.com.