Independent redistricting to End Partisan Gerrymandering
Political power in America should flow from the people. But politicians often abuse their power to draw district boundaries, gerrymandering them for partisan and personal advantage.
Elected officials end up choosing their voters, instead of the other way around. The result is stagnant and unaccountable incumbency, and unfair allocation of seats in Congress and state legislatures.
Citizens are demanding their right to fair and equal representation through the creation of independent citizen redistricting commissions.
These bodies have the power to draw compact districts that fairly reflect the diversity of the electorate. "Strong, objective rules on how districts are drawn," and computer programs that optimize boundaries, can greatly assist the process.
Independent redistricting commissions should:
- Be bipartisan at the very least, preferably multiparty
- Include commissioners not affiliated with either major party
- Have procedures that prevent one party from dominating
- Have an odd number of members
- Include individuals who are not legislators or public officials
- Encourage collaboration and compromise
- Be transparent in their decisions
The criteria these commissions should consider include:
- Natural boundaries: Physical geography like rivers
- Political boundaries: Existing borders like city limits
- Compactness and Contiguity: No strange, stretched shapes or disconnected areas
- Communities of Interest: Social connections like language and ethnicity
- Voting Rights Act: Compliance with laws that prevent minority disenfranchisement
- Competition and Outcomes: Avoiding extreme partisan disparities and encouraging contested elections
For more information, read A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting by Brennan Center.
Who's Doing It?
Arizona citizens amended their state constitution to create an independent redistricting commission via ballot initiative in 2000. The commission was challenged by Republican lawmakers, but the U.S. Supreme Court sided with the citizens. The court majority took the term "legislature" to mean “the power that makes laws,” which in this case was the voters of Arizona.
Created by a ballot proposition in 2010, the California Citizens Redistricting Commission consists of 14 members—five Democrats, five Republicans, and four unaffiliated with the major parties. California had suffered from extensive bipartisan gerrymandering that entrenched incumbent politicians and made elections noncompetitive. The independent commission greatly increased the number of tossup elections in 2014, but there are questions as to whether this increased competition will persist between the periodic redrawing of boundaries.
[NEDC does not endorse any particular ballot initiative.]
For the most up-to-date information on efforts to create independent commissions across the United States, see the resources on redistricting compiled by Brennan Center for Justice. Below are several examples of active proposals and campaigns for fairness and transparency. FairVote has an interactive map documenting the laws across the country.
A petition for a ballot initiative is under way to amend the Illinois constitution to create a nonpartisan, independent redistricting commission for state legislative districts, consisting of 11 members. According to Brennan Center:
Seven commissioners would be randomly selected from a pool of applicants compiled by an independent review panel. Leaders of the state legislature would select the final four commissioners from the remaining pool of applicants based on their contribution to the commission’s demographic and geographic diversity. At least three of the commissioners must not be affiliated with any of the major political parties.
Seven of the 11 commissioners would have to approve a final redistricting plan, including at least two Democrats, two Republicans, and three independents. This approval mechanism is similar to the one in California, and is designed to force map drawers to collaborate and compromise.
The initiative also includes several new rules for drawing district lines, including protections for racial and language minorities, political subdivisions, and communities of shared social or economic interests. It would also prohibit the commission from drawing districts to favor a particular political party, group, or person.
A petition was successful in getting a state constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2016. According to the Brennan Center:
The proposal would create a nine-member independent commission. The commissioners would be selected from a pool of 30 applicants by the State Board of Elections, with no more than three of the commissioners from the same political party. To be eligible, applicants must not have held public office for three years before the redistricting cycle and commissioners are barred from running for office three years following redistricting.
A simple majority of commissioners is required to approve a final redistricting plan.
Redistricting Reform Gains Momentum in 2016, Eric Petry, Brennan Center for Justice
Democracy Agenda: Redistricting, Brennan Center for Justice
A Citizen's Guide to Redistricting, Brennan Center for Justice
"A Cure for Partisan Gerrymandering?" Lyle Denniston, ScotusBlog
"This Computer Programmer Solved Gerrymandering in His Spare Time," Christopher Ingraham, Washington Post