Gerrymandering is a plague to our democracy. We should take redistricting out of the hands of politicians.

How is democracy working in the U.S. today? Do you like having every issue devolve into a partisan fight? Should wearing a mask indoors in a time of a pandemic be fought out in legislatures and in courts? What changes in our political system could lead to less partisanship?

Right now state legislatures are drawing voting district maps for Congress and state legislatures. And as everyone knows most of the states allow politicians in the legislature to draw those maps. The result is like what has been described as democracy in Africa — one man one vote one time with an American twist. The 2010 election gave Republicans total control of 22 states and Democrats 11. Redistricting then was gerrymandered to insure that each party retained that control not only for the next decade but for the state elections in 2020. General elections aren’t competitive so primaries are hard fought to win the base. This means you have to be very partisan to win in most districts. This plays out in our politics both at the state and national level.

Letting politicians pick their voters obviously isn’t what democracy should be about. And guess what? No other country allows this to happen. In most other long-term democracies, a politically neutral body draws new districts — perhaps a quasi-judicial body or nonpartisan administrative board or commission. The redistricting bodies of some countries, such as New Zealand, include representatives of the major parties.

But the more common pattern is to explicitly exclude anyone with partisan connections, as is true in Canada and India. In Britain, the redistribution of parliamentary constituencies is carried out by a nonpartisan Boundary Commission. Parties can object to the commission’s redistricting recommendations, but it’s purely a consultation; their overall influence is limited. In some long-term democracies, such as Britain, legislatures must approve the new electoral maps that have been drawn by independent bodies, but this is typically a formality.

Gerrymandering goes all the way back to the colonies and the term dates to 1812. But that doesn’t mean we have to still tolerate it.

Yes, we could learn from other countries, so why won’t Congress end our system of gerrymandering? Well the answer is that one party currently benefits from the way things are now, and there is something called the filibuster in the Senate.



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