Partisan redistricting has made Congress more radically partisan and less functional. In a system where the parties in power draw the boundaries, legislators choose their voters instead of voters choosing their representatives.
We get the same phenomenon in South Dakota, where the GOP uses its majority in Pierre to ensure the maintenance of that majority. The Republicans box the Democrats into a few uncompetitive districts and claim the lion's share for themselves. An eager reader offers this analysis:
In South Dakota, in the 2012 election because of gerrymandering and incumbent legislators bunching up Democratic strong holds and stretching Republican strong holds into moderate areas the citizens in South Dakota had 13 state senate races that didn’t even have both a Republican or a Democratic candidate in the race and one race the Democratic candidate was just a placeholder and didn’t even attempt to campaign. In the state house races there were 27 openings that the Republicans and the Democrats didn’t even field a candidate because it was so one sided that the other side new they were going to lose and in 12 races the candidates didn’t even campaign because it was a losing battle. So in 53 state legislative races the election was already determined because of gerrymandering by the incumbent partisan state legislators. This is Democracy at its worse, the people in South Dakota need choices and this process is broken.
Enter House Joint Resolution 1001, a constitutional amendment to create a bipartisan redistricting commission for South Dakota. The details:
- Seven people draw the legislative district boundaries.
- None of them can be sitting members of the Legislature.
- The House and Senate majority and minority leaders appoint four members; those four pick the other three.
- Within each Senate district, the commission draws two single-member House districts.
- Whenever possible, counties and municipalities stay whole within districts.
- We redraw under this new system in 2015, then back on the ten-year schedule in 2021.
This plan is good! We get the decisions out of the hands of legislators gunning for re-election. We get rid of the quirky campaign calculus of two-member House districts, where the sharp candidate's strategy is to be everybody's second choice. And for those of you who appreciate the Hegelian dialectic, it gives us a better chance of getting balanced representation from a process that is not decided by the party in power on the House and Senate floor.
One concern: HJR 1001 does move the redistricting process one step further away from the voters. We pick our reps, they pick some of the committee, the committee picks the rest of the committee, and they make the call. Can we make democracy better by making the redistricting process arguably a bit less democratic?
House State Affairs was supposed to hear HJR 1001 yesterday, but they got so wrapped up in ignoring educators (again!) and killing a school funding bill that they had to put off redistricting reform until next week Monday.