Politicians drawing electoral districts to benefit politicians – it’s a practice that’s almost as old as the U.S. Criticism of this partisan redistricting, known as gerrymandering, also goes back to the early days of the republic. Actions by legislators and judges in 2017 may make some long-lasting changes to this long-lived process.
Practices vary, but in most states the legislature and the governor draw legislative and congressional districts. And while gerrymandering may be deplored by Republicans and Democrats alike, it is practiced by both parties to maximize their advantages at the ballot box.
In recent years there have been efforts to give nonpartisan commissions the power to draw these districts, in order to take the political considerations out of the process. Currently, four states have these independent commissions.
Actions to address gerrymandering go beyond mere legislative proposals. In some states, lawsuits have been filed to overturn what plaintiffs consider illegally partisan districts.
Here is what is happening in some states concerning gerrymandering:
Wisconsin – In January, a federal court ruled that Wisconsin’s legislative districts must be redrawn in time for the 2018 election. State legislators have approved using a private law firm to appeal this ruling, prompting complaints about using taxpayer dollars to do this.
Michigan – emboldened by the successful suit in Wisconsin, a former Democratic official is preparing to sue the state to overturn what he considers partisan gerrymandering in Michigan.
Virginia – legislators have advanced a resolution to amend the state constitution that would dampen gerrymandering by requiring that legislative and congressional districts must be compact, follow existing political boundaries (such as county lines), and not be drawn to protect a certain party or incumbent lawmakers.
Maryland – when in office, Governor Martin O’Malley approved a map containing some of the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the nation. Now that he’s out of office, O’Malley is having second thoughts. He has said he supports a nonpartisan commission to draw districts, something his successor in the governor’s office, Larry Hogan, is pushing legislators to adopt.
What do you think should be done about gerrymandering?