, the redistricting cycle that
followed the 2010 census was an unabashed display of muscle politics by the
state’s ruling Democratic establishment. Maryland
They began the process with two bare-knuckle objectives. First, bump off GOP Congressman Roscoe Bartlett and replace him with a successor hand-picked by state Democratic leaders. Second, protect the state’s Democratic incumbents.
In the end, they will probably meet both these goals. In the process, they divided counties and communities, and sacrificed the principles of geographic integrity and compactness.
Indeed, one of the federal appellate judges who reviewed
congressional redistricting map said of the new, sprawling Third Congressional
District: “In form, the original Massachusetts Gerrymander looks tame by
comparison, as this is more reminiscent of a broken-winged pterodactyl, lying
prostrate across the center of the state.” Maryland
Speaking of gerrymandering, the legislative redistricting plan enacted by state Democrats after the 2000 census was such an egregious example that it was tossed out and rewritten by Maryland’s highest court.
where two-party competition is more robust than in , the situation is a little
different. Incumbent self-protection is a bipartisan concern. Maryland
Political handicapper Stuart Rothenberg noted that
new congressional districts, “don’t dramatically alter the partisanship of many
districts, but the lines do solidify incumbents from both parties.” Virginia
Regarding state legislative races, as the Washington Post recently editorialized,
protection philosophy has resulted in 85 to 95 percent of legislative races
being lopsided victories, if they are contested at all. Virginia
Legislation to create a bipartisan redistricting commission is stalled in the
legislature. But based on Virginia ’s own
experience, such a panel is unlikely to be a catalyst for change. Maryland
Reform-minded Marylanders and Virginians should look to other states for solutions.
, for example, electoral maps are drawn
by the state’s Legislative Service Agency, using computer software which
factors in population as its sole criteria. Other factors which typically
dominate a legislature-driven process – including partisanship and incumbency –
are disregarded. A bipartisan Temporary Redistricting Commission is empanelled
to assist the process, but it only offers advice when asked to do so. Iowa
Since passing its program in 1980,
Iowa has avoided the kind of
high-profile redistricting drama witnessed in states like Texas
Even as Colorado Iowa lost a congressional seat due to
the 2010 census, the state’s new legislative and congressional maps
overwhelmingly passed the state legislature and were quickly signed into law by
During the past 10 years, only one
congressional seat changed partisan hands during 255 elections. Since the new
map was unveiled, six veteran California
members of Congress have announced their retirements, and others are expected
to follow. California
If you like competitive elections, then you should love nonpartisan redistricting.
According to a report issued by the New York-based “No Labels” committee, nonpartisan redistricting translates into a 21 percent drop in the number of uncontested elections.
Of course, the biggest obstacle to bringing nonpartisan redistricting to
any state with a gubernatorial- or legislature-driven process is its own
political leaders. Virginia
Further, people are generally apathetic about arcane, theoretical matters involving the mechanics of the political process, especially those which arise only once every decade.
For nonpartisan redistricting to become a reality in
it is going to take strong leadership from a reform-minded governor willing to
elevate a good governance issue among other priorities, and to expend political
capital forcing recalcitrant legislators to travel in a direction they simply don’t
want to go. Maryland