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Partisan Redistricting Robs Voters of Meaningful Vote, Reduces Competition

by Debbie Sharnak, published
Credit: Texas Tribune

wendy davis fights partisan redistricting in Texas

Gerrymandering, the process by which party leaders redraw electoral districts to ensure victories for their candidates, is on the rise.

New York Times columnist, Nate Silver, estimates that in 1992 there were 103 members of the House of Representatives that were elected from swing districts — those in which the margin in the presidential race was within five percentage points of the national average. Today, however, that number has decreased to only 35 swing districts, a number reaching barely a third of the total just a mere 20 years ago.

What these dwindling figures mean is that few districts are actually competitive right now. Instead, most districts, as the Brennan Center for Justice calls them, are “one party fiefdoms.” The real battle for candidates is occurring in the primary where representatives appeal to the partisan base in order to secure their votes.

This trend is reflected at the state level as well, a movement that Texas State Senator Wendy Davis finds troubling.

On the Rachel Maddow show last week, following her filibuster of a Texas abortion law, Davis pointed out that redistricting in her state "has assured that there aren’t really general elections here that matter.”

Davis went on to argue that she believes most Texans fall somewhere in the middle on their political beliefs that don’t appeal to either party wing. Rather, most voters just want to hear the issues at hand to be able to make an informed decision, issues she argues never get heard by the average voter due to districts that are purely partisan drawn.

Davis knows these problems firsthand as she recently found herself at the receiving end of a redistricting battle. In 2011, the Republican-controlled Texas Legislature intended to draw new electoral districts, including one that reshaped Davis’ own Senate District 10 in Tarrant County to severely lean Republican.

Davis responded with a lawsuit, co-litigated with the League of Latin American Citizens (LULAC), one of a number of organizations that challenged the new maps.

Only in May -- after a two year battle -- did state attorneys tell a three-judge panel during a hearing that they will “no longer seek changes” in the boundaries of District 10. Her legal challenged proved effective, allowing her to declare victory over the redistricting scheme, largely intended to ensure that Davis would not win re-election.

However, this one small victory does not overshadow the hundreds of other districts nationwide that continually fall prey to these redrawing efforts and push the political moderates to the margins while privileging the most partisan members of Congress.

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