Redistricting has been a contentious process since the early 1800s, when Governor Elbridge Gerry signed a bill that reshaped electoral districts in Massachusetts to benefit the Democratic-Republicans. This manipulation of the redistricting process was nicknamed a Gerry-Mander, partially after Governor Gerry, and partially after the shape of one of the Boston districts, which resembled a salamander.
The practice, now commonly referred to as gerrymandering, presents a challenge to the U.S.’s republican system, where representatives are supposed to represent all of the voters in a given district. In an attempt to curb the practice, 6 states have already implemented independent redistricting commissions designed to make the redistricting process fairer and more representative of a population.
Additionally,13 states use a hybrid method involving more than one government branch or agency working together to draw district lines.constitutional showdown to determine whether or not its independent redistricting commission is legal. The case, Arizona State Legislature v. Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, is currently before the Supreme Court, and could decide the fate of independent redistricting groups throughout the country.
Yet, 6 other states are considering them: North Carolina, Illinois, Georgia, Maryland, Indiana, and Kentucky.
All of these states have introduced bills that propose the establishment of an independent group that has power over the redistricting process. However, their methods of ensuring these groups remain independent differ.
Kentucky is the most notable because the appointees must be faculty members from universities in the state. North Carolina, Illinois, Georgia, and Maryland would have similar methods of appointing members to these committees/commissions, but the person(s) ultimately responsible for appointing these members varies from state to state.
1. North Carolina
North Carolina is the most recent state to try to implement an independent redistricting commission. There are currently two bills before the General Assembly. The House version, sponsored by State Reps. Charles Jeter (R), Julia Howard (R), Henry Michaux (D), and Paul Tine (I), is completely identical to the Senate version.
The proposed independent commission would present three plans for state legislative and congressional redistricting to the General Assembly and both chambers will be required to choose one within 120 days. The chief justice of the Supreme Court, the governor, the speaker of the State House of Representatives, the Senate president pro tempore, and one additional leader from both chambers will be responsible for appointing members of the commission.
To further prevent political agendas from interfering in the redistricting process, the bills state:
“No person who has served as a member of the Independent Redistricting Commission shall be eligible to hold any elective public office for 4 years after termination of service on the Independent Redistricting Commission.”
If passed, the redistricting reform would be on the November 2016 ballot.
Democratic State Representative Scott Drury recently introduced a bill to amend the Illinois Constitution, specifically the Legislature Article. The bill would create an independent redistricting commission composed of eight members, evenly split between both major parties.
The speaker and minority leader of the Illinois House of Representatives will each appoint one representative and one person who is not a member of the General Assembly to be on the commission. Additionally, the president and minority leader of the Senate will each appoint one senator and one person who is not a member of the General Assembly.
The redistricting plan must be approved by at least 5 members of the commission before it is filed with the secretary of state, who will then publish it as having the “force and effect of law.”
Six Georgia Democrats have signed on to a bill that would amend the state Constitution to give redistricting power to an independent commission, rather than the General Assembly. The lieutenant governor, the minority leader of the Senate, the speaker of the State House of Representatives, and the minority leader of the House will each appoint one member to the commission.
Additionally, two members will be appointed by the governor and one member will be selected and appointed by the other six members of the commission. The bill also specifies that the governor is limited in his selections because only one of his appointees may share his party.
Nine legislators have cosponsored a bill in the Maryland House of Representatives to establish a Study Commission on the Redistricting Process. The commission would essentially collect and analyze information on Maryland’s redistricting process, redistricting methods in other states, and testimony that relates to redistricting.
The commission also has the opportunity to suggest constitutional or statutory changes to the redistricting process in Maryland. The commission will have 15 members, who will be a combination of legislators, appointees, members of the general public, and representatives from various political organizations, including the League of Women Voters of Maryland.
Like the bill proposed in Maryland, four state lawmakers have attached their names to a bill that calls for a special interim study committee on redistricting. The committee would study state and federal laws and court cases relating to redistricting, other states’ methods of redistricting, the qualifications of those involved in redistricting, experience other states have had with redistricting commissions, and other similar subjects.
Ultimately, the committee would examine the positives and negatives of changing Indiana’s redistricting process and submit a report to the legislative council, including all of their research and a description of alternative ways to redraw districts.
Democratic State Senator Dennis L. Parrett sponsored a bill that calls for a Committee on Legislative Redistricting. Members of the committee will be made up of faculty members from each of the public universities in the state. Each committee member will be either the chair of the geography department of the public university or a professor of law or political science.
However, faculty members with an extensive knowledge of Kentucky’s geography or redistricting laws, demographic data, statistics, and characteristics regarding the state’s population are also acceptable committee members.
The committee will have the responsibility of developing plans for redistricting state legislative and congressional districts. These plans will be proposed to the Legislative Research Commission, who will then refer the plans to the Interim Joint Committee on State Government, who will then enact or reject the plans. If enacted, the plans will be reviewed by the General Assembly.
Photo: The Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission considers new maps. / Source: AP