The Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act, introduced by Representative John Tanner, would make important improvements to our congressional elections. The Act would require state legislatures to appoint independent commissions that would be responsible for redrawing district boundaries. These commissions would draw district boundaries in accordance with the provisions of the Voting Rights Act, and could not draw lines based on partisanship alone. As a result, the redistricting process would become independent of partisan manipulation. In addition, the Act would only allow redistricting to occur once every ten years.
The United States Constitution requires congressional seats to be reapportioned among the states after each decennial census in order to ensure compliance with the one-person one-vote criteria, the federal Voting Rights Act, and traditional redistricting principles such as compact and contiguous districts. Redistricting, however, has often turned into a means to further political goals as boundaries have consistently been drawn that tend to protect incumbents and reduce competition.
Generally, state legislators and governors re-draw the boundaries of the US House districts, but the process varies among states. In twelve states, the legislature does not have final authority to redistrict. Alaska, Idaho and Arizona recently became part of these twelve states as they used a redistricting commission for the first time in 2000. Only six states – Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Jersey, and Washington – give authority for congressional line drawing to a commission. Iowa uses an independent commission to develop plans which are later approved by the legislature. The Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act would bring uniformity to the way in which districts are redrawn. Clearly some states have implemented fairer processes, while other states continue to use redistricting to solidify the governing party's grasp on power. The way in which legislative lines are drawn has a major impact on who wins and who loses. As a result, it is only logical that such authority by delegated to independent commissions.
In 2001-2002, nearly every political jurisdiction in the nation adjusted its legislative district lines based on new information provided by the U.S. Census. In addition, Texas re-adjusted its districts in 2003. The Tanner bill could end such blatant partisan manipulation of the redistricting process by prohibiting mid-decade redistricting.
Read the bill summary and status of H.R. 2642 on Thomas