Sherratt on redistricting

// Published November 28, 2005
Timothy Sherratt, writing for the Center for Public Justice, sheds light on the limits of "independent redistricting":
On November 8, voters in California and Ohio rejected two worthy measures intended to wrest redistricting away from elected officials and make it subject to independent commissions. California's Proposition 77 would have had legislators selecting a three-judge panel of retired judges to draw up legislative districts.

Ohio's measure called for sitting judges to select two members of a five-member commission. The commission was mandated to use competitiveness as a primary criterion for the creation of a new district. According to the Secretary of State's Office, the redistricting commission would be able to "consider whether to alter a given redistricting plan to preserve communities of interest based on geography, economics, or race" as long as this did not completely abandon the competitiveness standard. Ohio's plan would have achieved nonpartisan redistricting guided by important criteria of representativeness. But this plan at best offered only half a loaf. It's true that a balance of political forces is desirable in single-member districts. Competition increases turnout and forces candidates to defend their proposals and consider alternatives. Competition reminds the winning candidate that she represents the entire district.

Unfortunately, the competition the Ohio proposal intended to foster is limited to the two main parties--two parties that hardly represent the broad range of citizens' views. No political party deserves government support for its candidates simply because competitive elections are desirable.

Elections instead should ensure that all significant points of view are reflected in the outcome, the equivalent of holding up a mirror to society. Thus, competitiveness, geographic location, race, and economic status may all be important factors in achieving faithful representation. Ohio's plan merely pitted these criteria against one another. What should be done?

Read the whole piece here.