It might be the only thing Americans can agree on: everyone hates gerrymandering. Last week’s midterm elections signaled a turning point in voters’ ability to mobilize against it.
Four states put redistricting on the ballot this year – Michigan, Missouri, Colorado, and Utah – with proposals to create an independent redistricting commission or place restrictions on partisan redistricting. Anti-gerrymandering measures passed in three states, and votes are still being tallied in the fourth.
States redraw their Congressional district maps every ten years following the census. Gerrymandering is the term used to describe this redistricting when it’s done in a partisan way, benefitting one group of voters over another. The practice has garnered lots of negative attention in recent years, and voters are finally organizing to clean things up.
“Gerrymandering resonates with people in a way it didn’t even a few years ago,” Michael Li, senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the New York Times. “We’re in a very distrustful moment. People think that people in power — the insider class — will do anything they can to keep it.”
In Michigan, a nonpartisan group called Voters Not Politicians first wrote and promoted a constitutional amendment to reform the state’s redistricting process by establishing an independent redistricting commission. The all-volunteer effort collected more than 315,000 signatures to get a spot on the ballot, and that hard work paid off on election day: nearly 61 percent of Michigan voters approved of the anti-gerrymandering ballot question. Now, the state will create a 13-member commission made up of four Republicans, four Democrats, and five people who identify with neither party. Partisan officeholders, their employees, lobbyists, and others with ties to the current system are barred from becoming commissioners.
Missourians also overwhelmingly supported redistricting reform, with 62 percent of voters choosing fairer and more competitive districts.
“We are thrilled that Republicans, Democrats, and Independents came together to clean up Missouri politics,” Nimrod Chapel Jr., president of the NAACP Missouri State Chapter and Treasurer of Clean Missouri, told The Missouri Times. “Thousands of Missourians from across the state came together to put Amendment 1 on the ballot, and then thousands more joined the fight to pass Amendment 1. It’s truly a great day for Missouri.”
In Colorado, fair redistricting emerged as a truly bipartisan issue. Both the Democratic-run House and the Republican-run Senate voted unanimously to put two proposals on the November ballot that would allow independent commissions to redraw Colorado’s maps for members of Congress and state legislators. Voters supported both proposals – Amendments Y and Z – by large margins last week.
Things are playing out somewhat differently in Utah, where the race was too close to call on Election Day. At the time of publication, votes are still being counted.
There’s a lot of doomsday thinking about America’s chances for reconciliation. It’s clear from the 2018 midterm elections, however, that at least one idea can unite voters: making government work.