Earlier this year, a federal court struck down North Carolina’s Congressional map, finding that it was intentionally drawn to disenfranchise Democratic voters through a practice known as gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is the manipulation of district maps to advantage one group or party, and it’s hardly unique to North Carolina. It’s also not new, nor is used only by Republicans or Democrats. President Ronald Reagan complained about the practice in the 1980s, and Democrats across the country decry it today.
Fundamentally, gerrymandering undermines our democracy by injecting politics into the very architecture of our elections. More broadly, it’s one of the primary forces that keeps Congress from getting anything done. Gerrymandering can drive down voter turnout by creating districts that are so heavily Democratic or Republican that people don’t think their votes matter. Often, the result is that only candidates from the extremes of both parties get elected – and they have no incentive to find common ground once in office. That’s why a growing chorus of advocates is working to remove the redistricting process from partisan state legislatures, which draw district maps in 37 states, and turn it over to independent commissions.
One of the chief voices in this effort is the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), which recently released a toolkit designed for citizens who want to fight for fair redistricting. The toolkit acts as a blueprint for what an independent commission should look like, and lays out the criteria such a commission must meet in order to fairly represent the state’s voters.
“Well-designed independent redistricting commissions can help make the line-drawing process more open to and reflective of citizens’ voices and ensure that politicians are accountable and responsive to their constituents,” says CLC. Just as importantly, they can also improve the way our elections and our government function by minimizing conflicts of interest and reducing partisanship in how members of Congress vote.
Next, CLC is working on an interactive tool that will generate model legislation and ballot initiatives for anyone ready to get involved in the fight against gerrymandering. Adav Noti, the organization’s senior director for trial litigation and chief of staff, says that the tool will ask questions about a state’s ballot initiative process, the make-up of its judiciary, and more to craft language that anyone can tweak and deploy in their home state. Noti hopes that state legislators and advocates will use the tool to push for independent redistricting commissions in the run-up to the 2020 census.
Check out the toolkit to find out if you live in one of the 37 states where redistricting is currently controlled by the state legislature. If you’re ready to get involved, read about how one citizen launched a successful grassroots effort to put an independent redistricting commission on the ballot in Michigan this fall – and keep an eye out for CLC’s interactive advocacy tool in the coming months.