Op-eds

Redistricting Commissions for Congressional Districts: Commentary by David Wise (F82)

Constitution Daily

Congress as in institution is held in ever lower repute by the American electorate, well below most other major national institutions. The inability of Congress to perform the most rudimentary government functions – such as passing a budget — explains why the Congress is viewed both domestically, as well as around the globe, as dysfunctional. The rise of partisanship has resulted in compromise, arguably the lifeblood of a functioning democracy, being viewed increasingly by activists and special interests as betrayal. In 1973-74 for example, 240 members of Congress voted between the scores of the most conservative Democrat and the most liberal Republican. Ten years later this number dropped to just 66 and today zero. In the most recent election 90% of House and 91% of Senate incumbents were re-elected.

Although it is impossible to say exactly how much the gerrymandering of safe seats has caused this dysfunction, there is a common belief that it is a significant contributing factor. In a democracy, there really is no benefit from a system in which the representatives select their voters rather than the other way around.  Unfortunately, the power of state legislatures in the redistricting process all but ensures the perpetuation of the system. In Pennsylvania, perhaps the most egregious case, the state legislature adopted a plan after the last census in which Democrats received 50.7 percent of the popular vote in Congressional election but elected only 27.8 percent  of the House delegation. The solution often prescribed is that legislatures – under pressure from their electorates – delegate the redistricting function to “independent” commissions.

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