The Supreme Court Won’t Touch Gerrymandering, but there are solutions that can and will work.
The Supreme Court in Rucho V. Common Cause ruled that the courts could not touch the subject of partisan gerrymandering. Republicans have hailed this as a major victory, while Democrats railed against the Supreme Court. At Reform Elections Now,we have always believed that this Supreme Court would not touch Gerrymandering, so we were neither surprised nor disappointed. In fact, we do not believe Gerrymandering is a partisan issue. We believe that whatever party is in control, whether it be Republicans or Democrats, would attempt to Gerrymander districts to benefit their own interests.
There are two reasons why the Gerrymandering seems to work against the Democrats. First, more states are under Republican control, giving the Republicans more opportunities to gerrymander to their advantage. Second, Democrats are usually concentrated in major cities, while Republicans are more spread out. It is more difficult to Democrats to gerrymander wide-spread areas than it is for Republicans to gerrymander cities. Nonetheless, experience would indicate that whatever party is in control will try to gerrymander in a way that maximizes its representation.
If the Supreme Court will not touch gerrymandering, how can this situation get resolved? The answer is independent commissions.
An independent commission is composed of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, so that no one party has the ability to gerrymander to their advantage. While the focus has been on the Supreme Court, five major states, four of which were under Republican control and voted for Donald Trump, passed initiatives creating independent commissions for redistricting.
In May 2018, the Ohio legislature, with bipartisan support for a Republican-led initiative, voted to have a better balance in the redistricting likely to result from the 2020 census. In November, it passed an anti-gerrymandering ballot initiative, which garnered 75% of the vote, indicating that there is significant bipartisan support for ending Gerrymandering. In Michigan, 61% of the voted supported the “Voters Not Politicians” proposal to create an independent commission.
In Colorado, 71.4% of all voters supported a similar constitutional amendment. Missouri, another red state that elected a Republican Senator (defeating a Democratic incumbent and 6 of 8 Republicans for Congress, passed an independent commission for redistricting, with over 62% of the vote. Utah, a pure red state, passed a similar ballot initiative.
Prior to the election, Ohio, Missouri, Utah, and Michigan were controlled by Republicans. Now, Ohio, Missouri, and Utah, are controlled by Republicans, while Michigan has a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature. The point is that these independent commissions were supported by voters of both parties who were sick of the games politicians were playing in Gerrymandering.
If these states could have enacted independent commissions, why shouldn’t states around the country?
Four political science professors, Alex Keena, Michael Latner, Charles Anthony Smith and Anthony McGann have studied this issue and concluded that non-partisan commissions actually work to eliminate partisan Gerrymandering. In the Washington Post Monkey Cage on July 2, 2019, they wrote,
“Does an independent redistricting commission prevent partisan bias in district maps?
When we compared the maps used before 2011 with the maps used after 2011, we found starkly different outcomes depending upon which party-controlled redistricting. Not surprisingly, the maps drawn by a single party — either Democrats or Republicans — became less symmetrical after redistricting. Plans drawn by Republicans generally became more favorable to the Republican Party, while the plans drawn by Democrats increasingly favored Democratic politicians. This didn’t happen to the same degree. Republicans drew more bias into their plans, in part because Democratic voters tend to live disproportionately in cities, which makes it easier for Republicans to draw efficient gerrymanders.
By contrast, in the maps drawn by bipartisan or nonpartisan actors, the level of partisan bias didn’t change much after 2011 — with one key difference. The nonpartisan-drawn maps tended to be more symmetrical on average after redistricting. In other words, they tended to treat both parties similarly. This suggests that nonpartisan bodies have successfully neutralized partisan bias, as intended.
At Reform Elections Now, we believe Gerrymandering can be eliminated if grass roots groups in each state support referenda establishing independent commissions.
We do not need the Supreme Court. We need citizens to realize that gerrymandering by the two parties is poisoning our democracy and needs to be eliminated.