Redistricting: The Art and Science of Gerrymandering

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gerrymander 2

Illinois’ 4th Congressional District. [NationalAtlas.gov]

We’ve done three shows so far looking at various problems with America’s electoral process. (Here, here, and here.) The next question on the docket: how do you kill a gerrymander?

Redistricting is a necessary part of democratic upkeep: changing the boundaries of political districts to account for census-tracked population shifts every ten years. So when did redistricting go from being a necessary evil to just, well, evil?

As The Economist put it, “in a normal democracy, voters choose their representatives. In America, it is rapidly becoming the other way around.”

In most states, districts are drawn by incumbents — often the majority party — who move boundaries around populations to ensure predictable, non-competitive victories; make it almost impossible to unseat incumbents; and ensure that the legislative majority remains in the legislative majority. And now that the Supreme Court has ruled that state legislators can draw new maps whenever they want, we’re likely to see a lot more (partisan) redistricting a lot more often.

So does redistricting have to be a dirty word, or an intractable political problem? Does the political will exist to change the system? Who should draw the lines, and how should they be drawn?

Rob Richie

Executive Director, FairVote

Bruce Cain

Professor of Political Science and Director of the Institute for Government Studies, UC Berkeley

Redistricting consultant to Los Angeles County and the Justice Department

Nina Perales

Southwest Regional Counsel, Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund

Lead counsel for Latino plaintiffs in 2003 Texas redistricting case League of United Latin American Citizens v. Perry, Governor of Texas, decided by the Supreme Court in July

Extra Credit Reading

Mark Rose, Gerrymandering for me, but not for thee, Right Minded, July 10, 2006.

Karl, Fixing elections (the system, not the vote), Rite Wing Technopagan, November 16, 2004.

kos, Time for some Dem-friendly redistricting, Daily Kos, June 29, 2006.

How to Rig an Election, The Economist, April 25, 2002.

Juliet Eilperin, The Gerrymander That Ate America, Slate, April 17, 2006.

Lani Guinier, Tricks of virtual redistricting, The Boston Globe, March 13, 2006.

Martin Newhouse, Voting Rights and Voting Wrongs: An Interview with Lani Guinier, Mass Humanities, Spring 2006.

Faith, race, and Barack Obama, The Economist, July 6, 2006.

Fair redistricting is key to competitive races, Tennessean.com, July 10, 2006.

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