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Redistricting Reform Initiatives For 2018

October 30th, 2018, 12:52am by Sam Wang


Redistricting reform is on the ballot next week! Citizens of Utah, Colorado, Michigan, and Missouri will vote on initiatives that will reform redistricting in their states.

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project has analyzed all four initiatives. All have a high potential to succeed at making redistricting fairer, and not targeting political parties or minority groups to take away representation.

Unlike a court case, this approach can put specific limits on what maps are permissible. It also does so in advance, so that biased maps are never drawn in the first place. Finally, all the measures mandate a certain amount of transparency to the process.

For detailed commentary, click on the links to get a fully marked-up Google document PDF of the legislation. These represent our current thoughts – please give us your own comments in reply to this blog post.

Utah. Utah is heavily Republican – and also has a tradition of clean and open government. The Better Boundaries Initiative establishes a commission of 3 Republicans, 2 Democrats, and 2 independents (one appointed by each party) to draw Congressional, state legislative, and other district lines. Maps must not show partisan bias. In order to pass a map, the commission has to get at least one vote from the minority party or the independent appointed by the minority party.

The measure gives a list of ranked priorities that the commission must follow on top of federal requirements, starting with keeping cities/counties together. In a separate section of the text, the measure also calls for partisan fairness, which should guard against overpacking of cities into a few districts.

Colorado. Colorado didn’t seem to have a gerrymandering problem. But on a bipartisan basis, the legislature acted in advance of future troubles by putting two referenda on the ballot. Amendments Y and Z would create a citizen commission to take over redistricting. This referendum was passed unanimously out of the legislature. There seem to be no barriers to passage.

Like the Utah measure, Amendments Y and Z emphasize keeping cities/counties together, but also forbid giving advantage to a political party.

Michigan. Michigan is home to one of the most extreme partisan gerrymanders in the nation. This would change if Proposal 2 passes next week. Proposal 2 sets up a commission modeled after California’s redistricting commission. Commissioners are selected by a statewide application process. They are given the task of drawing both legislative and Congressional boundaries. Maps must protect “communities of interest” and must not show partisan bias.

To pass, any plan must receive support from Democratic, Republican, and independent commissioners. It does not impose strong conditions on identifying partisan affiliation or independence, instead relying on random selection from a sufficiently large applicant pool. A recent survey by Epic/MRA shows Proposal 2 with 59% support, 29% opposed.

Missouri. The Clean Missouri Initiative is the most unusual initiative of the four. It covers redistricting, campaign finance, and government transparency. The redistricting component puts the first step of drafting new state legislative maps into the hands of a new position, a nonpartisan state demographer. That person would be constrained by exact rules on partisan fairness.

The Clean Missouri initiative has the unique distinction of basically enforcing the use of the efficiency gap to measure the fairness of a map. A maximally compliant plan would have a certain fraction of seats that were highly competitive – one-fifth, if my calculations are correct (33 out of 163 seats). Maximum compliance would also require that other seats be drawn so that a certain number was likely to be won by each major party, with more seats going to the majority party.

Bottom line: All four initiatives would achieve reform in different ways. If passed, they would take a substantial step forward in state-by-state redistricting reform, which we described in the American Prospect.

Tags: 2018 Election · Redistricting

4 Comments so far ↓

  • Bela

    Did you intend the ‘analyzed all four initiatives’ link to lead to a Google docs location which requires a request to access?

  • Bela

    (of the 4 individual state document links, Colorado is accessible while the others are not. this does not seem likely to be intentional)

  • ArcticStones

    It’s fascinating to see these and other state-level initiatives. Naturally, I would have preffered a SCOTUS decision that invoked the quantitative methods developed and championed by Prof. Sam Wang & Co. But lacking that, democracy is finding a way!

    With regards to gerrymandering, I would like to make an additional if tangential point. Or, more accurate, share a great point made by Michael Li, whose focus is redistricting at the Brennan Center for Justice:

    “Progressives tend to think of Republicans as a continuum, at least from 2010 onward. But there is an argument that Donald Trump’s de facto takeover of the party has further morphed it in ways that have district-level consequences.

    “It’s not that the map wasn’t gerrymandered (it was). It’s that it wasn’t designed for the parties who are taking to the field.

    “It’s basically as if Maryland’s congressional map was gerrymandered to elect Democrats (it was) and then Democrats disappeared and were replaced by the Green Party – who then do less well than Democrats.

    “And the reality is that many of these districts just weren’t designed to elect candidates of what the GOP has morphed into.”

    In less than a week we’ll know to what extent his observations have merit.

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